There is a new book out called “Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop” by Adam Bradley which draws a parallel between authors of the classic canon and lyrics of current hip-hop artists. Though its New York Times review was mixed, it does bring us face to face again with that curious term “Def Poetry.”
I first heard about Def Poetry when I was living in Chicago; most of it hype surrounding the “Def Poetry Jam” airing on an upcoming HBO series. However, I didn’t take the time to investigate this new breed of poetry a decade ago (or two), so I now find myself asking the ignorant question, “What exactly is Def Poetry?”
The word def in my online dictionary is defined as an informal adjective originating in the 1980’s, and is likely a shortened form of definite or definitive. The urban dictionary defines it as “cool, ill, dope.” One might say, “That’s a def tattoo!” I personally have never used the word def in my exchanges but was horrified to see it was also defined as an archaic term circa 1981(ouch). Whatever the meaning is, it is extremely powerful stuff.
After YouTubing (yes, verb), I was stunned listening to Suheir Hammad who lashed out at the 9/11 aftermath bringing tears to my eyes. On the lighter side was Michigan’s own Poetri who brings a bit more humor to his work. Regardless of subject matter, this is the serious verse which lies at the heart of the aforementioned “Book of Rhymes.” Def Poetry is a quick-lipped, free verse genre which carries with it the emotional word of the street.
I know I’m quite late to the party, but there still seems to be plenty of Def Poetry to go around. Listings abound in the Detroit metro area, and why shouldn’t they? We certainly have enough talent and raw material upon which to draw.
-post by Megan Shaffer