April is National Poetry Month, a time of year when “schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.”
Listen to Kurtis Lamkin read his short poem “jump mama,” and follow along with the text. Lamkin is an American poet working in the style of ancient West African griots. A griot (GREE-oh) is a performer who blurs the line between poet, storyteller, singer, and community historian. What can students infer about American culture from “jump mama”?
- “jump mama” describes an American community. Can students describe the small community of “jump mama”? Who inhabits it? What are they doing?
- Lamkin outlines some elements of the community: an outdoor street scene with grandmothers and their grandchildren, old men talking with each other, young men hanging out on the corner, young girls doing double-dutch jump rope.
- What can students infer about the community that Lamkin doesn’t directly say? Why do we make these inferences?
- Is this a rural or urban community?
- Is it a weekday or weekend?
- What time of day is it?
- Do students assume the community of “jump mama” is African-American? Why? If they read the poem without knowing the author is African-American, would they reach the same conclusion? Why or why not?
- “jump mama” presents a small story taking place in a small community. Can students who live in communities not described in “jump mama”—rural or primarily white, for instance—relate to the poem? Why or why not?
- Why do students think the woman in “jump mama” is happy to double-dutch jump-rope? Do they think she gets the chance to do this often? Why or why not?
- Do students think this is a happy poem? Why or why not?
- In his performance of “jump mama,” Lamkin plays the kora, a 21-string instrument indigenous to western Africa. Can students describe the style of music Lamkin plays on the kora? Does it reflect the narrative, or story, told in the poem?
- The style has an upbeat, easy, sing-song rhythm. It reflects the jump-rope rhyme of the poem.