ENGL 11
"Beats, Rhymes and Life": The Poetics of Rap Winter 2023

Class Details

On January 27th, 2000, the American poet Mark Strand, Pulitzer Prize winner, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and former Poet Laureate of the United States, delivered a lecture at the University of California, Irvine in which he claimed that “there’s no connection between rap and poetry.” Twenty years later, poets, critics, and scholars are largely in agreement that the connection between rap and poetry is both a substantial and vital one. In the first week of the course (“Beats”), we’ll do our best to situate rap within the long histories of rhythm and verse forms in English language poetry by considering what nursery rhymes like “Star Light, Star Bright” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” have to do with Jay-Z and Lil Baby and what forms like the ballad and epistle have to do with Tupac and Kendrick Lamar. In week two (“Rhymes”), we’ll explore the most glorified, vilified, and generally misunderstood feature of English poetry–where it came from, how it developed, and why it became the single most essential feature of rap poetics. We’ll listen closely to the evolution of rap rhyming practice from the 1970s through the present, and we’ll try to figure out whether “Wisconsin” rhymes with “mansion” and “air” rhymes with “yeah.” For week three (“Life”), we’ll think through one of the more complicated relationships at the heart of rap: the relationship between rap artists and the personae of their speakers. As the course draws to close, we’ll ask ourselves what MF DOOM and Eminem’s alter-egos might teach us about the nature of poetry and authorship, and we’ll try to square this with the unusual legal cases of Tekashi 6ix9ine, Young Thug, and others, in which rap lyrics have been used as criminal evidence against their authors. Assignments will include: weekly reading/listening, contributions to a course playlist on Spotify, and either a final paper or creative project accompanied by a shorter paper.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 15
Expected: NA
Class#: 1323
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: a 10-page paper; short paper and final project or presentation
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: a brief statement of interest
Unit Notes: Tyler Goldman received his doctorate from the University of Utah in 2022 and his MFA from the University of Maryland in 2016. His poems and translations have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere.
Attributes: EXPE Experiential Education Courses
SLFX Winter Study Self-Expression
STUX Winter Study Student Exploration

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