Drama Links - Sade | Sophie Jewett, Langston Hughes

In intermediate Language Arts, Ontario students look at poetic devices like personification and metaphor for the poetry unit.  Now my experience has always been looking at a few teacher-generated examples on the board.  The wind howled in the night.  Her eyes were sparkling stars.  End of lesson.  Sure these are enough to understand the general idea. But why not use a few songs or poems to drive the message closer to home? (Excuse the pun ;)

I chose a song by Sade and two poems by Sophie Jewett and Langston Hughes all related to the theme of family and parenthood.  All three have beautiful metaphors invoking protection and guardianship at home and in the natural world. 

The Sweetest Gift by Sade
Quietly while you were asleep
The moon and I were talking
I asked that she'd always keep you protected

She promised you her light
That you so gracefully carry
You bring your light and shine like morning

And then the wind pulls the clouds across the moon
Your light fills the darkest room
And I can see the miracle
That keeps us from falling

She promised all the sweetest gifts
That only the heaven's could bestow
You bring your light and shine like morning

And as you so gracefully give
Her light as long as you live
I'll always remember this moment

To a Child by Sophie Jewett
The leaves talked in the twilight, dear;   
   Hearken the tale they told:   
How in some far-off place and year,   
   Before the world grew old,

I was a dreaming forest tree,
   You were a wild, sweet bird
Who sheltered at the heart of me
   Because the north wind stirred;

How, when the chiding gale was still,   
   When peace fell soft on fear,
You stayed one golden hour to fill
   My dream with singing, dear.

To-night the self-same songs are sung   
   The first green forest heard;
My heart and the gray world grow young—
   To shelter you, my bird.

April Rain Song by Langston Hughes
Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—

And I love the rain.
I learned about the improv warm-up "I am a Tree" from a workshop visit by Larry Swartz in my J/I English class.  It was really fun to do.  Here's a video explaining the activity :)

You can have fun with the nature images and metaphors in Sade's song and these two poems using tableau in small groups:
  • Divide the class into small groups of 4 or 5.
  • Each group will choose one of the three texts.  Draw pictures or list images and metaphors in the song.
  • Play the "I am a Tree" tableau game to interpret the figurative and implicit messages of the song or poem.


It's Love, Love, Love! - Simon & Garfunkel | Rita Dove, Major Jackson

Valentine's Day is coming up! A blog on poetry and music for teen-aged students would be incomplete without exploring the theme of love. Tonnes of songs and sonnets have been written about the euphoria of love and heartbreak. Reader response takes the forefront for these poems and lyrics.

Now this Simon & Garfunkel song is your typical lovestruck ballad but the obvious imagery and narrative style is too good to pass up. 

For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her by Simon & Garfunkel
What a dream I had
dressed in organdy
clothed in crinoline
of smoky burgundy
softer than the rain

I wandered empty streets down
past the shop displays
I heard cathedral bells
dripping down the alley ways
as I walked on

and when you ran to me
your cheeks flushed with the night
we walked on frosted fields
of juniper and lamplight
I held your hand

and when I awoke
and felt you warm and near
I kissed your honey hair
with my grateful tears
oh, I love you
oh, I love you
I found these next two poems from an online teaching resource "Dream in Color" from the Poetry Foundation website (Research #16) featuring poems from famous African American writers. I'm a big fan of Rita Dove ever since I've read Thomas and Beulah for an American lit course in undergrad.  Rita Dove's poem "Heart to Heart" deconstructs the symbol of the organ of love, and looks at it rather literally.

Heart to Heart by Rita Dove
It's neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn't melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can't feel

It doesn't have
a tip to spin on,
it isn't even
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want
but I can't open it:
there's no key.
I can't wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it's all yours, now—
but you'll have
to take me,

Jackson's poem plays with the agony of high school crushes and hallway encounters with the prettiest girl in the school.

