swaggacity in the heart land, or the hart that crosses a city street: notes from Hip Hop in the Heartland

by Wendy Vardaman

    Fo shizzle, crunk, hella: I put in glass jars like rare moths.
I want to hang them on the doors of sonnets
like a welcome sign to an apartment
I don’t live in

—Michael Cirelli, “Dead Ass”

'Ay' quoth Jacques,
'Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens;
Tis just the fashion: wherefore do you look
Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there?'
Thus most invectively he pierceth through
The body of the country, city, court,
Yea, and of this our life, swearing that we
Are mere usurpers, tyrants and what's worse,
To fright the animals and to kill them up
In their assign'd and native dwelling-place.

—Shakespeare, As You Like It

Wicked as I kicked it
Don't need to remix it
'Cause I prefixed it
Reversed and switched it
To perform to perfection
Section for section
Rhymes keep connectin'
Ya guessin' what's next an'
Blood pressure rises, ya damn near lost it
Ya hit the ground burnin' and woke up frostbit'
'Cause when I explained ya can't complain for pain
Travel through the brain hit a vein
Then remain, let it radiate
Vibes will vibrate
Why did you violate
Now I'm 'a have to let the style brak

—Erik B. & Rakim, “Let the Rhythm Hit Em”

Hip means to know 
It's a form of intelligence 
To be hip is to be up-date and relevant 
Hop is a form of movement 
You can't just observe a hop 
You got to hop up and do it 
Hip and Hop is more than music 
Hip is the knowledge 
Hop is the movement 
Hip and Hop is intelligent movement 
Or relevant movement 
We selling the music.
So write this down on your black books and journals
Hip Hop culture is eternal
Run and tell all your friends

—KRS-One, “Hip Hop Lives”

A deer 20 feet distant crosses a 4-lane city street, stopping traffic with an I’ve-got-your-attention-now screech, then disappears into the golf-course forest, as I’m running to the gym. I’m not sure if that’s swag or just weird, but since I just finished a week at “Hip Hop in the Heartland, the 7th Annual Educator and Community Leader Training Institute at the UW-Madison,” I am thinking about the institute, what I learned there and its language, a lot. I have not been to the gym for a week, so my thinking may be a little more muddled than usual. I have also missed a week of work at my part-time job/part-time volunteer gig as a theater administrator during the crazy-even-for-us busiest season—30 performances in 38 days: King Lear, King Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, and As You Like It, uncut and acted by young people ages 5-25. Do I need to say I’m exhausted?

The deer that leaps out into the street startles and arrests me. I’ve never seen a deer in Madison before, let alone popping out of nowhere to cross a 4-lane street with cars coming in both directions. I think about how we get derailed from our brain trails. Surprise. Juxtaposition. Putting things that are unexpected next to each other. Shakespeare did that—it’s one of the things that made his work innovative and influential. In his language—coining words and phrases and using one part of speech as another; in the architecture of his plays—poetry and prose together, sometimes back and forth; in his characters—nobles, workers, cons, peasants, artists, etc., and those like Hal, in the Henry plays, who travels among worlds and roles, learning & speaking different languages, acting various parts, and self-consciously directing himself and others in a series of impromptu plays, or Rosalind in As You Like It, disguised as a boy and moving from the world of the court to that of the country.

Maybe there are common structural aspects of the language that thrills us? I recognize similar features in Shakespeare and in the language of hip hop and hip hop theater. Both enact a struggle between order and chaos, and both make it necessary for the audience to join the struggle in order to resolve the chaos. Both set up a wrestling match between parts of my brain that don’t always talk to each other.


Hip hop shouldn’t be confused with rap, though rapping (MCing/emceeing) is mostly synonymous with one of its elements, variously counted as 4, 5, 6, 7 & more. These include MCing, Writing (graffiti), DJing, Break Dancing (aka Breaking, B-boying, B-girling). Other elements are self-knowledge. Sometimes beatboxing. Sometimes fashion. If you think of theater, rap is the script (or the words). The art of being an emcee is more than scripting, though; it’s performing the words and the relationship between the words and music if it exists (the emcee’s flow). Spoken word might not include music, but the performance element is still more integral to the words than for most text-based poets. Thinking theatrically, hip hop can also include and mean movement/ choreography/ the body—breaking; technical elements/effects—Djing; scenery/the visual—graffing/writing. Music is also pervasive—it can be produced by the voice/the MC; by the body, mouth and hands, in beatboxing; by the DJ and equipment; by the feet.

Hip hop at its origin is portable. Improvisational. Do it yourself. Making do. Like theater at its origin. Like let’s-put-on-a-show theater. Like backyard Shakespeare.

Hip hop is the multiethnic youth culture that emerged from the Bronx in the 70s. A lot of creativity/scrap linoleum was involved.

Hip hop is not inherently bling/commercial.

Hip hop isn’t inherently misogynistic or violent, though a lot of hip hop/hip pop artists sell  commercial work that is both of those things.

Hip hop is culture.

Hip hop is global.

Hip hop is poetry.

Hip hop is theater.

Hip hop education/pedagogy is about using the structures/language/culture that have emerged in the last 40 years to work more effectively and honestly with young people, naming and valuing who and where they are.

Defining hip hop isn’t very hip hop, although talking about its aesthetics is ok.


Approaching fifty, I wonder WTF I am doing here. I’m not the oldest person in the room of 60 or so, though it’s close. But I’m hip hop illiterate. Not only am I not a hip-hop head, but I haven’t even listened to contemporary music (or watched television) since I was in grad school. Which is like more than 20 years ago. Not to mention that my taste in popular music was never very interesting. I am neither hip nor hop. Maybe I am hip-po hop?

I read somewhere that there are as many hip hops as there are people drawn to it.

I think that hip hop is the force that has gathered itself to stand against the patriarchy. Or surprise and confuse it. Like a hart crossing a highway.

I wonder if hip hop is chaos.


cipher cypher circle circuit cycle 00000 breath OOOOOO there is eye contact there is full presence there is listen response

It suddenly occurs to me that cipher and cypher are contranyms.


I got interested in hip hop about two years ago after realizing that my youngest, now 16, spent a lot of time in his room listening to/ watching/ learning hip hop online. This in a house with no cable, no big screen TV, no car; where we tried to keep pop culture out, and things literary, classical, scholarly in. He grew up watching kids perform plays by Shakespeare and Shaw, talking about poetry and poetics over dinner, listening to arguments about language, having thick classics read out loud for weeks at a time—Dickens, Eliot, Twain, Cervantes, Dumas.

