Book Review: Respect The Mic

How cool is it that Hanif Abdurraqib (one of my favorite cultural critics, writer, podcaster) is helping to promote young people’s spoken poetry out of Chicago with this new collection: Respect The Mic (Celebrating 20 Years of Poetry From a Chicagoland High School)?

Pretty cool, and Abdurraqib, along with a handful of others (Franny Choi, Peter Kahn, Dan Sullivan) provide the textual introduction to the many poems shared here from Spoken Word Clubs in two Chicago high schools. The result is a gathering of powerful youthful poetic voices, along with small biographical snapshots of where the young poets are now (in college, or at work, or with family).

The themes of these poems run the gamut from family life in urban center, to friendships (strong and frayed), to survival in difficult conditions, to social unrest and social justice. These poets all have something to say.

Peter Kahn is one of the main teachers with the Spoken Word Club, and his story of finding a root with spoken poetry (which he also explains in the book) is a spark of inspiration for other educators. Notice how students led the way with their passions and interest.

I’ll admit, though: reading poems in the book that are meant to be performed live can be a bit strange, as the reader yearns to hear the pauses, the inflection points, the rising and lowering of cadence in the lines, the emphasis on this word over that, this phrase over that, the presence of the poet standing in the center of the stanzas. (See some videos from the Spoken Word Club)

Overall, a celebration of young poets is worth celebrating, and Respect The Mic does just that — it brings Chicago slam poetry onto the stage, and their words sing off the pages. (Note: the book provides a helpful link to information and resources about Spoken Poetry: https://spokenword.oprfhs.org/ )

Peace (and poems),
Kevin

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