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Bryan Cranston reading “Ozymandias” and more famous poems recited by famous people.

QUIZ: Poetry Line or Rap Lyrics?

Can you tell the difference between poetry and rap?  We took 20 quotes — half from poets in the Norton Anthology of Poetry, the other half from RIAA-certified rap recordings  — and now it’s your turn to see if you can tell which are poetry lines and which are rap lyrics.

Of course, “poetry” and “rap” aren’t mutually exclusive, but we thought it would be fun to see if you could spot which ones are Norton Anthology material and which ones you’ve shaken your booty to on the radio. Bonus points if you can name the source of each quote:  claim them at your next dinner party, and then try to stump your friends.


POETRY or RAP? “Remember we were so young / When I would hold you / Before the blood on the leaves”

POETRY or RAP? “Gonna buy me a knife with / a blade ten inches long. / Shall I carve ma self or / that man that done me wrong?”

POETRY or RAP? “Freedom a drug that’s bought and sold / Giving to steal and cruel kind, / a heart to fear, to doubt a mind”

POETRY or RAP? “It’s a treachery hidden up the sleeves of men / Magic will only work for those who do believe in them”

POETRY or RAP? “Hell is empty / And all the devils are here”

POETRY or RAP? “Flame on, I know the light is bright but keep on watching me”

POETRY or RAP? “May God forgive us though we dwell inside a paradox”

POETRY or RAP? “That Holy Water that you soak in has been poisoned / When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless”

POETRY or RAP? “I was twenty years behind the times / so you found an audience ready. / I do not disown you, / Do not disown your progeny”

POETRY or RAP? “The Shot that killed him yes I heard / as I heard the Thousand shots before”

POETRY or RAP? “For you, I would peel open the clouds like new fruit / And give you lightning and thunder as a dowry / […] And I would clasp the constellations across your waist”

POETRY or RAP? “I was saying it to stop / the sensation of falling off / the round, turning world / into cold, blue-black space”

POETRY or RAP? “The versatile, honey-sticking wild golden child / Dwelling in the Rotten Apple, you get tackled / Or caught by the devil’s lasso”

POETRY or RAP? “I was ten when they buried you. / At twenty I tried to die / and get back, back, back to you”

POETRY or RAP? “It is deadly, terrifying / It is the Inquisition, the / Revolution / It is beauty itself”

POETRY or RAP? “Take my hand and we’ll pick my plantation / Of Daisies for a bouquet of Soul / Life will begin at the cut of a rim / Take it as filled to the rim as in brim”

POETRY or RAP? “But at my back in a cold blast I hear / The rattle of the bones”

POETRY or RAP? “I wonder if they miss me, as long as I make history / Now my soul is feeling empty, tell the reaper come and get me”

POETRY or RAP? “The soul’s escaping through this hole that is gaping / This world is mine for the taking / Make me king”

POETRY or RAP? “America when will we end the human war? / Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb”

Now check your answers!

He wrote about my land. He came from a land of place names that sounded like someone had smudged a language – Broagh, Toome, Mossbawn. He made it okay to be from Northern Ireland and refuse the ready-mix mythologies of either side of its brutalising, befuddling conflict. He made coming from the land and wanting to live the life of the mind not mutually exclusive things.
On a recent trip to my local bookstore Vroman’s, I picked up a copy of Garrison Keillor-edited Good Poems, a collection taken from Keillor’s daily readings on radio program “The Writer’s Almanac.” It’s a wonderful collection. It’s made me remember old favorites (Frank O’Hara! Anne Sexton!) and discover new favorites (Lisel Mueller! Wendy Cope!). I’ve been reading poems from this collection every day and my favorite ones I dog-ear and save to read to my husband. I read him poems while I ride shotgun in the car. I read him poems at the dining room table. He turns the lights out and crawls into bed and I grab a flashlight and read him JUST one more poem before we both fall asleep.

It’s only a poem or two a day. And it makes the day just a fraction better. And that fraction is felt, it counts, I don’t want that fraction to go away.
I realize that there are alternate readings, one where that final line is seen as full of regret rather than hope. There have been times over the years where I’ve taken it that way, too. But listening to my students discuss their interpretations of the poem has convinced me that the hope has a place there. That the more difficult, less traveled road is worth it.
Hip hop, and especially rap, is arguably the widest reaching poetry of our time, and much of it bears similar study.
If you haven’t given poetry a chance, let me be that friend. Pick up a book of poems at your library, Google it, maybe try writing a few verses yourself. Let it wash over you and one day it will click and change the way you see the world. It’s worth it.
It’s the last day of Poetry Month! Which poem should you read?

It’s the last day of Poetry Month! Which poem should you read?