“Does it really matter that you know this stuff?” he asked.
None of them ventured an answer. A few gazed down, perhaps checking cellphones. But many were still paying attention when he began talking about things they did know: Pittsburgh and hip-hop. “I hung out with a lot of hip-hop guys in grad school,” he said. “They would say, ‘Why you got your book — just come onstage!’ ” In response, he wrote his own hip-hop performance poem, “Ballad of Bullethead,” which begins, “I was born in metal/— my mother’s kettle/My father peddled/So we settled alone.” When he read it aloud, the students broke into applause. “You find art everywhere,” he said, before reading what he called “my only basketball poem,” “Talk,” from 2006, in which a black student reacts to a racist comment made by a white teammate. The poem begins in a middle-school locker room: “Talk/like a nigger now, my white friend, M, said.” The students gasped at the opening line.
“A poem is never about one thing,” he told them. “You want it to be as complicated as your feelings.” He played a clip of the brooding jazz-rap hit “His Pain,” by BJ the Chicago Kid, featuring Kendrick Lamar, with its melancholy refrain “I don’t know why You keep blessing me.” The students knew the song. Hayes then read a new poem, “The Carpenter Ant,” about a troubled relative; its stanzas paraphrase “His Pain.” She “took her hammer with its claw like a mandible/to her own handmade housing humming,/‘I don’t know why God keeps blessing me.’ ” Read the article here.