September 4, 2008

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Hi there, this is Amy one of the KC local poets. I am interested in modern poetry. I often try to find poetry in bizarre places, like in a poignant thought about a breakup, or about a car, or a particular way a puddle looks. I am fascinated about all the things in life that can become words or ideas for poetry. Having said that, I also understand that poetry is an incredibly difficult thing to define. Poetry often rides a fine line between prose, story telling, or just plain crap-o-la. Poetry is a lot like a picture in a gallery, one person’s child’s spaghetti art is another person’s $2000 painting on the wall.

My point is that it is difficult to define exactly what poetry is. This fact makes poetry very fun for me. One of the things I truly believe is that some rap (and hip-hop) music lyrics is the poetry of today’s youth. “Traditional” poetry isn’t something a lot of young people get excited about, but rap and hip-hop music often is something that young people can relate to.

My personal definition of poetry is when a writer creates words that are designed in such a way that they convey some important lesson, message, story, or an emotion in a literary and creative way. I consider rhyme, slant rhyme, repetition, enjambment, form, and meter to be one of many elements that can be evidence of poetry. I think that a lot of music, and in particular our modern rap/hip-hop music, has many of these elements. I think also that rappers have become some of the modern masters of slant rhyme. I know that the hypothesis that rappers are poets seems kind of like a off the wall idea, and my credibility may come into question due to my penchant for liking mid-nineties rap songs that date my adolescence to the time of the MC Hammer pant. I think everyone in my particular age group has songs like “Ice Ice Baby,” “Regulators,” and “California Love” on their iPod somewhere and they jam out to it every once in a while—even if they don’t admit it. As crazy as I may have been as a teenager, please take this blog as a serious scholarly debate.


I am a huge fan of California literature (and this is after all a blog centered around the theme of an area of California) so let’s use a California themed song as an example. Shortly, I will give you a few lines from the great rapper Tupac (who I don’t think is actually dead because he keeps coming out with records, but I digress). Here’s an excerpt from “California Love”

“It’s all good from Diego to the bay,
your city is bomb if your city makin pay
throw ya finger up if ya feel the same way
Dre puttin it down for the Californ-nah-yay

I believe that any decent rapper must become a proficient rhymer in order to succeed in his craft. Not only is Tupac a decent rhymer, but also he is skilled at slant rhyme. Rhyme is one of those tricky things that a lot of amateur poets and rappers think they have down. I in no way claim to be a good rhymer, and hence I avoid it in most of my writing. It takes skill to rhyme in a way that does not seem forced, one that makes words or lyrics flow in a natural way. An over-zealous rhymer can make my eyes bleed with their bad poetry, so in no way is it a pre-requsite for good poetry but I think that a good rhymer is one who shows evidence of potentially becoming a great poet.

Slant rhymes are rhymes that “almost” rhyme exactly with other rhyming words. I have found purposeful and well placed slant rhyme to be one of the elements of good rap lyrics—it’s a device they use in order to keep the beat or meter flowing. In the song, the word “California” is forced audibly as a slant rhyme. The word “California” pronounced the way Tupac pronounces it also rhymes with way, pay, and bay. Saying Californ-nah-yay also takes the 4 syllable word of “California” and transforms it into a 5 syllable word. If you also closely listen to the song, you will also find that the four lines that I quoted above are each 9 syllables long. Syllable count has to do with all types of traditional poetry, from the haiku to the sonnet, and Tupac purposefully used slant rhyme not only to rhyme, but make his syllable count flow in a metric and musical way.

Though rap lyrics may not have traditional poetic themes (often they have severely unpalatable themes), I do, however, find rappers to be quite the proficient artists in many literary devices that I commonly associate with poetry. I would go as far as to say that they are the modern poets of my time.

What do you think, dear reader? Were the thoughts of balloon pants too much of a distraction?

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3 Comments:

At September 7, 2008 at 5:24 PM , Blogger June Rodriguez said...

Amy, great contemporary look at poetry. As a non poet writer I recognize the difficultly of writing good poetry but never thought to connect a style to rap/hip-hop. Thanks for broadening my horizon.

 
At September 7, 2008 at 5:29 PM , Blogger June Rodriguez said...

Checkout the new link to Poets & Writers.

 
At September 7, 2008 at 5:47 PM , Blogger Marilyn said...

Poetry is so personal to the poet, I never ever critique it. (Don't have any problem critiquing anything else people have written if I'm asked to do so.)

I know if a poem sounds "right", if it touches my soul--but that's about it.

 

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