Friday, January 09, 2009

Poem into Song into Rap into Video

I’m teaching an introduction to literature using the book Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry and Drama by x.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Chapter 17 Song had poems which were also songs. On a whim I decided to look up these poems/songs from the literature book on youtube, and to my surprise I found multiple videos for all of them.”

Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory” about a rich man who seemed to had everything but shot himself at poem’s end is quite famous. The poem was rewritten by Paul Simon into a song which Simon and Garfunkle sang popularizing it. On youtube I watched a 1966 video of a young Simon and Garfunkle singing “Richard Cory.” On youtube video list the second video of “Richard Cory” by Nora Rodriguez called “my first music video” was even more fascinating. Rodriguez had Simon and Garfunkle singing “Richard Cory” while they had actors act out the poem—quite a wonderful musical recreation of a poem and a song.

For Shakespeare’s poem/song “O Mistress Mine” from his play Twelfth Night the first youtube video was Ben Kingsley singing the poem/song from the 1996 movie version of the play. The Kingsley clip is quite wonderful starting out with him singing, then showing other characters in the play, and then back to Kingsley. There were many other youtube videos of “O Mistress Mine” to watch, of course.

Dudley Randall wrote a powerful “Ballad of Birmingham” about the tragic bombing of a church in Birmingham killing four black children during the civil rights movement. The first amazing video of the poem song accompanying a music video “Slavery and Civil War” with the singing accompanied by powerful photos and illustrations of slavery and civil war. Tennessee State University produced the second brilliant music video which has two wonderful singers singing the poem along with a montage of photos and film from the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The vocals are song by Santayana Harris and Kameka Woods, both of whom have amazing voices.

W. H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” is Auden’s version of a blues. The movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral” helped make Auden’s blues famous, and you can on youtube see the section of the movie where a character at a funeral recites the poem. But even better is “Funeral Blues” W.H. Auden Tribute where a wonderful female singer sings the poem cabaret style more like Auden wrote it. Also someone did a music video of "Funeral Blues" read to photos of actor Heath Ledger as a tribute to him.

The literature book has an excerpt from rapper Run D.M.C ‘s “Pied Piper.” Of course, youtube has a video of Run D.M.C. doing the whole rap “Pied Piper” which has many literary references to fairy tales and nursery rhymes--it's really good. Yes, rap is poetry, popular poetry just like traditional folk ballads like Barbara Allen.

I gave my students a homework assignment to see the youtube videos and they seemed to like seeing poems as songs on videos. I learned something from this as I hoped they did.


Maxine Beneba Clarke said...

It is inspiring that people like you are teaching your students that words can sing. I never knew they could, until I started singing poems and realised people wanted to listen. said...

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