[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Poetry is basically history, amirite?
It’s not, though. As tempting as it is to think that all the poetic forms were invented ages ago by dead people, poetry is very much alive and changing.
Last month’s poetry slam here at yeah write was haiku, a centuries-old form with hundreds of precise rules and thousands – if not millions – of examples. This month’s slam is a form invented by a poet who is still alive.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Afaa M. Weaver was born Michael Weaver in 1951. (Tess Onwueme, the Nigerian playwright, gave him the Ibo name “Afaa,” meaning “oracle,” while Dr. Perng Ching-hsi has given him the Chinese name “Wei Yafeng.”)
Weaver completed his second year of college in 1970, then worked in factories for fifteen years while he pursued his writing. See? Having a day job doesn’t mean you’re not a writer.
Weaver finished his bachelor’s degree and obtained a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in the same year – 1985. He has since authored twelve books of poetry and two published plays, as well as numerous essays. I know I keep rubbing it in, but don’t let anyone tell you that you have to focus on only one style of writing! Every skill you build strengthens your work.
In recognition of his work, Weaver has been invited to participate in the Cave Canem Foundation‘s retreats as faculty. While on one of these retreats, he developed this month’s poetry slam form: the bop.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]
One part sonnet, one part song, and one part essay, the bop combines the best parts of all three in a compact package and leaves the fussy bits behind. You don’t have to mess with rhyme, scansion, or even tune to write a bop, although it helps to be familiar with all three. You just have to discuss a problem, in three stanzas, with a refrain.
The stanzas have a strict line count, and the refrain is one line, repeated three times. Let’s delve a little deeper:[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
The first stanza
The first stanza has six lines, and identifies a problem. This can be as small a problem (please don’t kill me, parents) as getting a child to sleep, or as large a problem as systemic racism in the judicial process. Your first stanza is a chance to really hook your reader by showing the crisis at hand instead of explaining it. Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon’s poem Bop: Haunting begins:
In the evening she comes, her same unsatisfied self,
with the hard, smug look of salvation. Mama,
stop bothering me. When we argue, she says
what you’re saying is not scriptural.
You need to get back in your Bible.
In one dream, I slap her. I’m tired of her mouth.
See how that shows you a very personal crisis, without overexplaining? You want to avoid overexplanation in your first stanza, because you’ll be developing the theme of your problem or crisis in the next two stanzas. But first…[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
The refrain. The hook, the one line that will haunt your readers and stick with them after the rest of the poem has faded. Think of “rage, rage against the dying of the light” or “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” or “my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon.”
You’ll use your one-line refrain three times in a bop, once after each verse. When you craft your refrain, think about making it related to but not necessarily a restatement of the rest of your poem. Microstories writers, this should be a familiar feeling! You’re almost writing “the prompt” for the rest of your poem.
Hang onto that refrain, because like I said, we’ll be coming back to it. In the meantime, let’s write…[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
The second stanza
The second stanza takes eight lines to expand on the nature of the problem presented. It can explore why the problem is a bad thing if that wasn’t immediately obvious in the first stanza, or it can talk about the ripples the problem creates, or it can simply dig deeper into the issues of the first stanza. Think of this stanza as the meat of the essay, your chance to discuss the details and repercussions of the trouble.
If you were writing a blues song, this stanza would be the one where the wife, dog, car, cat, house, money, and ability to conjugate verbs all leave the drunken protagonist. He is left on his barstool, holding only…[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
The refrain (again)
That’s right. Drop that one line into your poem right here. If you’ve done it right, this callback will reinforce and strengthen the “argument” you’re building. Think of it as the chorus coming back around. See? Just like I’m using my song metaphors twice (Dad. Look. I still play guitar, even.) using your refrain again will help the reader see your poem as a whole structure that goes together rather than three separate statements.
Speaking of three statements, though, it’s probably time for…[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
The third stanza
In just six lines, your third stanza should either propose a solution or explain why the solutions you’ve tried were (or maybe any solution would have been) futile. Document your attempts to get that kid into bed via a glass of water, six stories, a song, different pjs, putting them in the car and turning the windshield wipers on, and finally giving up and letting them play Plants vs Zombies on your iPad, only to find them asleep with it in their lap ten seconds later. Tell us how you’d have gotten out of bed but the cat was on you. Anything, but either solve the problem or tell us why it is or seems impossible.
And then wrap up with one more repetition of…[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Once more, for the cheap seats. This is the third time you’ll see this line, so I hope you love it by now. If you don’t, fix it, because this really is the one that will get stuck in your head.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator][vc_column_text]Now that you have a sense of what a bop should look like, let’s read one by the inventor of the form. Keep an eye out for line count, for the development and reconciliation of the theme, and for that catchy refrain.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Rambling
in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary
In general population, census
is consensus—ain’t nowhere to run
to in these walls, walls like a mind—
We visitors stand in a yellow circle
so the tower can frisk us with light,
finger the barrels on thirsty rifles.
I got rambling, rambling on my mind
In general population, madness runs
swift through the river changing, changing
in hearts, men tacked in their chairs,
resigned to hope we weave into air,
talking this and talking that and one brutha
asks Tell us how to get these things
They got, these houses, these cars.
We want the real revolution. Things…
I got rambling, got rambling on my mind
In the yellow circle the night stops
like a boy shot running from a Ruger 9mm
carrying .44 magnum shells, a sista
crying in the glass booth to love’s law,
to violence of backs bent over to the raw
libido of men, cracking, cracking, crack…
I got rambling, rambling on my mind[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]