Why hip hop?

So he sent me YouTube links to Rakim’s “Let the Rhythm Hit Em” along with a couple of pieces by Nas, and I was immediately struck by the density and dexterity of language, the poetry, the wordplay, the use of sound, the images. He was canny about what he sent: the piece by Rakim had text that I could read while listening, the best way in for me, especially with unfamiliar vocabulary and syntax. Since then I’ve probably read as many academic books/articles about hip hop as I’ve listened to pieces of hip hop. Which is to say I know next to nothing, though the willingness to learn has opened up some surprising new avenues of inquiry for me in poetry, theater, communication, organizational structure, myself.

Why am I here? To listen, to learn. I figure that someone will hand me hip hop on a platter. Or better, in a box. I’ll take it home and look at it. Figure out which things are edible and which are ornamental. Throw out the rest or what doesn’t suit me. I’m kind of nervous because I do not want to do anything that I don’t feel comfortable doing. I do not want, for example, to have to become a spoken word poet. I’m not going to be rapping, beatboxing, breaking, or djing, though I could see myself cutting loose with cans of spray paint. That sounds really appealing. At my age, though, I am somewhat comfortable with (well, maybe resigned to) the fact that I am neither kinesthetically gifted, extraverted, or charismatic. That I am stiff, more than a bit clumsy, badly dressed by choice, disinclined to interact, and often ineffective when I communicate orally. I don’t really want to talk about myself. And I’m not a teacher (well, I haven’t been one for a long time), so I don’t feel I would be able to contribute to pedagogical discussions, though I have noticed, reading about hip hop and attending lectures at the UW-Madison last spring, that a lot of hip hop pedagogy is also applicable to editing/publishing, managing arts volunteers, and practicing literary criticism, all of which I currently do. I decide prior to going that I will write about being there: that way I can always be busy writing when I want a way out. I can just be busy. It works at home. Sometimes.


Dr. Damon Willims, a black man in a suit & UW’s Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate,  opens the institute, calling us innovators and game changers. Although I don’t think of myself that way, I see it’s true of the group in the room. There are clumps of Madison’s West High School & East High School, UW-Oshkosh. There is Centro Hispano. There is Milwaukee and London and New York and  Mexico and Boston and LA and San Francisco and Portland and Chicago and New Zealand. There is Ameri-Corps, arts’ organizers, community leaders, musicians, First Wave, teachers of high school, middle school, college, after-school groups, artists, musicians, poets, administrators. Ages 18 to older than I am.

He asks for a minute of silence for the victims in Aurora, Colorado, then ruminates, Who’ll be the first to bust about that?

Michael Cirelli, a white man in shorts and the Executive Director of Urban Word in NYC & the institute, speaks next. He doesn’t define hip hop, but says that it is rooted in race, resistance, language. Its aesthetics include swag, freshness, authenticity/keeping it real. It is a vehicle for social justice. It is about deconstructing values associated with certain kinds of language.


17 Things I love about hip hop:

  1. Wordplay
  2. Fun sounds
  3. Flow
  4. Keeping It Real
  5. Multiracial
  6. Multicultural
  7. Flipping
  8. Sampling
  9. Remixing
  10. Cyphers
  11. Collaboration
  12. Decentering
  13. Social justice art
  14. Barrier breaking
  15. Discourse mixing
  16. Fresh language/slanguage/ideas/perspectives
  17. Poetry performance


For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it must always be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.—James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

When I was an undergrad, c. 1981, Ken McClane, my first (and only) poetry professor, a young African American man from NYC, gently told me that I had an alliteration and an assonance problem. He introduced me to James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, to African American literature, to multiethnic lit and modernism, but he never said anything about hip hop. It was all so vital to him: what he told us, he told us as if our lives depended on learning and remembering. And we were vital to him, too, a roomful of white poetry students. He made me feel like I needed educating, and that it was possible and enjoyable, if not easy or painless. That quote from “Sonny’s Blues” has stuck with me for more than 30 years, and I can still see and hear Ken, a wiry man perched on his desk, opening a book to those words then lowering it to recite them from memory. That story was his heart, and the beating heart of his classroom. Shortly after I graduated, he lost his only brother to drugs, stopped writing poetry, and started writing essays. His poems, what I read of them, were lyrical and descriptive and controlled. Not unlike those of his mentor, A.R. Ammons. But his essays? They soar. They poem. They jazz. They riff and run. They hip hop. Gently, like Ken.

Taylor Mali isn’t sure of why he’s here either. But he does say he likes to disabuse people of the notion that poetry is something in particular. He talks about how poetry eludes definition. His own aesthetic, he says, is to speak as if you’ve written everything down, and to write poetry as if it’s all conversational.  Which is pretty much the opposite of how it works for me.

Much easier, I think, if metaphors wore orange jackets in the woods. Poets in camouflage would watch from hunting blinds. They wouldn’t even need to shoot: they would just aim thought in their general direction, and metaphors would drop in their tracks, or from the sky, whenever poem required it. But metaphors seem more like the sparrows my oldest has been trapping this summer. It’s a lot of work, not much pay off, and a long time between catches. And when they do come?  They come not single spies, but in battalions. More trouble than they’re worth. You can hold them in your half-clenched fist: they are smaller—drowned, plucked, dressed—than a tennis ball.

Mali has us do a short writing exercise: describe a physical object, not electronic or sports-related. Maybe something a little old or frayed. Probably something you can hold in your hand. We read what we’ve written aloud. It’s not too threatening.

Here’s mine:

color-penciled drawing—slid
behind a half-empty bottle of All & full litter
box: bright orange, rumple-sheet
bedroom that belongs to a boy who no longer
sleeps here

Then he tells us to read them again, prefaced by “I am,” to make it the beginning of an identity poem, “backing us into a metaphor” grounded in  concrete detail. He asks me, what will you do with the empty room?

I wonder if tricking people into talking about themselves is really keeping it real, but I don’t mind too much. It does talk about me, but it happens in a way that’s reminiscent of a nurse telling you to undress and put on one of those hospital gowns with the ties in the back.  Leave them untied. And take off your underwear. And so I do.


