Union, NJ – Burnet Middle School students in Erik Gabriel’s classes recently immersed themselves in the art form of figurative language to foster mastery of the tools of poetic writing.

The students moved through the unit surveying classical poets; those poets students could identify with in the contemporary world.  Classical and new age hip-hop allowed the students to identify their poetic style and voice. Students drafted a series of seven poems of various lengths using classic figurative language with forms of it used in hip-hop vernacular as tools to describe and relate to the listener. They learned to analyze it in lyric, sonnet, and couplet forms.

In order to put the lessons students learned in the classroom to practical use and to expose them to the talent that lives among them, Gabriel held a seminar with recording artists from the New Jersey area. 

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William Eliot Williams, also known as EL Da Sensei, is a hip hop virtuoso who has been involved with the hip hop community for 25 years. He has recorded multiple albums with his group, The Artifacts, and has toured the world working with musicians. Dupree “Dotiall” Kelly is a legend of hip-hop and was a founding member of the group, Lords of the Underground. Ryan Werner, also known as Ren Thomas, is a local rising star in the hip hop community and has been rhyming since he was 11 years old.  

“The experience these men brought to our students’ lives is priceless and it was written all over their faces when listening to these men talk and teach,” said Gabriel.

“I hope this unit has inspired children to not only enjoy the art and therapy poetry can bring to their lives, but also show them that poetry is relative and we are all poets in life in some way, shape, or form,” continued Gabriel.  “Watching my students, from emergent learners to Honors level students find a voice and most importantly talk about what they are interested in is the greatest gift I hope to receive from this unit. I like to tell my students that they should be a poet in life, not just on paper. Life is scary beautiful and if we don’t tackle its radiance and its rawness, we will pass through life with a limited, not limitless, experience.”