|Attendees listening to lyrics and poems on audio devices and responding to questions.|
At our "Language Arts and Leadership" conference, I organized an activity where the high school boys listened to rap lyrics by Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z and a poem by Amiri Baraka.
After listening to Baraka's poem "Rhythm Blues," the task was to pose a question concerning something about the poem that stimulated curiosity. Baraka's poem includes double entendres, playful rhymes, black folk culture references, and repetitions of the word "blue," as in: "Blue slick / Blue slow / Blue quick / Blue cool / Blue hot." The poem closes with the lines:
Slave boy, leroy, from Newark HillSeveral of the boys raised a common question about the poem: "how can capitalism kill you?" The exercise was a pass-through exhibit where participants wrote and posted their questions on a board. So we didn't get a chance to discuss our queries about the poem.
If capitalism dont kill me, racism will!
I'm fascinated, though, that their curiosity about the potential lethal results of capitalism might linger with them for a while. They apparently had a sense of the dangers of racism, but they were unsure about the problems of an economic system.
Moving forward, I'll prompt more students I work with to identify aspects of poem that make them curious. I'll see what kinds of questions we might formulate based on reading poetry.
• The Language Arts and Leadership Conference, 2017