Lunchtime & I go away to be in a corner by myself. Myself, a picture window, an outlet for my laptop with its useless battery, three email accounts, my Facebook page. I answer a work email. I answer a Verse Wisconsin email. Fortunately, it is summer, and activity has dropped off considerably. On a normal day when people aren’t on vacation, I’d get 40-50 emails in the different accounts by lunchtime. Some days, I just answer email. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping each account open all the time in a different tab. I used to keep Facebook open, too, then found myself spending too much time there, scrolling through posts, clicking links, reading articles and blogs—interesting but distracting. This morning, however, I posted about the Institute and about the public readings in the evening. I happened to see Amiri Baraka on campus a few years ago as part of the conference, before I knew what the Institute was or much about First Wave. Hardly anyone I knew was there, and I wondered: What Madison poet wouldn’t come to hear a legend like Amiri Baraka, if they knew he was in town?

So I mentioned the free public performances in the evenings—tonight being Taylor Mali and Mahogany Browne. By lunchtime, the Creative Writing Program shares my post. Which means that somehow it didn’t previously know about this amazing conference and the internationally known group of faculty who are giving free public performances and lectures on its own campus.


Grad school. Multiethnic lit & autobiography, English Dept., University of Pennsylvania, West Philadelphia, 1980s. I know nothing about urban music or performance. I am only dimly aware that it exists, mostly through watching films like Boyz n the Hood and A Different World on television. I learn a little about urban youth culture through my husband, who does fieldwork in the schools and writes a dissertation on folklore/educational anthropology. His topic is the performance of identity in the classroom and products—words, art, music, dance—of young Asian immigrants, Vietnamese, Hmong, Cambodian. I dimly remember him talking about how they are influenced by African American youth culture, rap, break dancing, graffiti. He gets a Fulbright and does some comparative fieldwork in Finland.

When we graduate, Tom ends up with a job teaching Finnish Folklore. I end up with a job as a lecturer teaching interdisciplinary writing. Neither of us publishes our dissertations or continues working on multiethnic literature or American multiculturalism. What I miss most in Seattle is the globally connected group of international students and scholars who have been our friends in the Folklore Dept. along with a few English grad students who also worked on multi-ethnic lit. After we move, the biggest reminder of this work is a dramatic ink-and-acrylic of a purple iris by a Vietnamese teenager on our bedroom wall. Over the years the painting yellows and slips crooked in its frame. We replace it a few years ago with some photos from a trip to Europe.

Walking into Gloria Ladson-Billings’ lecture last spring (part of the Getting Real series), I feel at home. She speaks educational anthropology with a Philadelphia accent. She plays a new release by Jasiri X about Trayvon Martin, recently murdered. She performs a poem herself, as does a student from First Wave. Newly written poetry performed and embedded in an academic lecture? I am surprised and arrested in a good way.


I keep getting interrupted while trying to read my notes about the conference. I attempt to read them all through at one sitting, but every time I do, something comes up. An actor runs out into the street in front of a car at the theater. I have to email her parents, call my boss, talk to all the young directors. We don’t enforce the typical tight-fisted, fear-driven rules about coming and going with the kids. But when a 7-year-old dives into the street by herself without looking both ways and you hear about it next day from an older kid’s mom, you have to drop everything and talk to a lot of people.

After I finish the calls and the emails, I go swim and do yoga over at the gym, then I meet a friend for dinner. After dinner, I go back to the theater during the dress rehearsal for King Henry IV, Part 2. I am hiding in the office, hoping to cross off some items on my to-do post-its. Is there some good slang for this? Seems like there should be. List lop? Wrist rock?


The lives of the kids I work next to and the kids that the educators at the institute describe are analogous in some ways, painfully different in others. As one facilitator says, all kids in our society are “at-risk,” and many of the actors who are regulars at the theater are refugees from school, looking for acceptance and a chance to own their own lives. But their access to resources and their assumption of safety makes for a huge contrast. One educator has just been to a student’s funeral, and not for the first time. Another speaks of losing a student she had been close to. Workshop facilitators model how to create community, sharing without sensationalizing. Free writing, for instance, at the beginning of class to give students some much needed mental space, some time for the weight that’s on their minds. Identity poems and explorations of identity in preparation for writing are also central.

We’re asked to think about a time when we felt different. When we witnessed oppression. When we stood up for someone who was being victimized. When we failed to stand up for someone who was being victimized. We are asked to analyze our identities, break them down into little slices of gender, class, race, sexual identity, nationality. We are asked to decide which is most important to us. Which controls our decision making most often. How breaking ourselves into parts and labels makes us feel. What two identities we pay most attention to. We are asked to talk about what we fear most when speaking to others about our identity. What we don’t want others to know. What scares us.


thinning skin thinning hair thickening waist missed periods children leaving for college traveling husband food for other people breaking teeth feed the dog feed the cat feed the fish if the kids are away the children make you smile the children make you cry you will remember them at two in the middle of the grocery store you will remember them at twenty because they mostly feed themselves now you can try to write but good luck finding any poems are they in the sink with the dirty dishes are they in the fridge behind the leftovers are they under the bed with the pet hair tumbleweeds that’s where they used to be used to be used to be just waiting there for you when the children fell asleep their damp hair curling against their cheeks will you go back to teaching now when will you go back to teaching when will you


My mind ping pongs between my adolescence and that of my children. I was bookish and awkward. Someone who never knew what to say and read all the time. Someone who felt tortured by school and got made fun of. A lot. But I remember things that I hadn’t thought about for years. Like my grandmother reporting to my parents on an African American girl who comes over to play shortly after we move back to Arkansas. They don’t tell me she can’t come again, but they want to know why she is there. It is fifteen years after the Little Rock Nine. Which happened a year after my father gets his discharge from the Army and returns to Clarksville for college. He is part of the Arkansas National Guard, federalized by Eisenhower after Gov. Faubus orders them to Little Rock to prevent school integration. Fort Smith’s schools may be integrated in 1972, but even the elementary school kids know what it means to live in each of the town’s four junior high districts, and I remember having it explained: one school for the rich people, two for the middle, one for the blacks. We live in the lesser of the middles, which means our junior high will go to high school with the Black junior high.

We are ruled by a tall, rod-straight woman who never smiles. She begins each school day with the pledge, one of a series of patriotic songs we learn by memory, every single verse, and, despite the laws against it, daily readings from the Bible. She takes students out into the hall to hit them, but she doesn’t have to do that often. She distrusts boys more than girls, and the one African American boy in the class more than most, though he is polite and intelligent. I cringe behind books whenever I see her coming. She criticizes my singing, my penmanship, my spelling, my timidity in dodge ball games and gym class, my messiness. She does not discourage the girls who bully me. My teacher has rules about smart: It shows its work but not its erase marks. It never grips the pencil too hard. It is quiet but attentive. It never needs to be roused out of reveries in front of the class.

