Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shakespeare and Hip-Hop

April is such a great month for us bibliophiles.  First, we're celebrating the entire month as National Poetry Month, and then April 23 is generally accepted as the birthday of the most-acknowledged writer of the English language--William Shakespeare.

So in honor of Mr. Shakespeare birth on or around this date in 1564, here is a wonderful resource I found recently.  It seems that in England there is an organization that is exploring the connections between Shakespeare's works and....hip-hop.  Not necessarily the first connection that would leap to my mind, at least, but The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company founder Akala makes a good case for it.

For example, check out this video of his presentation before one of the TED gatherings.  First, he challenges the audience to guess which lines are quotes from Shakespeare, and which are quotes from rapper songs (and believe me, it's not as easy to tell as you might think).  Then, he gives two renditions of one of Shakespeare's most famous poems, Sonnet #18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?").  Both fall into hip-hop rhythms perfectly, showing that Shakespeare's "outdated" iambic pentameter is actually current in today's music.

Anyway, don't take my word for it....check it out yourself in this TED video:

It is, after all, the sign of a masterpiece that it can be re-interpreted and re-imagined over the ages.  The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company seems to be doing a great job of reaching at-risk youth and having them tap into the genius and wonder of the works of William Shakespeare.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day 2013 ! (And A Great Poetry Resource too!)

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day, one of the events for National Poetry Month, a month-long celebration of poetry held in April each year by the Academy of American Poets.  On April 18--Poem in Your Pocket Day--people are urged to carry a piece of poetry in their pockets and to share it with other people during the day.  It is a fun activity to get poetry out of the hallowed halls of academia and into everyday life.

My selection for this year's pocket poem is Mark Doty's "A Display of Mackerel":

A Display of Mackerel 
They lie in parallel rows, 
on ice, head to tail, 
each a foot of luminosity 

barred with black bands, 
which divide the scales' 
radiant sections 

like seams of lead 
in a Tiffany window. 
Iridescent, watery 

prismatics: think abalone, 
the wildly rainbowed 
mirror of a soapbubble sphere, 

think sun on gasoline. 
Splendor, and splendor, 
and not a one in any way 

distinguished from the other 
--nothing about them 
of individuality. Instead 

they're all exact expressions 
of one soul, 
each a perfect fulfillment 

of heaven's template, 
mackerel essence. As if, 
after a lifetime arriving 

at this enameling, the jeweler's 
made uncountable examples, 
each as intricate 

in its oily fabulation 
as the one before. 
Suppose we could iridesce, 

like these, and lose ourselves 
entirely in the universe 
of shimmer--would you want 

to be yourself only, 
unduplicatable, doomed 
to be lost? They'd prefer, 
plainly, to be flashing participants, 
multitudinous. Even now 
they seem to be bolting 

forward, heedless of stasis. 
They don't care they're dead 
and nearly frozen, 

just as, presumably, 
they didn't care that they were living: 
all, all for all, 

the rainbowed school 
and its acres of brilliant classrooms, 
in which no verb is singular, 

or every one is. How happy they seem, 
even on ice, to be together, selfless, 
which is the price of gleaming. 

Copied from poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets

I chose this poem for several reasons.  First, last year we were involved in a year-long Oceans Coop that culminated in an unforgettable trip to study the coral reefs in the Virgin Islands.  So the nominal subject matter-fish--is close to my heart.  Secondly, several lines in there really reminded me of a wonderful art exhibit called "Carbon Load" that my son's very talented art teacher, Jenny Eggleston of Egg in Nest Art Studio, had at ArtSpace in 2011.

Mostly, however, I think I picked this poem because I read a wonderful essay by Doty on his thought process as he was composing this poem.  It is a wonderful explanation of how poetry can proceed from a simple, everyday image--like a row of fish on ice--to a grander statement on the nature of life, death, and everything in between.  Entitled "Souls on Ice," it is a great resource for students and teachers trying to better comprehend the magic and magnificence that is poetry.  I recommend you read it on the poets.org website.

And don't forget to share your favorite poem with other people today!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Middle Schoolers Entering Essay Contest on Historical Items Can Win Up to $10,000 Scholarship

The HISTORY® Channel is running a contest for students ages 7-13 called the Kid Pickers Pick and Tell National Student Contest, based on their program, American Pickers, in which Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz search for interesting historical items at flea markets, estate sales, old barns, and other such places.

Elementary and middle school students are invited to go on their own quest to find t unique historical items, collectibles, or other memorabilia in their community. Students then write short essays of 500 words or less describing their historical item they have picked and its significance. The Grand Prize, First Place, and Second Place winners will receive $10,000, $5,000, and $3,000 scholarships respectively, and will travel to Mike Wolfe's Antique Archaeology story in Nashville, TN.

Download the rules and entry forms at www.history.com/shows/american-pickers/pages/pick-and-tell. The essays must be submitted by May 17, 2013.

It sounds like a fun way to make local history personal and to practice those essay-writing skills. Good luck to all

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Discover the History of Words with Mysteries of Venacular

Expanding your vocabulary is a great goal in itself, but it tends to take up more importance as students prepare to face such tests at End of Grade (EOG) exams and SAT/ACT, etc.  But here is a resource that can make your vocabulary-building more fun.

The website, Mysteries of Venacular, is developing a series of fun videos on the twists and turns that English words have taken from their Greek, Latin, Old English, or other roots to their modern meanings and spellings.  Mysteries of Venacular tend to focus on simple words, like clue or hearse, but which came from unique or memorable origins (Greek mythology for the former and a word for "wolf" for the latter).  Once you've seen one of these videos, you'll never forget where the word came from.

For example, watch this video on the derivation of the word "noise":

Plus, some of the words have some additional content on the TED-Ed Lesson Plan site. The lesson plan for the word "noise" has some additional questions to make you think about the etymology, a place to discuss your thoughts about this word with other people, and other resources, such as the top five sounds scientists have discovered are the worst for the human ear.  And just imagine--nails on a blackboard is only #5!  To listen to the sound of the single worst assault on human hearing, check out the lesson plan.

Right now, there are only a few words, but new videos are being added periodically.  So while it isn't a mainstay for vocabulary building, it is an intriguing resource for families like ours who are continually amazed at some of the way that English came to be as it is today.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Middle School Summer Camp Opportunity: Young Writers' Workshop at NCSU

If your middle schoolers gets really inspired after participating in the Teen Poetry Contest in my earlier post, then NC State University has a summer camp that might be right up their alley.  The Young Writers' Workshop, sponsored by the NC State College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of English, is a two-week, nonresidential summer camp with daily afternoon activities to help students in late elementary and middle school to develop their creative writing abilities. 

The students spend two and a half hours on campus each afternoon with lessons on four different tracks:  fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and drama (each students lists their preferences, and are placed in two different areas).  Established professional writers, most of whom also teach at area colleges or high schools, give lectures, assign writing activities, put students into small groups to discuss or create something together, or work with students one-on-one on their writing. 

The students-to-teacher is kept low (a maximum of 12 students per instructor) to assure that all writers get individual attention.  The teen writers get instruction in such creative writing components as plot, character development, conflict, action, and more.  On the final day, students invite friends and families to celebrate the creativity of the group through a public reading of the work they have produced; they also get to take home a journal of work created by themselves and their peers.

The Teen Writers' Workshop costs $250, and is open to rising 4th through 8th graders.  They are now accepting applications, which require students to express what they hope to achieve through their participation as well as to submit up to two pages of their current creative writing.  The deadline for applying is Monday, June 3.

For more information, check out their website or contact the program director, Laura Giovanelli, at lbgiovan@ncsu.edu.