Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Growing Up Hip Hop

Today we had a videoconference with Kahlil Almustafa, poet and author of "Growing Up Hip Hop". I have worked with Kahlil for the past 5 years in our Poetry Slam program. He is not only a gifted poet and performer but he is an amazing teacher. The relationship that Kahlil has with the students is truly inspiring. The students light up when he enters the classroom and the poetry they write reflects this extraordinary teacher student connection. As part of a grant I invited Kahlil to host an ASK format videoconference. ASK which stands for Authors, Specialists, Knowledge brings authors and experts to answer student questions based on the books they have read. The student had just finished reading Kahlil's first book of poetry "Growing Up Hip Hop". This is why Kahlil came to our school today to share some of his poetry and answer the students questions about his poetry, life as an artist and tips on how to perform poetry in a poetry slam.
Kahlil's visit was actually two part. At first he visited some of the classes in the flesh. He performed some of his poems, fielded questions and warmed up for the videoconference that would take place later on. By the time the videoconference started he was all warmed up and ready to go. The videoconference was with three of our Poetry Slam classes. These classes have been working with other artists as part of a ten week poetry residency. In two weeks they will be performing in a poetry slam so Kahlil's videoconference was very helpful and timely.
When the videoconference began some of the students looked bored and detached but Kahlil's personality and style soon got the students involved and excited. Kahlil stood close to the monitor at times he even touched the screen. When students asked questions about specific poems, Kahlil performed the poems so everyone was familiar with the poem. When he was asked what inspired him to write poetry he told them about discovering "The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes" at his "fake cousin's" house when he was 15. (According to Kahlil everyone has a "fake cousin"), Every answer to ever question was thoughtful and often flavored with humour. Kahlil also gave advice to our aspiring poets on writing and performance. With regard to the latter he told the students when they practice their poems they should do whatever comes naturally to them but they should pay attention to gestures and deliveries that they like and then purposefully incorporate them into their performance.
Kahlil Almustafa is a treasure and because of that the videoconference today was very special. I will be blogging about our 2009 Poetry Slam very soon but as an off shoot of Kahlil's work with our students our schools will be participating in the Queens Art Express event at Queens Botanical Gardens. This is a great opportunity for our student poets to join Kahlil in performing their wonderful poetry.