Poetry has been described as THE art form in literature. It takes all aspects of writing – rhythm, rhyme, ideas, themes and storytelling and sets out to condense the author's message into not very many words. Poetry has existed for thousands of years and has been the craft of much loved authors and poets. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why a negative, almost sacrilegious reaction occurs when rap is compared alongside poetry.
Poets often provide social commentary and question the status quo. John Cooper Clarke - an English performance poet also heralded as a "punk-poet"- took the mantle of contrarian and social commentator during the 1970s onwards. Clarke's style of performance poetry reminds us that poetry is indeed intended to be spoken aloud or performed.
A particularly interesting modern poet was Leeds born Tony Harrison. Harrison's controversial poem "V" written in 1985, has become a symbol of class divides and all other divisions. "V" being speculated as an acronym for verses or versus. Harrison's visceral poem inspired by the anger of his parent's grave being defaced by graffiti, referencing the mining strikes spanning 1984 through 1985. This adds weight to the idea that "V" stands for versus. Minors vs the government, left vs right, communism vs fascism.
Following the publication of "V" Tony Harrison fell into disfavour with the upper echelons in society. Particularly following the 1987 channel 4 broadcasting of a film version of "V". Famously, the film provoked an irritated response from a British conservative MP at that time Gerald Howarth stating Harrison to be "Probably another bolshie poet wishing to impose his frustrations on the rest of us". Harrison quipped back to Howarth "Probably another idiot MP wishing to impose his intellectual limitations on the rest of us".
Tony can be heard reciting "V" here:
The hip hop movers and shakers of the later 20th and 21st centuries can are defined through the same characteristics of the 'contrarian performance poet' as well as questioning the status quo regarding equality and the music industry itself. Rappers and rap lyrics are known for dealing with issues surrounding race, gender and various cultures in society.
It's worth mentioning that the crafted performance pieces of the likes of Jay Z and Plan B are often overlooked as having little literary or artistic integrity. I'd further argue alongside that well-read, intelligent rappers are simply mocked or ignored.
Those that mock, disparage and actively overlook the genre, beg the perpetrators of this intellectual crime be branded Philistines. Although this may seem strongly worded, this remains a strangle hold on art, literature and music and it being received and criticised openly and graciously. Drug taking, sexually promiscuous misogynist's performers lend themselves well to the hip-hop image.
But what of the opium (old school heroin) taking, alcoholic and sexually promiscuous poets of late 18th century. Does this make the hedonistic romantic poets of lesser artists or the writing and reading of romantic poetry of less importance?
I particularly enjoy this following piece of music – by rapper Plan B. Witty, visceral and to a stomping beat – this, for me, demonstrates poetry and hip-hop's artistic synergy perfectly.