Poetry: Broadway and Black-Out

Poetry: Broadway and Black-Out

Broadway:

Raise your hand if you are familiar with Hamilton, the latest broadway craze sweeping the nation. If you’ve never heard of it, check out this website to listen to a few songs from Hamilton: http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com/

For those of you who are die-hard fans, read on.

This spring, I chose to teach some songs from Hamilton to my Creative Writing class. Because Lin Manuel Miranda has been said to do “exactly what Shakespeare does… He takes the language of the people, and heightens it by making it verse”,  I thought this production would be perfect to teach skills students normally consider “dry, confusing, and boring”: assonance, consonance, perfect rhyme, and internal rhyme (McCarter).

First, I had students independently explore a website that built an algorithm for breaking down the rhyming patterns within Hamilton songs: http://graphics.wsj.com/hamilton/

This was a valuable experience for all students because they were able to see the patterns appear in real time within a variety of songs’ lyrics. Even better, they could check for patterns within songs by some of their favorite artists. 

The next day in class, students worked together to annotated poetry for the skills we studied previously. I printed a variety of stanzas from famous poetry in large fonts and taped them to the top of desks throughout the room. With a partner, students marked up the pages using colored pencils and highlighters; at the end of class, we talked about the techniques they found most effective and interesting. Overall, this approach proved more effective than traditional approaches I’ve attempted before.   

Black-Out:

Next, we moved on to black-out poetry (a type of “reduction poetry” that you probably have heard of). If you haven’t tried this in your classroom, it is definitely worth the time. All you need is an old, cheap book from Goodwill, some black markers, and colored pencils. Every time I teach this lesson, students are amazed with their ability to create an original, creative poem; even students who normally hate poetry love black-out poetry.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Tear out the pages from the old book you chose (I know, it hurts, but it’s worth it!),
  2. Supply each student with a pencil and black marker,
  3. Have students skim the page for an anchor word–a word that sticks out to them,
  4. Circle words/phrases around the anchor word to fill out your new poem, and
  5. (Literally) black out everything else. (You may also use white out if it’s available.)

If you want to be fancy:

  1. Assign students’ a theme to follow; this is especially effective if you are doing this alongside a thematic unit.
  2. Encourage students to incorporate a creative drawing in their poem.

Here are some examples from our classes:

“I turn my words into art instead of suffering.”

“She did not blink. Perhaps, she’s fighting demons. I believe her.”

“Time meant nothing. We were laid on the table into two perfect squares.”

“Love is magic. Over the years, the work itself inspires passion. Those who find it seem enlightened and serene.”

 

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