OWU book examines ‘hip hop, poetry, rhyming culture’

Staff reports

March 7, 2014

In his new book, Ohio Wesleyan University Professor David Caplan examines the works of Eminem and Eliot, Kanye and Kipling, Snoop Dogg and Shakespeare.

The book, “Rhyme’s Challenge: Hip Hop, Poetry, and Contemporary Rhyming Culture,” argues that hip-hop artists are the most daring, inventive, and sophisticated contemporary rhymers and examines three kinds of rhymes these artists favor: doggerel, insult, and seduction. It was published Feb. 10 by Oxford University Press.

“I hope readers will gain a better appreciation of the hip-hop artists’ verbal artistry,” said Caplan, Ph.D., who joined Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of English in 2000 and serves as its associate director of creative writing. “I came to write the book after many students asked me, ‘Is hip-hop poetry?’

“Thinking about the question, I was struck by the many differences between hip-hop and contemporary poetry, and started thinking about the lessons hip-hop could teach contemporary poetry,” Caplan said.

The book is drawing praise from fellow authors and researchers, including Adam Bradley, author of “Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop.”

“In ‘Rhyme’s Challenge,’ David Caplan makes the case that rhymes live all around us and express themselves most evocatively in hip-hop,” Bradley states. “He draws rich connections across music, culture, law, politics, science, and beyond. This is a rare kind of book: rooted but daring, learned but hip.”

Stephen Burt, author of “Close Calls with Nonsense,” adds that Caplan’s book “is surely a, if not the, place to go” to learn more about what rap contributes to modern-day poetry.

“If you want to see the very traditional techniques of literary analysis prove their worth once more, if you want to see what those techniques can do for, with, and about Big Daddy Kane and Missy Elliot, Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco, there’s no substitute for the close reading and closer listening Caplan provides,” Burt states.

At Ohio Wesleyan, Caplan specializes in 20th- and 21st-century American literature. His scholarly interests include verse form and contemporary poetry, and his previous books include “Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form” and the poetry collection “In the World He Created According to His Will.”

He is a two-time Fulbright Scholar, with both awards enabling him to teach and research at the University of Liège in Belgium. He delivered several chapters of his new book as invited lectures in 2012 in Belgium, Ireland, and Germany. Caplan also won the Virginia Quarterly Review’s spring 2012 Emily Clark Balch Prize for Poetry.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Hobart College, Master of Fine Arts from the University of Florida, and additional Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia.