Any strong argument can be countered in a rebuttal, and Taylor Mali's "Like totally whatever, you know?" from yesterday's post is no exception. Melissa Lozada-Olivia answers Mali's attack on our lackadaisical use of language not with excuses but with powerful commentary on what voices with a lack of conviction might say about society at large.
I explain to my students that today's poem will be a poetic rebuttal to yesterday's poem. No further introduction is required.
It's fascinating to see that in my classes, the students invariably become defensive of Mali's argument. "He didn't mean it that way!" they cry, "She sounds too angry!" they judge. To be honest, as a Taylor Mali fan (after all, what teacher doesn't love Taylor after hearing "What Teachers Make") I kind of relate. But I invite my students to step back from their initial emotional reaction and consider the same question as yesterday: What is her central claim? What is she arguing in this poetic response?
This argument is somewhat trickier, but we eventually whittle it down to something like "People speak without conviction because they are used to being overlooked an unheard" or "Judging people based on how they speak will not help them speak with greater conviction." We discuss whether this is in polar opposition to Mali's argument or just a different perspective on the same issue. Do both poets believe people have the capacity to speak with greater conviction? Is there any common ground here?
The clever repurposing of Mali's own wording here is also worth noting. Imitation, after all, is not always the sincerest form of flattery.
When I shared this pair of poems with a colleague in my school district, she pointed out that the rap battle pieces between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton from Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) would make excellent argument/rebuttal poems for discussion as well.
Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.