FARMINGTON — For three minutes, Robert Frost’s acclaimed 1922 poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was transformed from a regular poem to an amalgamation of written word, spoken word and hip-hop performances.

Poet Gibson Fay-LeBlanc began by reading the opening lines of Frost’s poem, and after a minute, hip-hop artist Eric Axelman dove in, taking Frost’s lines and adapting them to a hip-hop rhythm.

Near the end of the song, Lady Zen, a Portland-based poet, singer and performer, sang Frost’s poem.

The performance culminated in all three artists taking turns performing the final verse in their own unique way.

Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair, with the help of English teacher Meadow Sheldon, Fay-LeBlanc, Axelman and Lady Zen, used this remix of Frost’s poem as an opportunity to kick off his new initiative, titled “Imagination 101: Poetry in the Schools,” Friday morning in the Bjorn Auditorium at Mt. Blue High School.

Over 100 students were on hand as McNair explained that Friday’s performance, which he labeled “Written Word, Spoken Word, and Hip-Hop,” was his attempt to “revolutionize poetry in schools.”


“The day will consist of poetry performances and workshops in poetry, and will culminate in a shared performance of original work from Mt. Blue students,” McNair told the students. “Everything we do here will be filmed for a website that will be launched in September of this year to carry the word to schools all around Maine so they join in our revolution.”

After the performance, McNair said that he started the initiative in an effort to “mend the broken connection between poetry and its audience.”

“To me, poetry is as relevant and important as it used to be not so long ago,” McNair said. “Go back to the grange halls of the 19th and 20th century. The worthy master of the Grange hall would sometimes call on people to stand up and recite poems. Kids used to memorize poems in school. It was simply part of the organic life of the culture. I’d like to restore that.”

Fay-LeBlanc, Axelman and Lady Zen spoke to students about how, despite the differences between written word, spoken word performances and hip-hop, their writing process starts at the same place: the blank page.

“You might be sitting there after watching us perform and be thinking, ‘What does any of that have in common with each other?’” Fay-LeBlanc said. “After talking with each other for awhile, we realized that we all start with the same thing. We all start trying to get words on the page. The finish that each of us gives to that page is different — but we all start at the same place.”

Near the end of the talk between the poets and the students, Axelman took two lines from the song “Daydreamin’,” a Grammy-award winning hip-hop song from Lupe Fiasco, and asked students for help in adding their own lyrics to the song.


Students were later given the chance to ask Fay-LeBlanc, Axelman and Lady Zen questions.

Among the advice the poets gave was lowering expectations when it comes to one’s own writing.

“I’ve certainly had writer’s block,” Fay-LeBlanc said, “and it’s not a fun place to be. My favorite advice about writer’s block came from a poet named Philip Levine. I can’t say exactly what he says while I’m on a high school stage, but he basically says, ‘Forget writer’s block. If you have writer’s block, the key is to lower your standards.’”

“When we’re stuck on something, and we don’t know what we want to put on the page, it’s because we have this idea that what we put on the page is going to be amazing right away,” Fay-LeBlanc said. “What Levine is telling us is to write whatever we’ve got, even if you know it’s not good.”

Axelman agreed, saying that when he’s writing lyrics, “most of the stuff I write is bad.”

“I don’t use most of the stuff I write,” Axelman said. “If you write stuff that you don’t like, you’re just getting closer to what you actually want. I’ve always thought that if you have a good time writing, good things will follow. Maybe not right away, but it will follow.”


Following the talk between the poets and the students, a group of 30 students split up into three groups of 10 and participated in workshops with Fay-LeBlanc, Axelman and Lady Zen.

McNair said his hope is that teachers around the state will use the video footage from the Mt. Blue High School performance as a blueprint for teaching students about strengthening their connection to poetry.”

“There are a lot of teachers out there that probably aren’t aware of spoken word or hip-hop and how popular they’ve both become,” McNair said. “We’ll be uploading all of the video footage from the workshops here at Mt. Blue, including the small workshops between the students and the poets. I’m hoping that teachers will use that footage and share it with their own students.”

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