What I say is that returning to Arkansas, where my parents grew up, when I was 10 made me feel isolated. That I didn’t know the rules. Nothing about girls who wore the right clothes and the right shoes and the right make-up. Nothing about being bullied. And nothing about Betty or Roosevelt or Charles, who asked me out in junior high.


My grandmother had rules about beauty. It was Barbie and blonde. It was tall and thin. It smiled and had very straight, bright teeth. It wore lipstick and mascara. My grandmother was short, dark-haired, and not particularly smiley. I loved my grandmother, but she wasn’t wise. She quit school to get married at 17. She grew up in Coal Hill, Arkansas, a town of less than 100. Her only ambition in life that I knew about was not to marry a miner, which her two older sisters did. Most of the men she knew died from black lung or alcoholism or both. Or suicide. She hated drinking as much as she hated mining. Her children grew up to be alcoholics.

My mother grew up without a mother. She is not blonde or thin or tall. She is smart, but she doesn’t finish college and feels bad about that. She spends a lifetime trying to please her mother-in-law, who disapproves of her looks and her working, and eventually, my grandmother comes around. When my brother gets married the first time to a teen-aged bride, my grandmother is thrilled by what she looks like: about as close to a Barbie as you could imagine a real person.


I surprise myself by blurting out Everything in response to What do you fear others knowing about you?


I thought that writing about the institute would give me something to do. To hide behind. That it would keep me safe. I would describe it.

I am walking away from Day 1 not sure I will go back. I feel like I have pulled a scab off in public and I leave with blood under my fingernails and running down my leg.

I feel like I am spelunking in the dark corners of my heart then giving others a guided tour there.

I feel awkward and out of place. Which may be more the memories I’ve been reliving all day than my present circumstances, but I’m not sure.


We have homework the first night, a  “Where I’m From Poem.”

I try Barbie, but she is as stingy as ever, and I don’t finish. It’s about burying Barbie with my brother in our backyard. There was no eulogy: what good could anyone say about her? Had she been kind? Helped anyone? She bought clothes and shoes and lived in a dream house that doubled as a closet. She was always smiling, even after I wacked off her hair. And what did we know of death or funerals? We’d never gone to one. There were bad guys who dropped bloodless on our T.V. set every night but no one in our neighborhood. No one we knew. Two of my grandparents died before I was born, one of them killed by a train while at work repairing the lines. A third when I was too little to remember. By the time the aunts and uncles started dying, we had left Arkansas again, and didn’t go back to bury them. My mother didn’t want anything more to do with death and she didn’t want us to know about it at all—if she or my dad went to funerals while we grew up, they put on their dress-up work clothes and lied about where they were going. I was 40 before I saw a dead body or went to a funeral.

I try clumsiness. Not fitting in. It’s not enough. I look for humor but I can’t find it, which makes me think that I’m not remembering the past correctly. Like the humor-sucking center must be me. I remember silence, I’m sure, but maybe it’s expanded in my mind. The silence just fills everything else up. Well, the silence, and the drama. And a lot about my dad getting fed. He didn’t hand himself a piece of toast or a beer when I was growing up—my mother or my grandmother fixed him peanut butter crackers and competed to do it if they were both in the kitchen, often while he sat there watching. This is actually quite funny, though it doesn’t feel funny to me.

I try Betty coming to my house when we first move to Arkansas and the whispered message from my grandmother to my parents that there had been a little nigger girl in the back yard. I cannot think how I could say that out loud. Or say it at all. There aren’t enough words.

I go to bed without a poem. I get up the next day to write, but I have to answer emails. In the end I am writing during the 45 minutes before class, and what I end up with just seems inadequate from a personal, if not poetic standpoint, both of which I worry about. And the better it gets poetically, the less truthful/real/useful to me or anyone else it seems. I work at the metaphors. I work on the sounds. I cross out and start over. I have done one of these in another setting and not thought half—no a hundredth—about it. Why is that? she asks herself, ironically. I do not have the racial/racist memories in the first setting, a roomful of white poets, that I do among multiracial educators. In both instances, I have gone back to the 5 years as a child in Arkansas. To meal times and how objectively excruciating they seemed to me, though not necessarily, I realize as an adult, to everyone in the family. I don’t know what everyone else was feeling, because we didn’t talk about it and still don’t.


Compass Points: Returning to Arkansas at 10

The direction of Grandmother, drawing
my father back to Sunday afternoon
dinners around her shiny formica
tabletop, set with gold-rimmed plates
and single forks; to pot roast so
soft it never missed
the knife; to the rustle
of napkins the white noise on that
cul-de-sac: stack of paper-wrapped Wonder
bread at my father’s right,
bowl of whipped
potatoes set at his left.

                                                      The direction of Mother
on her one day off: her what can I get
you? Her I’ll clean up.

The way every ask made them both leap up—

                                                      while my father pushed
off to watch the game
                                                      while I curled over the book
always open in my lap and searched for my place.


Someone says The streets are stronger than the schools.

Someone else says we need to live leaning into fear. We make the path as we walk it.

Some participants will read their poems at the open mic on Wednesday. Some of them will be reading in public for the first time. That’s leaning into fear. I do not lean into fear.

We get two minutes to write & all I can think about is how easy my life—my white, husband-financed life. That’s all. I spend it hiding under that paper napkin, behind that book. My inability (is that lack of desire?) to connect. These people. These teachers. Out in schools or getting themselves ready to go into schools. Teaching kids with choices like prison versus the military.


Suggested exercises.

Write an epistle. Letters are very familiar forms to prisoners.

Write in celebration. Come celebrate with me today something has tried to kill me and has failed—Lucille Clifton

Give a series of different questions as prompts to different people. I get Who is responsible for the suffering of your mother?

