by Jason Hepler
As a teenager in the 90’s, I admit that I still revel in of memories of Blockbuster Video, Doc Martens, and any and every Friends character. I also have a soft spot for Tupac Shakur. While he is no longer with us, his poetry is. I use his most popular piece, which is also the title for his published collection of poetry, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” as a kickoff to Song Week, usually my third week of National Poetry Month.
Using Brett’s Poem of the Day routine, students enter with the poem projected (without the author) and the task to turn to a table partner and try to identify the underlying theme. While discussion can vary, many often find motifs of the diamond in the rough or the feeling of being dismissed. I then ask to identify a possible author, not necessarily a specific name, but rather consider those in our society who feel underrepresented and/or underappreciated. I have found this part extremely valuable discussion in a school that lives in a world of white privilege -- but that is a different conversation.
This leads to the eventual reveal of Tupac as the poet and our gameshow version of Tupac: Poem or Song? Students who are already grouped in tables compete by trying to identify whether some of my favorite lines are lifted from poems or songs, all PG rated of course. We use an interactive notepad (to click and drag) and rewards of candy to further motivate… though it’s really always about bragging rights.
This bit of silliness leads to the assignment for students to choose one of their favorite artists and select one verse of a favorite song to share and analyze for poetic devices/rhyme schemes that we have previously covered.
After the sharing the devices and schemes, I ask them to type up the verses and bring them to class for the following day. We take a minute or two for students to each cut their verses into lines. This creates anywhere from 20-30 different lines that we throw into a pile at our tables. Student groups are then tasked with fusing the various lines into a unique poem. While some end up being far from poet laureate worthy, you can only imagine the combinations we see when someone brings in “Strawberry Fields Forever” that gets paired with “Party in the USA” while a third partner has the lyrics to “She Thinks My Tractor is Sexy”.
The activity is obviously intended to further blur the line between poetry and music, especially for this still hesitant to embrace the head first dive. Admittedly, I was that student, and I know many are still out there who haven’t embraced the symbiotic relationship between the two genres.
Jason Hepler lives his 90’s nostalgic life in Bucks County, Pa. He wears several hats at Holicong Middle School in Bucks County, PA, one of which is 9th grade English teacher.