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The popular poetry of the day

1 Sep 10 | Re: Teaching hip-hopportunities

I might be late to the party on this one, but I want to know whether English teachers are using rap lyrics to teach poetry these days. And if they aren’t, I want to know why.

Because rap is poetry. People who think nobody is interested in poetry any more are wrong - people will always be interested in poetry. It’s just that the poetry that most people are currently interested in is mostly delivered in the form of rap. Some of that poetry is of stunningly high quality too, Eminem being the most obvious well-known example. Looking just at Lose Yourself, I can quote you specific examples of Em using simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, synecdoche, hypallage and intelligent allusion, and all are woven into an incredibly dextrous web of full and half-rhyme, alliteration and assonance. What’s more, because 99.9% of his audience isn’t remotely interested in synecdoche or hypallage, every single one of those devices has to earn its keep by ratcheting up the emotion or elucidating the narrative. And to cap it all, a teacher’s dream, recordings of the poet reading his work with a ferocious conviction are not only available, most students will have voluntarily sought them out and become familiar with them already.

Put like that, I don’t see how rap can be ignored in the classroom. You can even argue that it makes absolute sense for teachers to start with the popular poetry of the day (THAT’S RAP) before they even think about challenging students to look at how the same techniques have been applied by poets of other eras. Clearly, swearing is an issue. As is the large percentage of, er, popular poetry that is being written about being “in the club”. But fortunately, teachers get to choose what pieces they study, and how they present them.

Finally, I said above that most of Eminem’s audience isn’t particularly keen on the ins and outs of poetic craft, but I think I have reason to believe that the man himself is (how could he not be?). Take a look at these, his first lines on his current hit Love the Way You Lie (feat. Rihanna):

I can’t tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like
And right now there’s a steel knife in my windpipe.

Here, Eminem flips his use of imagery around and argues that his simile is actually more important than the reality that it describes. In other words, describing his experience using a poetic approach is more meaningful than stating the facts. That, right there, should be every teacher’s answer to questions about why poetry is important. Surely, to a teenager who’s probably just been listening to that song on the bus on the way to school, the case is unanswerable. And then you can hit them with Shakespeare and Owen and Neruda.

Posted by AURELIANO SEGUNDO at 19:52

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