Me God My father Death Herself Barbie The 50s The South The Movies Her straight black hair Potato chips Going back to work after dinner after work The case of beer she’d send me to buy Dad when she’d already been in the liquor store once that week The wedding cake that didn’t help The stepmother/half-sisters  who did not want her The father who took her back from grandmothers who did The grandmothers who loved her with dumplings/cobbler/fried okra/pecan pie when her mother died too young too young Her mother


17 Facts You Don’t Know About Me
                  after Roger Bonair-Agard’s “The all-black penguin speaks 17 facts you did not know about me”


17 facts you don’t know about me?! I don’t even know where to start. Should they be the 17 most important facts you don’t know about me? Just 17 random facts, like what color of underwear I’m wearing or the amount of uninsured dental work I’ve had in the last year? What time I go to bed at night? I’m overwhelmed by the idea and don’t get even half way through unsatisfactorily before we’re supposed to stop. Apparently, numbering things is not a good prompt for me, although I’ve written a few poems using numbered lists in the past. I am torn between spilling and chilling. I want to be funny, but honor the spirit of honesty and risk that has developed among us. We are supposed to star 3 of the 17 to read out loud as we go around the room. When it’s my turn, my eyes go not to the stars, but to another item: I do not miss my husband when he travels. That satisfies both requirements.

3 songs you can tie a memory to? Most of the songs swimming in my head on command like that are either horribly banal pop songs from the 70s or worse, a 70s musical. What was I listening to & why? While hip hop was being born in the Bronx, I was stiffly lifting my 13-year-old shoulders to Barry Manilow, for heaven’s sake, to the Captain & Tennille and Karen Carpenter, evolving in high school toward Queen and Kansas and Supertramp. There is nothing I am willing to own up to here. Better to make it Renaissance folksongs if I have to say anything, or church hymns.  And definitely not the horrible, movie songs about unrequited love that I’d play over and over and over and over on the stereo and the piano. No wonder my father drank. I must have driven them all crazy. Ticket to Ride? Please.

3 things about the world you know now that you didn’t 10-15 years ago?!?

School is like a 12 step brainwash camp.—Dead Prez

Urban schools are not broken. They are doing exactly what they are designed to do.—Sam Seidel

Proceed until apprehended.—Collective Classroom Wisdom


Day 3 is more what I’d expected. Listening and note taking. My project will talk to your project. The land of the head, more than the land of the heart, though connecting them is important. We share, but it’s not as revealing. Not as hard.

We learn about and from Sam Seidel, educator and author of Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education, and from Dr. Chris Emdin. Both are MCs. Both have created innovative, boundary crossing, educational spaces.


Seidel says he wondered, studying the abolitionists as a kid, what he’d have done if he lived during slavery. How in college he came to find out that he did. He shares some statistics: 70% of high school students graduate. 53% of African American students graduate. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, unless you are a prisoner. Then you don’t have rights. There are more black men in prison now than slaves in 1850. Half the black men without high school diplomas go to prison at some point. Prisons are an increasingly privatized, for-profit institution in the U.S., which has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

According to the ACLU, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population, compared to 5% of total population.  About 50% of the prison population in the U.S. has been convicted of a non-violent crime. Many states, including Wisconsin, now devote more of their state’s budget to prisons than to education. The growth rate for people in prison from 1970-2005 is more than 700%. One in fifteen black men 18 and older are in prison.

Seidel tells his story about connecting through hip hop to incarcerated young men. In his senior year of college, two of them—bright, articulate leaders—are shot and killed after being released from prison. Upending his graduation plans, he asked himself, What can I do, here and now, to make this better? He stayed in Providence and helped created Broad Street Studio (now AS220), a youth arts program, that remixes and flips arts programming and education. He tells us about Flip-Hop education and students who are beyond-risk, not at-risk. He encourages us to challenge language by changing it. To challenge and fix the institutions we’re part of: What can you flip, sample, remix? In other words, what would you change about school if you were designing it?

What does hip hop pedagogy look like? Seidel shows us a video of High School for the Recording Arts in St. Paul. Boardrooms not classrooms. Celebrate technology. All access hours. Show and prove. Relevant real world projects.

Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education from sam seidel on Vimeo.

His aesthics/pedagogy? Authenticity. Sampling. Swaggacity—Seidel’s term. Flip-hop.


Hip Hop/hip hop/ hiphop/hip-hop

Tip Top
List Lop
Lift Off
Criss Cross
Glib Sauce
Wit Toss
Whip Lost
Bliss Boss
Slip Taught
Grip Fought
Flip Thought
Gift Brought
Lip Taut
Mix Hot
Trip Tossed
Quit Knot
Strip Caught
Spit Bot
Rip Bossed
Quip Plot
Zip Stop
Fit Spot
Riff Got
Lit Rock
Drift Shot
Split Off
Twist Bought


Grad school. I drift from studying Irish and Southern lit (really the idea of literary renaissance) to post-modern novels to women’s and multiethnic fiction to American autobiography, writing a dissertation, in the end, on the representation of home in multiethnic 20th century autobiography. The professor of African American lit in the department does not want to work with me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a bad student or a white student or a bad white student. I am sincere in my interest in this topic, but I am less than articulate in class and get flagged in my qualifying exams as someone who probably does not have what it takes to work in front of a class as a lecturer. I am still messy, still gripping the pencil too hard. Actually, what happens is that the committee congratulates me for passing and I leave, as does a black woman who is an Assistant Professor. Then the two white men, both well-known and approaching retirement, call me back in and tell me they would be remiss not to let me know that I will not succeed. It’s a long time before I understand that I have been harassed. I mostly just feel terrible, and I do not tell anyone except a couple of friends what happened. Having failed to impress them, I become less willing than before to speak up, and do not talk to professors about course papers, presentations, reading lists, or even my dissertation. It’s not that I don’t want their thoughts and comments—more that the idea of talking to them is too intimidating unless they actively do something to lower the threat level. And I don’t understand the mentor thing at all. The two women who raised me got married when they were 17 and 19. They liked to read, but my grandmother didn’t finish high school, and my mother attended, but didn’t finish, college.

Still I love the ideas that circulate in my courses and in literary criticism. And reading the literature. And writing about it, though I am not always sure about the right approach.  I am intrigued by literature by and about oppressed people, wherever it originates, and especially by the ways in which creativity can (and often does) flourish in response to oppression. Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Walker in the City, Invisible Man, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Absalom, Absalom, To the Lighthouse, At Swim Two Birds, Woman Warrior, House Made of Dawn, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Beloved, Ceremony, among others,all amaze and arrest me in turn, each a deer crossing a highway. When I finish the PhD, after assembling a somewhat random and unconnected committee who probably just want me to go away, then writing a dissertation that’s a patchwork of folklore and literary theory, educational ethnography and criticism, sociology and literature. I do not end up with a job teaching multiethnic lit, which is what I mostly apply for. Instead, I end up teaching writing across the curriculum. As it turns out, my professors were right, and I do not belong in front of a classroom.


