John Dewey said that “education is not preparation for life, but life itself.” I took this quote to heart when I planned my assignments for the Boston semester. I believe that the rational for larger assignments should not be that students will need those skills in their future lives, but that they will need those skills soon, for something real, something much more important than a grade. For my unit on poetry I wanted students to have a real life reason to learn the skills associated with this unit, and what better way of motivating students to learn the skills associated with poetry than by creating a real poetry slam, with real slam poets, at a real NYC comedy club?
Think Global School invited the four-time National Poetry Slam Winner, Taylor Mali to meet us in New York to take the poetic techniques and devices we had learned in class to the next level.
We started our unit in poetry by completing experiments or investigations into a particular use of a poetic device. Each class was centered around the central question, “what makes good poetry good?” With this mindset, we set about to break down poetry into a few key techniques and analyze each of those separately. And of course, because this is TGS, we decided to look at those particular skills while also getting a background on each of the major poetry movements that occurred in the USA.
We started by asking ourselves, “what makes good diction good?” We decided to attempt to answer this question while analyzing Edgar Allen Poe‘s “The Raven” and also making some assumptions and conclusions about the American Romantic Period of poetry.
We then asked, “What makes a good comparison?” We searched for an answer while studying the Harlem Renaissance and using Langston Hughes “Harlem” or “Dream Deferred” compared to his other poem, “Dreams.”
Finally, we looked at how to create ‘good’ sound by studying the American Hip Hop movement and looking at a song by Nas and analyzing how his use of different types of rhymes creates a type of flow.
Following all of these ‘experiments’ students had a pretty good understanding and opinion on what makes ‘good’ poetry, and we put these skills to the test by spending a few days writing our own poems. During this time students were given a lot of choice and free range on how they wanted their poems to sound and feel.
Finally, it was time for the main event. Students, poems in hand, had a chance to learn from a master of presentation, Taylor Mali. Taylor came in and did a two hour session with my students focusing on the presentation aspect of a poem when slammed.
Taylor had many valuable hints that we will all take with us for life including how to stand, how to approach a microphone, what to do with your hands, and how to end a poem.
Following this workshop, it was time for our student’s final presentations. With Taylor as host and two of his friends, Thuli Zuma and Olivia Gatwood, to help pump up the crowd by presenting some of their own poems, students presented in front of a live audience at the Gotham Comedy Club. A review of the performance by our headmaster, Alun Cooper, can be read here, and the entire performance can be seen here.