National Poetry Month: Rap is for everyone

April 8th, 2013

We continue our National Poetry Month celebration with a rap, written and performed by author Lynne Dorfman. Have you and your students written a rap, or other unconventional forms of poetry? Share it with us and win a free copy of Poetry Mentor Texts. Don’t forget to download our free e-book full of ideas for teaching poetry.

Columbus Day rap

By Lynne R. Dorfman

npm2013_logoLast weekend I had a chance to see the movie Quartet. I was fascinated with Reggie, one of the aging musicians who lives at Beecham House. He regularly gives talks to teens about music, and my interest was piqued when one of the students explained rap and its similarities with opera. This scene is so powerful because it demonstrates the ability for different generations to bond and learn from one another.

The movie made me think about a rap I had written and performed as part of a presentation for my writing institute experience with the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. My workshop was all about poetry, and I wanted to experiment with some forms I was not familiar or comfortable with. The result is the “Columbus Day Rap” I have included here. My own fourth-grade class performed the poem onstage the next year at my elementary school on Columbus Day. Later that same year, we created a “Dinosaur Museum” and students wrote their own raps to perform (in colorful T-shirts, shorts, and shades!) for our evening presentation to parents.

One of my colleagues at the Upper Moreland Intermediate School writes and performs his own raps on various stages in the Philadelphia area. He has shared his poetry with me and has encouraged me to join him to perform poetry live. I just might do that!


Columbus Day Rap

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He traveled all through Europe,
Searchin’ the land,
Lookin’ for somebody
To lend him a hand.

He’d almost given up
When he finally reached Spain
Where the rain falls mainly on the plain.
He sought out Isabella and King Ferdinand.
He said, “Come on, Isabella,
Please lend me a hand.”

He said, “Come on!”

He said, “Come on!”

“The world is round, not flat.
Let me prove it to you.
All I need is some money,
Three ships and a crew.”
And after Columbus was
Finished with his pitch,
She said, “Sail away,
Columbus. Go and
Make me rich!”

She said, “Sail on!”

She said, “Sail on!”

The Nina, the Pinta, and
The Santa Marie…
Three ships all went a sailin’
Across the sea.|
The sailors got discouraged,
They wanted to turn back—
But Columbus was determined,
Now that’s a proven fact!

A new route to the East
He was tryin’ to find,
But the sailors were convinced
He was losing his mind.
He discovered America,
The land of the free,
Where people take great stock
In democracy.

He became a broken man,
And he died the same . . .
But people to this day
Still remember his name.

He still sails on!


Lynne Dorfman rap

Entry Filed under: Writing

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. National Poetry Month: A &hellip  |  April 15th, 2013 at 7:56 am

    […] Poetry Month celebration with a poem by Lynne Dorfman. She also shares how the poem came to life. Revisit our previous National Poetry Month posts and don’t forget to download our free e-book filled […]

  • 2. Karen Saunders  |  April 18th, 2013 at 6:44 am

    I have such respect for your work in sharing ideas for using mentor texts with children, so I was excited when I saw that you’d written a Columbus Rap.
    Then I read it. Nice rhymes, good beat, and filled with misconceptions and untruths about Columbus and history.
    Read his diaries, or those of the priest Bartolomé de las Casas.

    “He discovered America, the land of the free, where people take great stock in democracy”??
    Columbus never set foot on the shores of this continent, but ushered in genocide on the islands where he did land, which was followed by genocide throughout the Americas, as he was followed by other “explorers”.

    Poetry is powerful. Check out the poetry on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “My Country Tis of Thy People you’re Dying.”


  • 3. stenhouse  |  April 24th, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    A response from Lynne:
    The rap was written in the spirit of experimenting with a new form of writing for the second graders in the classrooms I would work with that fall. I was just starting a new role as a writing extension teacher with a focus on second grade. It was written to be playful – emphasizing rhythm and rhyme, not for historical correctness.

    Of course I know America as we know it was not in existence and that Columbus actually reached the islands. The line that Karen quotes refers to what America eventually became. There definitely is a time and place to introduce truths such as the ones Karen speaks about. I’ve used Yolen’s book Encounter with fourth and fifth graders.

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