Quraysh Ali Lansana's persona workshop is familiar territory for me but with an unexpected and exciting twist. He brings poetry and performance—two things I love—together. First, he has seven volunteers act out Gwendolyn Brooks’s 8-line poem, “We Real Cool.”  

We Real Cool from Brandi Kruse on Vimeo.

He gives instructions about the characters each plays in a single line, has them practice, and involves the rest of us by having us comment and direct. What’s working well? Is that expression convincing? The body language? What would make the performance more convincing? After a 15-minute rehearsal and run-through, the seven perform, delivering the final “we die soon” in unison. The poem comes to life, interpretation is inherent to staging, and we are all involved, almost magically, in the process.

Poem sculpting, Lansana’s other method of dramatizing a poem, is magical, and splits open an 8-liner by Emily Dickinson as if it were a nursery rhyme. After identifying its nouns, we learn that some of these will become characters, again speaking the lines of the poem. Then we work through each line, thinking about which character to give it to (e.g., first nobody, second nobody, frog, bog). Sometimes there are multiple possibilities, and Lansana keeps track of these up front. Volunteers take on different parts, the class becomes the bog—a chorus role, and we work out blocking (entrances/exits/where people will be when they deliver their line) between the actors and the directors. Again, this process requires us to create a vision for the poem, discussing, in the process, various interpretations of lines and the poem as a whole, bringing the poem to life through a dramatic performance.

The workshop ends with a blueprint for generating a persona poem, which we spend some time doing ourselves. Determine the persona—person, object, historical/contemporary, real/fictional. Focus on something very specific. Not just George W. Bush, for instance, but Bush giving his final State of the Union address. Write this persona down. List the other people involved, the emotions, the important objects, the resolution—if there is one. Do not write about someone you know. Use as few personal pronouns and articles as possible. The point of this exercise is to use poetry as a means to understand another point of view.


What the buttress root says to the grieving parents

on the anniversary of a disappearance

Not slipping but thwack-thud-thwacking
along—fools like that ought not
cross from one side of a grassy meadow
under a high sun alone, much less

traipse cliffside: sack hanging
low from shoulders too narrow to know
cliff, root, rock, caught.To hear
water. Too narrow
to know a tree so high
grows deep, grows wide.

                  How it
holds itself aloft like a Motmot perching.

How it fans roots like fingers
to lift its weight without slip or skip,

so noiseless that even
its leaves shiver at the little gasp
    the apple makes when it

                                    & glasses
removed to wipe 
that damp face
out of hand.


The theater where I work does a similar thing with literature and drama, performing Shakespeare’s difficult and poetic texts in order to understand them, ourselves, and others  better. It’s more about the text and the actor’s emotional and intellectual growth than a theatrical performance, and the performance is best understood as a means to achieve understanding. Because the theatrical product isn’t emphasized, diversity of age (7-18 in some programs, 7-adult in others) and ability can flourish.  Young people with diverse sexual and gender orientations also find a non-judgmental home here, and scholarships result in some genuine, though limited, economic difference.

It has always bothered me that there is so little racial diversity at YSP. I can picture each of the African American and Latino actors that have been part of this community. I can literally count them my hands, and almost none of them have stayed for more than one or two productions.  It’s a small program, but there have been  hundreds of white actors during the same period. Boys are also outnumbered, though among the adult actors, the gender balance evens out.


I stop writing up my notes on a Saturday evening and don’t get back to them until Monday morning. Meantime Oak Creek happens in Wisconsin.

It is not enough to try to absolve ourselves with the personal and probably delusional thought, I am not a racist. We need to think about  how to become actively anti-racist, in small and larger ways, beginning with an understanding of our personal beliefs and past and becoming literate about racism. Yolanda Searley-Ruiz, one of our teachers at the institute and a powerful force of kind intelligence, identifies these components of racial literacy: “unconscious bias and unintentional racism,” “microagressions,” (which include brief but frequent insults and indignities, including denial and minimization of racial-cultural issues) and “structural racism” (or institutional racism). It is only when we understand how racism operates in our hearts and in our homes that we can begin to fight hatred in meaningful ways. If we do not actively enter this fight, we are as good as enlisting on the other side. We cannot say I was at the movies when the Holocaust is over.

I do not even know that “hatecore” or “white power” or “Nazi punk” or “segregationist” bands exist before the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting, and my often naïve view of the inherent goodness of art and poetry is a paper tower.  I do not make a study of the media representation of this event, but one of the most disturbing things on many different levels is the way we keep hearing that the racist killer has “confused” the Sikhs for Muslims, as if that explains or makes it better.


Chris Emdin tells us that Hip Hop education=using your Heart, Inspiration & Power to Heal Oppressive Pedagogy. That it is about calling out oppressive practices. This idea, it seems to me, is as applicable for working in any youth, community, or arts organization as it is in the classroom. It’s one of the reasons that I’m here. What does that mean in the context of a youth theater group like the Young Shakespeare Players (YSP)? What does it mean for editing a magazine like Verse Wisconsin? What does it mean for being a member of communities, artistic and otherwise? To reviewing books, to writing, to being part of a family?

Miss Hazel, whom we have identified as the elder among us, declaims, rather fiercely, that we are all teachers. Which is maybe meant to wake us to our responsibility more than to reassure us. And for the first time since I left paid teaching employment—two decades that include many years at home full-time with my children, stints home schooling, and numerous volunteer gigs at church, at schools doing tutoring and other work, and at different arts groups—I start to see myself that way. 

I am very worried.


Attendance check at a free, public evening event. There are institute people. Some are from Madison and bring family/friends. There are young people. Some older folks who aren’t going to the institute. Lots of First Wavers. More people from Centro Hispano. No poets that I recognize from the spaces I usually frequent in Madison.


