check it out:
From the Hip received a glowing endorsement from hip hop poetry guru Adam Bradley this morning:
“Stephen Cramer’s From the Hip reinvigorates the now eight hundred year-old form of the sonnet, remixing it to the rhythms and rhymes of hip hop. These sonnets, companions to songs by everyone from the Beastie Boys to Kanye West, are shot through with both nostalgia and novelty. Together, they comprise a literary testament to a cultural revolution still very much under way. What distinguishes Cramer’s hip hop poetics from that of so many other young poets is the way that he is alive to hip hop beyond the beat—to the image, the style, the gesture. This collection is animated by a voice every bit as playful, spirited, and incendiary as the music itself.”
–Adam Bradley, author of Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop
Pretty psyched about that.
So I’ve been working on a book of poems, From the Hip, which traces the history of hip hop in a series of 56 sonnets. And the thing is very nearly done. The manuscript begins with DJ Kool Herc in the mid-70s and follows rap up to the Beastie Boys’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two in 2011. Here are three poems from each of the three main decades:
Parents Just Don’t Understand (DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh
Prince, 1988) A Lesser Known Rapper Speaks:
He’s the DJ & I’m the Rapper? Come on,
man, this record’s obviously aimed toward folks
who need to be told which of the black pawns
on stage is which. I mean, just take a look
at the video: it’s all sanitized
& cartoon-like, the streets scrubbed down to
a sheen. This is the world on Lysol. & the guy’s
not rapping about swiping a few
bucks or his Dad’s last smokes. He’s talking about
stealing his parents’ Porsche for Chrissakes. Look: his rhymes
are good, & the guy’s funny, no doubt
about that, but shoot… It’s not like I’m
jealous of his mass, suburban appeal.
I just wish my parents had a Porche to steal.
Ice Ice Baby (Vanilla Ice, 1990)
On Arsenio, Vanilla’s frosted
pompadour is a miniature skate park
of bleach, his hair about as fluid
as the frozen sea of sequins sparkling
on his suit. It makes sense: Robert Van Winkle
was born on Halloween, so he loves costumes.
(Even the yup yups & yeah boyees he sprinkles
his speech with are a kind of mask.) The room
is quiet. The crowd just wants to woof woof
& pump their fists. But Ice needs to give proof
that he’s legit. Yup yup, he answers
with a grin. If others doubt, at least he’s the best
in his own head. & people said I’d never
amount to S-H-I- You know the rest.
99 Problems (Jay-Z, 2004)
The room full of chanting volunteers
at the end of an election cycle
shimmy & bounce to bass & better years
ahead: Jay-Z is playing to the full
house of Obama’s staff, changing the lyrics
to 99 problems but a Bush ain’t one.
At last, they say, the country’s done
with those eight years (the sequel to Reaganomics).
Now they can party to the rhythmic
pulse of bass designed to break the Richter scale,
the rhymes just loud enough to drown the wail
of the past month’s attack ads. If you don’t like
what they say, then you can add your word.
If you don’t like the past you can press fast forward.
The most recent issue of Vantage Point, UVM’s literary journal, has arrived! The issue is a great cross section of the campus’ writers and artists, with a center section of 14 color images. Kudos to Julian van der Tak (the Editor–in-Chief), Alana Benson (the Literary Director), and the rest of the editorial team, who pulled this off in far less than ideal circumstances.
In “Good Evening” (page 4) Devin Karambelas writes of a Tommy Flanagan solo, “America, this is your soundtrack.” Well, UVM, this journal is yours. If you have a piece in the current issue, congratulations. If not, then this is your official invitation to start writing, painting, printing, photographing, or drawing away so that you can get in on the action this semester.
Pick up a copy of Vantage Point in the Davis Center, in the Bailey-Howe Library, or in the UVM English Department. Heck, pick up one for a friend.
Thanks to Carle A. Johnson and the rest of the editorial crew at The Worcester Review for publishing “Waterboard,” a poem from Web to Weave & Corn to Grind. The new issue of the journal, which features the work of Chris Gilbert, is available now.