As an English tutor, exploring poetry with my students can be a little like wading through treacle! Poetry and Rap – are they cousins though? Most (not all) young people dislike poetry, finding it dry and difficult to understand and fail to see the reason or relevance for spending time on it!
Poetry, of course, is a monstrous topic which I won’t even attempt to write about here in any detail, but as with many more difficult aspects of the English curriculum, I aim to find a common link between what you’re expected to know about and the more popularised parts of normal life. Did you know that Rap stands for Rhythm and Poetry? An established link already. Essentially, Rap uses rhythm and a narrative to get its message across. Rap also has a firmly embedded cultural element. More considered Rap has more complex, intricate and clever lyrics and, it is this which most closely resembles the likes of Ted Hughes or Tennyson. Most poetry has narrative properties, but can also focus on the lyric alone or a dramatic experience and, like Rap, generally has a rhythmic element embedded in its structure.
Some of you will know of ‘Hamilton’, a record beating, intricately, lyrically clever Broadway and West End show which takes a moment in history and retells the story via an extraordinary score made up of Rap. This, combined with the entire cast dressed in historical costume, brings a contemporary twist to an historical event. When you listen to the different ‘songs’, you can’t help but wonder at the complex use of lyric delivered so expressively and at lightening speed! A triumph in modern day musical theatre, that’s for sure! And, a triumph in the world of modern poetry too!
When I teach poetry to less enthusiastic students, identifying a common link between what they listen to, enjoy and respond to and how ‘poetry’ has evolved over the years can be challenging. However, it really just requires an open mind and accurate, active listening skills! So, poetry and Rap – are they cousins? Next time you come across poetry, whether it’s written by one of our ‘great’ poets, a simple limerick or even a nursery rhyme, imagine how it would sound being read with a focus on the rhythm and a pounding beat in the background …