Last week I wrote a post about 3 Modern Poetry Ideas to Make Poetry Less Sucky In Your Classroom. This week I wanted to dive a little more in-depth with two of these: slam poems and spoken word poems. These are 5 extremely powerful pieces to discuss cultural issues with your high school students. You can use these slam poems to discuss gender issues, violence, racism, and much more. If you want to share these with students right away, I have fantastic resources ready to use; just click here!
Lee Mokobe "I was the mystery of an anatomy, a question asked but not answered,"
Lee Mokobe is a South African slam poet. In this performance piece from TED Women 2015, Mokobe describes their experiences of being transgender have been like. It is a beautiful and powerful story of finding one’s identity as well as the struggles many have with finding personal identity through societal expectations.
I like using this slam poem as a way to engage in discussions about how much is our identity our own and how much of it is what our society/culture/family/etc tell us it is.
Malcom London "This is a training ground. My high school is Chicago, diverse and segregated on purpose. Social lines are barbed wire. Labels like "Regulars" and "Honors" resonate."
London performed this piece in 2013 in which he describes the school system in Chicago that he attended at the time as a place in which you learned your place in society quickly. Terms such as “regulars” and “honors” label you and segregate you. I enjoy using this because it is from a high schooler’s perspective and this is something that my students talk about often.
Lemon Anderson "The hunger and thirst was, and still remains: How do I get people who hate poetry to love me? Because I'm an extension of my work, and if they love me, then they will love my work, and if they love my work, then they will love poetry, and if they love poetry, then I will have done my job, which is to transcend it to the world."
What I love about Lemon Anderson’s poem and TED Talk is that he starts out by performing Reg E. Gaines powerful slam poem “Don’t Take My Air Jordans” which is a harsh look at commercialism and greed in our society. Then, Anderson moves into a story about meeting Gaines and developing a mentor/mentee relationship. Anderson talks about times when I wanted to quit but eventually pushed through. So, now with this piece, students can discuss the cultural issues in the poem, but also what it means to have perseverance.
Tavis Brunson & Shanita Jackson- Stand Down "We have been swollen tongued, cotton-mouthed, quiet for too long"
This is a duet spoken word poem. This is an incredibly powerful look at racism in the country through personal experiences the poets have encountered. They also expand on the lessons they teach their sons in which they continuously repeat the phrase “stand down” in order to return home to them everyday. This can be an uncomfortable one for some of my students, but this is a topic that needs the conversation.
Helly Shah- What Society Says To Men "I always felt like men were born with a sense of entitlement in this world. Until now, until this."
This is an insightful spoken word poem from a woman who starts out thinking men were born entitled until she listened to what society tells men. The poem then goes into 5 things she has noticed society tells men their entire lives. This is a fantastic piece for the boys in my class to especially feel seen when we discuss gender issues. I like to pair this with Emma Watson’s UN speech “Why I’m A Feminist” in which she reminds the audience that the entire foundation of feminism is that both sexes achieve equality.
As you can see, you can cover so much with these short pieces and have truly meaningful conversations with students about cultural issues they face everyday in order to build empathy, understanding, and (hopefully) connectedness. If you want to share these with students right away, I have fantastic resources ready to use; just click here!