Urban Renewal XVIII by Major Jackson
How untouchable the girls arm-locked strutting
up the main hall of Central High unopposed
for decades looked. I flattened myself against
the wall, unnerved by their cloudsea of élan,
which pounced upon any timid girl regrettably
in their way, their high-wattage lifting slow motion
like curls of light strands of honey. The swagger
behind their blue-tinted sunglasses and low-rider
jeans hurt boys like me, so vast the worlds
between us, even the slightest whiff of recognition,
an accidental side glance, an unintended tongue-piercing
display of Juicy Fruit chew, was intoxicating
and could wildly cast a chess-playing geek into
a week-long surmise of inner doubts, likelihoods,
and depressions. You might say my whole life led
to celebrating youth and how it snubs and rebuffs.
Back then I learned to avoid what I feared
and to place my third-string hopes on a game-winning
basketball shot, sure it would slow them to a stop,
pan their lip-glossed smiles, blessing me with their cool.
Here are some questions I have in mind for the classroom:
  • Choose either of Simon & Garfunkel's ballad, Rita Dove's or Major Jackson's poem.  Which of the three declarations of love best replicate your views on infatuation or relationships?  Explain.
  • Describe Dove's short line structure and how it connects to the poem's message.  How does she describe the symbol of the heart?  In your opinion, what is the speaker trying to say literally and implicitly about love?
  • How does the speaker in Major Jackson's poem use hyperbole to describe his admiration for his high school crush?
  • Write a song or free verse poem describing your views on love or experiences of heartbreak.

All Pon and Zi cartoons by deviantartist Azuzephre were taken from www.ponandzi.com. I love Pon and Zi! <3 Aren't they cute?


Book Review: Hip Hop Speaks to Children

I just got home from TES class where we had our School Life Involvement poster exhibit from our last practicum.  Right behind my group's Feel Fit Club display was Boys Rap: Reading and Perspective by Ana Pascolo, Susan Lee, and Danielle Triagini. Providence? I think so :).

The objective of their club is basically what my whole blog is all about.  They had this book on display and as a source for a couple of their club's activities at St. Dominic's.  I was flipping through it, and look what I found...!

Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight"! I totally called this song back in January before I got hold of this book.  At least now I have print reference.  Books sound more convincing than blog posts, especially New York Times Bestsellers.  The book is geared towards junior students in elementary.  Just goes to show that primary kids can learn about the issues and messages in these songs too.

The book references a variety of poets and lyricists, almost indistinct from each other - unless you're familiar with the work and artists.  From Gwendolyn Brooks to Lauryn Hill and Queen Latifah.  Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. to Tupac Shakur and Kanye West.  I highly recommend the book.  

The only drawback is that the CD tracks are mostly spoken readings by the author.  So you'll have to find the songs sung by the artist yourself.  They're not included in the CD.  Otherwise, great find!  I'll be referencing a couple songs and poems from here in my future posts.  Research #10!  Why do I get the sinking filling that my Research page gets longer while my postings are way overdue for updates? :S


Survival and Dreams - Tupac Shakur | Langston Hughes

I browsed through this book during a recent visit to Chapters.  As much as I enjoy his music, his poems on print did not do it for me. The title poem, the first in the book, is probably the best piece of writing in there from a literary perspective at least.  But this poem is a great idea for a minds on or hook activity. There's lots to unpack. The imagery and metaphors are loaded. 

The Rose that Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur (sung by Nikki Giovanni)
Did you hear about the rose
that grew from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's laws wrong
it learned how to walk without havin feet.
Funny it seems but, by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else even cared.
No one else even cared..
The rose that grew from concrete.

The song version below is from a tribute album compiling some of Tupac's written work after his death.