Dr. Emdin explains cypher to the clueless, including myself. (By this point, there is a phrase for this—middle-aged white woman moment). It’s literally a circle of rhyme. The rules of engagement are unwritten but understood. These include listening and responding to each other, which can mean taking the last line of the person preceding you and incorporating it into your verse, and of course, not going on too long yourself but engaging in a back and forth with others. In contrast to battles, cyphers offer a group space to try out language for lower stakes and to engage in more and less formal rhyming/rapping. Cyphers may end up on YouTube, where they can be analyzed by performers (and their opponents) for what works and what doesn’t. Emdin’s own liberation pedagogy in his science classrooms has developed out of these circles, using Flip Cams to film what happens in class, and then analyzing what does and doesn’t work with small groups of students who cogenerate plans to improve instruction and class dynamics.

Cogeneration/cypher is just one of the tools Emdin employs to involve and to help students invest in the classroom. All of these tools involve de-centering the teacher from a hierarchical structure of authority and treating the classroom (read organization, magazine, family, artistic product or other structure here)  as a community, which also means incorporating local content/context in meaningful ways and providing many and varied opportunities for students to contribute and to build something larger and more meaningful to them than their individual concerns.


The energy in First Wave spaces is large. Is bass. Is wordplay, rhyme. Is noise. Is the rumbling of people who have come together and are talk/talk/talking. Is mixing: class/race/sexual orientation/nationality/language/gender. Is pop/crack/thump/crash. Sounds of hearts thawing/ thoughts connecting/ mouths busting open to speak. Is locks breaking. Doors opening. Windows yawning. Is knowledge/speech/performance made publicly accessible.


So what is hip hop poetry?

It is not a recipe for writing a poem or a container for rhymes. I can’t say: take x number of lines, put y syllables in each in such and such a pattern, allowing for variation, then change your perspective after line z, and end with a rhyming couplet.

It is not analogous to genre—romance or sci fi or horror.

It is not analogous to style or tone, though there certainly can be common styles, tones, approaches, subject matters, dictions. Can be. Not must be.

It is not analogous to modes like lyrical or narrative. It contains them.

It is not analogous to a literary movement (Beat, Romantic, Confessional, neo-Classical), though it could contain them.

If you go to an open mic or a slam, you might find all of these things and/or others. You might feel at home there if you write accessible free verse. If you love wordplay, sound play, rhyme. If your work deals with issues of identity or social justice.

At First Wave events, you have to come early if you want get on stage. Nervous? That’s ok. You don’t have to have a killer poem. Length? You get one piece, but a lot of people come and want to take part. Not everyone gets a turn—first come, first served. It could be shorter or longer, but watch out for too long—you shouldn’t take more time than others do. Language? Standard English, Spanish, Spanglish, street. Whatever mix is part of your mix.

At the open mic I attend there is free verse, rhymed work, prose marked by poetic language and rhetorical devices. Some pieces resemble stand up comedy. Others, one-person theatrical dramas. Others use song. Many have elements of story, characters, dialogue, and details of gesture/ body language embedded in the language of the piece. Most are written in first person. The subject matter is often identity.

Day 4. We are asked to put the fragments of ourselves back together in Dr. Dawn-Elissa Fischer’s Intersectional Identities workshop. But first she asks us to introduce ourselves: name, job, influential teacher, pedagogy of emancipation, which, it turns out, I have. My pedagogy of emancipation comes out of my own experiences—as a mother, as a poet who does not teach, as someone who works at a quirky youth theater group, as an editor of a non-commercial poetry magazine that is interested in promoting collaboration and communication among poets, and identifying barriers to that happening and ways to bring people together. As a first generation northerner.

As we share, we talk about silence and ignorance as the enemies. About commitment to social justice and to conscious, critical thinking. About teachers who have loved and challenged us. About honesty & keeping it real. About letting go of control. About  local knowledge and discursive strategies. About all of these things as elements of hip hop aesthetics.

To hear about the ways in which these educators innovate in their classrooms and their communities is inspiring and sustaining. It’s easy to feel isolated in the worlds we inhabit, important to come together for confirmation that we are not alone and that what we do matters in small and larger ways.

It is like going to a conference in some ways. It is like going on a spiritual retreat in others. It is restful and nurturing and difficult and exhausting and challenging and stimulating by turn.

mother/ poet/ editor/ peri-menopausal/ carless walker/ wife/ editor/ arts advocate-worker/ reader/ writer/ daughter/ worrier/over-educated/ progressive/ catholic/ madisonian/ learner/ first-generation northerner/ runner-swimmer/ play-goer/ human/ global citizen/ would-be traveler


I haven’t seen my husband much this month. He’s been traveling, doing fieldwork and also sight seeing with our sons. In Europe. They go to two Olympic events. This is privilege.

My life feels fragmented. So often I feel like I’m running here to there, picking up pieces, trying to glue it all back together. My identities compete with each other: poet, mother, editor, arts worker, writer, publisher. I do not think of myself in terms of race or class very often. This is privilege.

I don’t have to earn money, and my perspectives on poetry and publishing reflect that. This is privilege.

We do not have a car. This is privilege.

Before I come to the institute, I am only dimly aware of the phrase school-to-prison pipeline. This is privilege.

Prisons are full of people who couldn’t deal with school. My children couldn’t deal with school. They are not in prison. This is privilege.

By the end of the week, I have a feeling emotionally comparable to how I feel physically after doing yoga: loose, more limber, aligned. Like the stiff in my hip has been stretched. I have hope in my hop, and I believe that I can make things happen. I feel happy.

Then I go to a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. Then I go to mass. I hadn’t realized how uncomfortable and alienated I would feel reentering these places. Uneasy. Like I don’t belong, but also that I am part of the problem. The fact that there’s an elderly visiting priest giving a terrible and offensive homily about mission work in New Guinea does not help. He uses the words primitive and pagan to talk about the pre-Christian indigenous people. He pats every colonial power that has bulldozed through on the back for their contribution to the island’s conversion. He speaks about World War II and the Japanese as if it were yesterday and they were still an aggressive empire. He speaks about the U.S. as if it were the globe’s good policeman, fending off vicious bullies and defending the weak, instead of being a bully. I look around and see how few people of color are in either space. And why would they want to be here? I don’t know whether to feel relieved that there aren’t more brown people witnessing this icy stiffness of whiteness or frustrated that the spaces don’t open up in meaningful ways. In ways that truly invite exchange. Then I realize that these spaces are more than just two places I happen to be this weekend. They are white culture: the ways that it shuts out, freezes, and others are various and often oblivious. This sense of dislocation stays with me all summer. A month later I’m at poet camp: twelve writers, all white, two hours north of Madison in the middle of nowhere. Everyone is pleasant, warm, supportive. It is good to be here, and yet I trip over the contrasts.

