Rap and Poetry

Today, English teachers try to engage their students with poetry by saying “it’s like rap” even though there are a lot of differences in the way that rap and poetry function. Poetry and rap are different because while rap has a beat or rhythm that it’s set to, poetry often creates a beat through word choice and meter. Also, rap is more prone to rhyming, or requiring rhyming than poetry. Lastly, rap and poetry differ widely when it comes to stylistic developments. The first one, and most obvious, is that rap has a beat pounded with it, and while that’s not always the case out loud, it usually is with motion.

Rap has developed over the time almost like a cousin to beat poetry, or the movement in poetry when it was more important to hit the spoken word aspect of sounds rather than presenting a story, or a clean reading. There’s a lot of interaction with both of them. With rap, there is dancing, singing along, and even rap battles. With beat poetry, they also have battles and audience jeering. This is the primary similarity between poetry and rap.

However, not all poetry is beat or spoken word, and while you could debate that all rap is poetry, you could also debate all songs are poetry, or all music in general, even instrumental, is poetry. To start kids off in poetry, this is great, but once you want to get into the more complex explorations of poetry, once you start developing an understanding of different forms, different eras, rap and poetry stop being similar.

Not all poetry relies heavily on the spoken word’s beat, or tonality. A lot of it has been morphed into something that can be read silently to yourself, although it always sounds more visceral out loud. Also rap tends to be a lot longer than most poems today. With the waning attention spans due to the wide variety of entertainment, it’s hard to keep someone around for a 5 minute read, so poems tend to be one page.

If you look at the length of a typical rap song, such as Eminem’s “Rap God” you can easily see it’s much longer than one page. [Warning: explicit language in Rap God]

If you look at a recent poem published by The Poetry Foundation, like “A French Piano Tuner & a One-Eyed Glassblower Walk into a Bar” you will see that not only are the lines much shorter, but the poem in general is small. [Warning: explicit language in A French Piano Tuner & a One-Eyed Glassblower Walk into a Bar]

In many ways that’s because rap is made to almost be a verbal plethora of language, to speak quick and combine tricky sounds. Poetry in general, is a slower sport. This helps build the next difference between the two.

Rap is more prone to rhyming than poetry. That is because rap tends to ride through the rhythm and rhyme of the words to speak faster and keep your tongue from twisting, while poetry is relying more heavily on meaning and inferred messages. It becomes necessary to remain slower so people can catch all of the words clearly.

This isn’t to say that rappers don’t speak clearly, they do. It’s just that their goal is sometimes to best the others in their field by pure eloquence of phrase and speed, whereas Poetry aims to obtain the most visceral, or emotional response. Both of them also have classes within their groupings. Some are more popular than others, some are easier to follow than others.

While I talk about Eminem, there are some audiences who are widely familiar with the more popular rappers of today’s generation which have different styles of rapping, just as I know of many styles unlike the poem I used as an example. For instance, this particular song “XO Tour Llif3” produced by JW Lucas and TM88 on the most popular songs on SoundCloud, a music listening website, is different from “Rap God” but still considered rap.

Lastly, or at least the last one I want to talk about, is that rap is stylistically different. As you can see from the examples, rap and poetry can have the same subject matter, or similarly explicit language, but be very different in how they approach a situation.

For poetry, conservation is the name of the game. Fit as much as you can in the tightest space possible, and then cut half of it. In rap, it’s more about the flow of the style. Fit whatever you need to in the song, but make sure you’re entertaining and giving people they can use to follow along.

All in all, the primary difference falls down to the audience’s expectations. Poems used to be more like songs or rap, but the more we expect from either class, the less similar they become. As we expect people to avoid repeating themselves, the styles change to conform, and as we expect them to read less, again, the style changes. It becomes a game of knowing your audience and writing for them.

The last thing I’d like to leave you with is a question. What differences or similarities do you see between different songs? Can you pick out a writer from the lyrics alone, or does it take the voice?

National Poetry Month

It’s that time of year again.

National Poetry Month is based on the premise that the more you write, the better you’ll get, but there’s a flipside to that. The more you write, the less time you spend reading, and that can really hinder your ability to improve.

For me, it becomes a balance between reading and writing. Read a poem, write a poem, be aware of poetic language throughout the day, all of it is what National Poetry is good for.

The most surprising place I find beautiful poetry is on the radio. There are a lot of song writers today that develop language through poetry and write stories with their songs. Some of the big names in the business do just that, like Taylor Swift, and Eminem.

Sometimes the message isn’t always the right one, but listening to how the music flows with the words can help improve craft. You can concentrate on stresses, learn to write in meter, and how to rhyme better while listening to music.

So in that way, it can be really easy to get your “reading” time in if you have to drive, but you can also hide a chapbook in the bathroom, or have one on your phone through the Kindle app. They have a lot of poetry books for free in the store.

Most of them are the old books too, so you can learn some of the more famous names like Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Longfellow, and so forth.

 

A Poem: Inaugurations

I get sick of hearing
that we’re making history
with this or that, because we’re not making history.
History is what people of the future record.
People won’t look back in the book of records
and remember two hundred years from now
that these things happened.

They will look back, decide what they wish to say
and then morph it into the important side notes of life.
Current history isn’t history,
it’s a life changing event.

I went to see this amazing event,
but the event was more important to me than
making history.

Being in that crowed of all those people,
the president spoke and hearing the words
echo over the Jumbo-trons
made me shiver like a ghost touched me.

All these people,
all these individuals from everywhere, and everything,
came in curiosity, hope, and faith in this man.
Every crowed and every section on that day
had different reactions,
different moments of sadness,
of happiness, and cheers.

Those people in those crowds made up different lives
showed to represent different places
and all of us stood together,
crouched together
huddled together in the cold,
and listened together.

We may have been making history,
but it was about the moment,
that feeling of comradery and friendship
the ability to lean on your neighbor for warmth
a neighbor whom you would never meet again
and to see everyone at once react,
being enthralled in the speech.

The Inauguration of President Obama
wasn’t about making history
it was about the United States
coming together to support and witness this man
and it wasn’t about the first black President,
it was about a leader who could take us forward,
give us the support and hard work we need
to prove our vote still matters.

A Poem: Garden

Garden It was ripped to shreds turned over, and dumped atop a chipped hole in the earth. The garden had been pretty. Weedy, but pretty nevertheless. Like anything it took time to grow a bleeding heart, a couple bushes the occasional tulip planting a horrifying dog toy and bones but in the end, all of […]