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September  18

Def Poetry Girl

Kendra Kendra Urdang, a 2004 Montclair High School graduate, discovered that she was going to be featured on the HBO show "Def Poetry" tomorrow night by accident. "I only found out because I was reading the line-up and my name was on it," she said. Urdang, who we talked to by phone on the campus of Bard College, wasn't even sure where she would watch the show (her dorm doesn't have cable) or which poem they chose (she recorded two back in February.)

Still, it's not all that surprising that she's making it to national television. Kendra is something of a rising star in the hip-hop poetry world, having studied in a workshop run by Def Poetry master Russell Simmons when she was a junior in high school, and having continually done well in competitions, or slams, since. One poem, "Go Blue!" -- a powerful indictment of hypocrisy in her hometown -- was featured in "Echoes of Brown: 50 Years Later," a poetry and dance performance inspired by the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education last year.

If you need further proof of how serious Urdang is about this Def Poetry stuff, you only need to call her cell phone when she in class and can't answer the phone. The greeting isn't her voice at all but that of hip hop artist Mos Def rapping a poem by Langston Hughes. Although she's a little embarrassed by it, and says her mother complains, it does fit. "If you know me, then you know that it's me," she said.

Urdang is white; her mother is from South Africa (one of the two poems she recorded is about a South African friend); but she says that she's found the rap-influenced world of Def Jam poetry incredibly welcoming. "It's the most open community I've ever met," she said.

"Def Poetry" airs on HBO Sunday at 11 pm.

September 18, 2004 in Lights! Camera! Craft service! | Permalink


Painting with a pretty broad and pessimistic stroke there...
So in other words there a no yuppies of color in Montclair? There are no African-American students in AP or high honors? They are strictly athletes and low performing students who are viewed as "tickets" to funding?
Are you sure we are living in the same town!?!?!?
Let's be honest. Def Poetry, and similiar ilk, love the whole "woe is me" , "victim, victim, victim" rants....

Posted by: onthesly | Sep 18, 2004 9:38:09 AM

Painting with a pretty broad and pessimistic stroke there...
So in other words there a no yuppies of color in Montclair? There are no African-American students in AP or high honors? They are strictly athletes and low performing students who are viewed as "tickets" to funding?
Are you sure we are living in the same town!?!?!?
Let's be honest. Def Poetry, and similiar ilk, love the whole "woe is me" , "victim, victim, victim" rants....

Posted by: onthesly | Sep 18, 2004 9:39:16 AM

What was that noise? Oh, that was just the sound of William Shakespeare turing over in his grave.

Posted by: Miss Martta | Sep 18, 2004 6:03:58 PM

I think that noise was the creak-creak-creaking of old bones, forgeting what it is like to be young.

Posted by: MiloG | Sep 20, 2004 9:05:40 AM

There is no direct correlation between the words "young" and "talented."

Posted by: Miss Martta | Sep 20, 2004 9:57:11 AM

Well, ther's no direct corellation between old and crusty either. And there's no accounting for taste, not that you've given me any reason to account for yours.

Of course, people probably said much the same thing you did, except of Marlowe vis a vis Shakespeare, especially when Titus Andronicus hit the stage. And more recently, there's George Harrison saying that Bob Dylan makes William Shakespeare look like Billy Joel. Art is hard; criticism is easy.

Posted by: MiloG | Sep 20, 2004 11:12:32 AM

I got news for you, what passes as art is pretty damn easy nowadays...

By the way, I'm probably younger than you!!!

Posted by: onthesly | Sep 20, 2004 11:20:25 AM

What passes for art has always been easy. Comparing any poet to one of the top three poets the world has ever produced is crusty indeed, IMHO. It shows a desire to dislike rather than true criticism.

Aside from that, poets generally improve with age (name one poet aside from Rimbaud that wrote great work before their 25th birthday.) Poetry, unlike some other art forms, is also not susceptible to knee-jerk criticism. Shakespeare was roundly criticized in his day, as was almost every great poet, except perhaps for TS Eliot.

You may well be younger than me, you certainly sound it, but I wasn't responding to your comment anyway.

Posted by: MiloG | Sep 20, 2004 12:13:59 PM

I think the issue of age is immaterial here. There are talented and not-so-talented artists and poets of all ages. But there are certain works of art and poems that are timeless. I don't think hip-hop is in that category, sorry if I've offended you. In 100 years, is anyone going to remember or care?

Posted by: Miss Martta | Sep 20, 2004 1:15:04 PM

First off, I wasn't criticizing her writing skills. I was merely commenting that her view on Montclair was, in my opinion, completely inaccurate...

Posted by: onthesly | Sep 20, 2004 3:07:25 PM

I saw Kendra on Def Poetry and her words moved me to tears. I'm dying to get a copy of her poem. does anyone here know where I can get a transcript? If so, my e-mail addy is erinsyg2000@yahoo.com

Posted by: Erin | Sep 20, 2004 4:10:45 PM

"Let's be honest. Def Poetry, and similiar ilk, love the whole "woe is me" , "victim, victim, victim" rants...."

Exactly my point! This is not art...it's a rant.

Posted by: Miss Martta | Sep 20, 2004 4:12:07 PM

I'm not offended. It just seems callous to dismiss a young artist by comparing her to one of the very few giants who have survived through the ages. Can you think of any living poet you would compare to Shakespeare?

If you are dismissive of the work because you dislike the style, you should remember the reception every great artistic movement had from the admirers of the status quo. Hip Hop's not my speed either, and neither is "slam" type poetry (although is it so different from the beats--I mean, can't you see "Howl" or "Marriage" being read at a slam?) Twenty years ago I thought rap was a gimmick. Now we're 30+ years into it and it dominates youth culture. My friends who are Hip Hop afficiandos can trace its roots back to culturally significant predecessors (including the NJ poet laureate ;^) among others), certainly laying more of a claim to "legitimacy" than rock and roll ever could.

If you need to ask whether anyone in 100 years is going to care about Hip Hop then you really should stop asking that sort of question and go back to listening to and reading whatever you enjoy; the shock of the new has passed you by. If you're asking whether anyone will care about Kendra Urdang in 100 years, well it's really too soon to tell, isn't it? Personally, I'm rooting for her.

Posted by: MiloG | Sep 20, 2004 4:36:19 PM

"This is not art...it's a rant"

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly express'd;
For I have sworn thee fair,and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

- Shakespeare, Sonnet 147

I hate that "I'm a victim" ranting too.

Posted by: milog | Sep 20, 2004 4:49:07 PM

Kendra Urdang's poem about men & feminism was hot. I searched online for the words, but I came up empty-handed... If anyone knows them, I would appreciate it if you emailed it to me @ NYCkaren@earthlink.net

Posted by: Karen | Sep 20, 2004 9:50:08 PM

Puleeze...let's not make her out to be the next W.C. Handy!

Posted by: Miss Martta | Oct 20, 2004 3:09:24 PM

i think it was great Kendra . holly from england ;-) xxxxxxx

Posted by: Holly | Nov 3, 2004 4:07:45 PM

May not've been Rimbaud, but I still got the message.

Hey Kendra, if you're reading this, email me sometime.

Posted by: travis | Dec 7, 2004 10:23:40 AM

you are all free to think of Kendra as you may poet or not, just dont miss the message. " No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow"--Alice Walker. As long as we have people who are willing to cry revolution they will always have a listener in me

Posted by: 1damutt | Apr 28, 2005 7:26:31 PM

Thanks for the kind words. Now I am going to go give that dude John in Alaska a hummer. Sweet!

Posted by: kendra | Jun 10, 2005 8:41:17 AM

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