In Ippolito's article, she mentions the lesson planning process behind teaching literacy.  One teacher wanted to approach music and poetry precisely: Langston Hughes, rhythm and blues structure, and the Harlem Renaissance.  But she had to take a broader approach and explore the big idea.  The relationship between music and poetry.  Its evolution and influence over time.  The teacher suggests comparing a poem and a song side by side, before asking students to gather and present their own examples (Research #1).
  • What makes a poem a poem?  What makes a song a song? Explore the stylistic differences and thematic similiarities.
Why not put Tupac's poem turned song next to Hughes' Harlem.  Some big ideas in both texts are...
  • struggle
  • survival
  • ambition
  • identity
  • hope
  • dreams

Harlem by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?
Some critical literacy type questions you can ask are...(based on Research #10)
  • What words, images, and phrases come to mind when you think about Harlem, New York (incidentally where Tupac was raised until the age of 13)?  What about the Bronx? Vancouver's Downtown Eastside? Toronto's Rexdale or Parkdale? 
  • How would Tupac's or Hughes' poems be different if they were written from the perspective of a man who grew up in Manhattan? West Vancouver? Toronto's Rosedale?  If it were told from the perspective of a child, parent, or older sibling in the same stigmatized neighbourhood?
  • How do people in society judge each other based on hometown, financial status, race, sex, ambitions and dreams?  What messages are Tupac or Hughes presenting in their poems?  How are they different?
  • Would Tupac's message ring true for a young child attending a slum school in an impoverished country?  If you went to a squatter area in Metro Manila and told some of the little children that they could be anything they wanted to be someday if they studied and worked really hard, how can you justify your message of hope.  What environmental condititions are needed for dreams to take root and actually flourish? 

 From a reader response perspective (based on Research #8), you can ask...
  • Looking at Tupac's poem, has anyone ever told you that you could not do something?  That you are incapable of accomplishing a goal you set out for yourself?  How did you feel?  What did you do?
  • Describe a time when you succeeded against all odds.
  • Answer Hughes' question: "What happens to a dream deferred?"
  • Do any of the speakers in either poem, remind you of a sibling, friend, or classmate?  In what ways?
  • Have you ever dreamed of doing anything that you did not pursue or act on?  What emotions or thoughts do you feel looking back at the past?


Praise Poems

For Equity Day, I took a workshop on teaching First Nations history to youth (Research #11).  The presenters from the OISE Centre for Urban Schooling showed a YouTube song video of War Party, a hip hop First Nations group based in Alberta.  The song was "Feeling Reserved" about life in reservations, the gang mentality the youth adopt, and the issues they can't leave home but bring with them to school.

Karen Murray was one of the presenters and taught high school English.  She said she taught poetic devices through song lyrics and rap before bringing the kids to Shakespeare.  Also, Jeff Kugler talked about Regent Park students here in Toronto who wrote songs about gentrification in their neighbourhood.  Song writing is a craft teachers could use to get students riled up about writing.

A culminating writing task they highly recommended was Praise Poems.  They are based on an African tradition used by tribes for young adults.  Here's the format of the handout they gave us.
Praise Poems
The format is:
1.  Your lineage:  I am the son/daughter of...who was the son/daughter of...etc. Talk about your cultural, ethnic, or other aspects of your identity or lineage.
2.  Physical description:  I am tall, with long dark hair and full wide hips.  My belly is round...My eyes are bright and...
3.  Who you are:  You can say whatever it is that makes you you that is special about you or important to you...
They also provided a student exemplar that resonated with me:
I am the son of Carl Sr. who is the son of Levi.
I am the only boy out of 5 children.
I am a useful and worthy vessel of brown skin
with a thin frame but all structure,
with two large foundations.
Yet at 6’6" and 215 pounds,
I’m just a teenager eager to learn,
still able to mold, the center of the crowd.
I’m athletic but artistic, open-minded but optimistic,
with a heavy desire for success.
Friendly sociable, intelligent, and strong willed,
blessed with courageous and God fearing parents,
who always push to keep me in the right direction.
I love to be with my church, family as well as my own,
with a strong-will to play basketball and develop literary skill.
There’s much I think I know,
but there’s still lots of wisdom to enstow.
I will be successful, I will survive,
and I can achieve anything with God on my side.  (See Research #14 for other examples)
The lines underlined circled around in my head.  This kind of writing empowers students and validates who they are.  And what they value. Equity.  Social Justice. Bullying. Close the achievement gap.  Key terms at OISE.  But I think before we can even begin to address those issues fully, we need to give students power and voice.  Writing allows for that.  You can tell them how able and brilliant they are all you want.  But it doesn't reach the same level as them searching for it and publishing it themselves.