In spite of the lack of racial diversity, I don’t feel as alienated by YSP. Why is that? Is it because the kids are “in charge”? Which they are, up to a point. They’re learning full-length Shakespeare plays—huge roles, running rehearsals, commenting on each other’s scenes, pulling it all together through a hundred predictable snafus and crises. My own part in the  chaos is just to scuttle around trying to make sure it doesn’t spread too far in one direction or another—dealing with parents and volunteers and legal requirements—doing a bunch of stuff that really doesn’t have a lot to do with what happens on stage or have to happen. The primary thing, engagement with this bizarre, strange, rich, lovely, original language—learning it, performing it, being changed by it, soaking in it, owning it, and manifesting the word in the world—is what’s important. All of these things are hip hop, as is, it seems to me, the chaos. For its first 20 years, before there was a building to pay for and maintain, this group was a portable, backyard summer theater program, performing in parks, rehearsing outside or at one or another local church when it rained. That too is hip hop.


Day 5. We write postcards to ourselves. It seems like a good metaphor for the distance from me to me. They’ll be mailed in a month. I try to think about not what I learned idea-wise, I’ve got a notebook full of that, but what I really need to know from the me that exists right now. What I have learned. I put it on a postcard, and then a week later, I can not remember what I have told myself.

The postcard never arrives.


I give myself this silent assignment sometime during the week at the institute. It's something I've been thinking about for quite a while, without coming up with a completely satisfactory answer.

Why isn’t YSP racially diverse?  

A partial list

The Location: Good public transportation exists (the building is on a corner with multiple major bus lines), but the neighborhood itself is upper middle-class, university-oriented, white, and probably alienating. You have to come to us. It’s a small organization, and the directors choose to add programs at the theater, rather than outside of it. There’s a small group of actors who go off and do shows at other spaces, but these efforts are organized by volunteers, done in an ad-hoc way based on invitations, and in competition with programs at the theater, so they’re never treated as significant.

The Cost: There’s a generous no-application scholarship policy, and performances are un-ticketed and free, but cost is more than money. It’s also time, and what a family can afford in both ways. Even if there is no monetary cost at all, most programs require an actor to invest a minimum of 10 hours per week during the school year for 2-4 months, and 15 hours per week for 2 months during the summer. If you’re in high school or college and you need to work because your family depends on your income for the present or future, that’s a lot of time. If you’re a middle-schooler with younger siblings who need watching because your parents can’t afford weekend or summer childcare, that’s a lot of time, too. Younger actors, 7-11ish, often live in the neighborhood and/or rely on mostly moms, or teams of moms, who drive them back and forth in mini-vans. Furthermore, there’s the expectation that older, more responsible, actors, will volunteer large amounts of additional time to projects—as directors, apprentices, and interns, forgoing paid employment in order to make the organization viable. Parents also volunteer, and although no specific requirements exist, there’s definitely parent-child synergy among the most invested participants. The time that’s involved takes young people away from their families and other community organizations.

The Content / the Form: I like to believe that Shakespeare is universally appealing, timeless, etc.,  efficacious emotionally and educationally, a deep well of material for psychological growth and learning about language. That belief is born out when I read a hip hop theater piece like Deep Azure, by Chadwick Boseman, that flips and samples the plays, as well as when I consider the shared emphasis on words, on poetry performance, in classic verse drama and hip hop theater. On the other hand, every time the program adds a new author—G.B. Shaw, Charles Dickens, James Thurber—it’s a white man. Beyond the racism and sexism, intentional or uninformed, the whole notion of authorship and fixed script runs counter to the concept of text (often devised, collaborative, improvisational) that exists in hip hop and contemporary theater in general. Personally, I think Shakespeare would be sympathetic to a less-than-sacred vision of his plays, but I don’t know if that would make the work more or less appealing. Would a similar intergenerational program with more textual diversity, more flexibility about literary authorship, have more racial diversity?

The Social: When you walk into a room and no one looks like you (age/ race/ gender/ class), you’re less likely to stay. It feels unwelcoming, it is unwelcoming, regardless of the intention.

What I still don't know is why we don't want to fix this. Why we don't talk about how to fix it. And talk about it everyday until we do fix it.


There’s a final cypher in which we respond to each other/ the institute. We stand in a circle. The person to my left jumps in first, and my heart jumps before my head knows why: I realize that I will have to go last, and there is some responsibility to that. I do not have a pen and paper, so I make a mental list of words and concepts as the response moves person to person, shifting left and left and left. Some of the words slip away—it’s like anything you try to carry in your arms. There’s only so much you can hold. But instead of tensing up about that, instead of letting it freeze me silent, I hold onto two words/images that got things started, circling back to the beginning to close the circle. Some others I didn’t know were still there follow. When I finish, there is applause: I know the applause is for all of us, but I rest in its embrace, in that love that is all of us for each other, and I wish that everyone, student and teacher, every person could open this space for each other, connecting each to each, self to self.


Some Reading & Websites

Just a place to start...


M. Duncan Andrade & Ernest Morrell, The Art of Critical Pedagogy: The Possibilities of Moving from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools, Peter Lang, 2008

Adam Bradley, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop, Basic Civitas Books, 2009

Jeff Chang & D.J. Kool Herc, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, Picador, 2005

Jeff Chang, Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, Basic Civitas Books, 200

Michael Cirelli, Lobster with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Hanging Loose Press, 2008, and Everyone Loves the Situation, Penmanship Books, 2011 [poetry]

Lisa Delpit, The Skin That We Speak, New Press, 2008

Greg Dimitriadis, Performing Identity / Performing Culture: Hip Hop as Text, Pedagogy, and Lived Practice, Peter Lang, 2009

Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970

Marc Lamont Hill, Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2009

Georgia A. Popoff & Quraysh Ali Lansana, Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom & Community, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2011

Marcella Runell, Hip Hop Education Guidebook, Hip-Hop Association, 2007

Alan Lawrence Sitomer & Michael Cirelli, Hip Hop Poetry & the Classics, Milk Mug, 2004



There are, by my count, approximately 17 poems embedded in this essay. Some of them are mostly mine.


Wendy Vardaman (wendyvardaman.com) is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press), co-editor/webmaster of Verse Wisconsin (versewisconsin.org), and co-founder/co-editor of Cowfeather Press (cowfeatherpress.org). She is one of Madison, Wisconsin's two Poets Laureate (2012-2015).