Spoken word is a form of oral poetry that evolved out of the Harlem Renaissance and is credited with giving rise to slam poetry. Spoken word relies heavily upon attention to meter and rhythm and is most commonly written in free verse. It often features personal, social, or political commentary.
In Benin William Lemus’ “How To Hover Right Above Crashing,” she uses the spoken word genre to offer a plea – part disillusioned ode, part despairing eulogy – to the fallen poet-hero Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011). Scott-Heron is known as one of America’s most influential spoken word poets and his 1970 poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is one of the most famous spoken word poems of the twentieth century. As referenced in William Lemus’ poem, Scott-Heron became addicted to drugs and spent many decades disappointing fans by missing scheduled performances.
The lesson plan suggestions accompanying this poem can be spread over one or two 50 minute class periods (depending on class size) or combined with other poetry activities to form a larger poetry unit.
LESSON PLAN SUGGESTIONS
If your students are not already familiar with the following genres, poetic devises, and archetypes, assign these words for students to look up: spoken word, ode, eulogy, meter, rhythm, caesura, tone, allusion, fallen hero, and anti-hero.
2. Read and Discuss the Poem
(Before students read this poem, you may consider giving them a brief introduction to Gil Scott-Heron.)
Have students read the poem out loud in pairs or small groups. Each student should get a chance to read the poem aloud, focusing on following the rhythm set by the poem’s meter and verse breaks.
Possible Discussion Questions
- Can you point to any current public figures or artists who can be described as fallen heroes? Anti-heroes?
- What is the difference between a fallen hero and an anti-hero?
- Have you ever been disappointed by a public figure or someone you looked up to?
- Describe the tone of this poem. Point to words or phrases that support this conclusion.
- Discuss the effects that the line breaks and pauses (or caesuras) create when reciting this poem out loud.
- Do you recognize any of the allusions in this poem? (Charlie, Dexter, Mingus, Bessie refer to Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and Charles Mingus – all pioneering jazz musicians, and Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues.)
3. Poetry Prompts
#1. Write a spoken word poem centering on the topic of an artist or other public figure who has disappointed,
saddened, or angered you. Be sure to include how or why that person has fallen in your opinion. Include allusions
to other public figures, either in contrast to or similar to the central figure of the poem. Pay attention to the
importance of meter and line break in helping to create rhythm and emphasis.
#2. Alternatively, write a spoken word poem about an artist or other public figure who inspires you. Be sure to include
how or why that person has impressed you. Include allusions to other public figures, either in contrast to or similar
to the central figure of the poem. Pay attention to meter and line break in helping to create rhythm and emphasis.
#3. Pick a social or political issue that you feel strongly about and write a spoken word poem focusing on how this
issue effects you and/or others. Use specific words and examples to create a tone for your poem that matches your
feelings about this issue. Pay attention to meter and line break in helping to create rhythm and emphasis.
Have students present their poems orally in a subsequent class.
See attached rubric for suggestions in grading oral presentations. [Link here to rubric.]
CALIFORNIA STATE CONTENT STANDARDS
This activity meets standards for English-Language Arts, grades 9th-12th: Listening and Speaking Strategies by giving students the chance to present oral presentations of their own writing and to work with genres.
1.0 Listening and Speaking Strategies
Students formulate adroit judgments about oral communication. They deliver focused
and coherent presentations of their own that convey clear and distinct perspectives
and solid reasoning. They use gestures, tone, and vocabulary tailored to the audience