Mary J. Blige | Shakespeare

From Mary J. Blige's 2002 album "No More Drama," Track 16 features the spoken poem "Forever No More".  You can listen to a clip of it from Amazon.
No more invisible, speechless, deaf and blind child
If neglected pleasures being addicted to denial
Floating through time, gravitating towards a warm arm
With an appetite for the emptiness that promises, no harm

No more uncontrollable eruptions of emotional depression
A primal SOS from the barren prison of selfless expression
That only the guilty with innocent souls know
Buried in the social scar tissue of a defective ego

No more relentless sifting through bodies seeking self
Settling through competitive combat for what's left on the shelf
A mad melee of supply and demand driven by a gullible pride
That leads to sedating the you that suffocates inside

No more, forever no more, because I've unshut my eyes
And the difference between God's word and man's will was realized
Seeing opposed and parallel lives, some liquid and others frozen
Led me to never seek from man what God has chosen
Tracy Wagner who taught high school students in the States used these lyrics to teach sonnets from Romeo and Juliet.  She has clear instructions about group work and questions on tone, rhyme scheme, couplet, quatrain, word choice, and theme (Research #13, Slide 22-27).

She doesn't lay out interpretations of the lyrics in the slides, so I had to do some analysis myself.  Students would have their own of course.  I think the first stanza talks about lust and failed relationships.  When I read the fourth stanza, I am reminded of the religious metaphors and foreshadowing in the shared sonnet between the doomed lovers challenging fate near the end of Act One Scene 5.

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.

Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take (lines 93-106).
Wagner asks more open-ended questions, letting students explore the words and meaning without specific guided questions.  She does a thorough job of looking at rhyme scheme and tone though.  But I have some key questions in mind for those having trouble with theme:
  • From the song, who is the "invisible, speechless, deaf and blind child" (line 1) in the first half of the poem?
  • What do you think the speaker means by the image of "gravitating towards a warm arm" (line 2)?
  • Explore the phrase "an appetite for the emptiness that promises no harm" (line 4)?
  • Compare Mary J. Blige's lyrics to the friar's warning in Act 2 Scene 6:
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately; long love doth so;
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow (lines 9-15). 


    August's Rhapsody

    Me Read? No Way! lists great writing activities using music without lyrics to spur or inspire students.

    Students can:
    • "create word lists,
    • phrases,
    • lyrics,
    • descriptions of feelings,
    • word-images,
    • letters,
    • dramas or dialogues,
    • slogans or protests,
    • poems or chants,
    • or an imagined description of the composer" (Research #8, 24).

      August's Rhapsody is from the final scene of the 2007 movie August Rush.  This 7-minute medley tracks the different emotions and adventures of the musical boy genius as he is separated and finds and brings his parents together in the end through music.

      Without lyrics, students are free to explore their own feelings and responses to the orchestra and jot down some of their ideas.  You can ask:
      • Pick a section that you identify with emotionally and write about a memory or feeling that it evokes.
      • Create a short narrative poem about the life of the character this music medley tracks.
      • Write a story (with a partner) based on the line spoken in the end, "Music is all around us.  All you have to do is listen."
      • What role does music play in your life?
      I got this last idea from my music class with Alison Kenny-Gardhouse.  We listened to Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and did all kinds of fun of activities.  One of them was a brainstorming chart.  So for "August's Rhapsody" why not have your students...
      • Do a See, Feel, Hear Chart as a guide for brainstorming words and emotions.  (This will pull out rich vocabulary and gauge reader response as well.)