Intro to Lit: Culture & Lit

Literature and Culture: Mele (Song) as Poetry

What is the difference between a song and a poem? We usually think a song is set to music and a poem isn’t. But a song can be sung without music, and a poem can be recited with music, so they’re not quite as different from each other as we might first think. This course introduces students to key elements of studying mele (songs) as poetry as a way to help us better understand how we use language and rhythm in composing, reading, and performing mele, and why mele—as songs and poetry—resonate within us and evoke feelings and memories in ways longer prose texts don’t. Throughout the semester, we will learn and utilize key terms in studying poetry, such as figurative language, imagery, rhyme scheme, genre, and themes, etc. Along the way, we will also consider questions of cultural, social and political themes and contexts, such as aloha ʻāina (lit., love for the land).

The focus will be on Hawaiian mele (in and/or translated into English), as well as comparative mele from other cultural influences, including hip hop and reggae. Performative elements of mele, and the related genres of slam and performance poetry will also be considered. Because mele are meant to be performed and not just read, a range of multimedia formats (CD, DVD, mp3, YouTube) will be utilized as “texts.” Students will be encouraged to bring their own mele examples to class. At least one out of class “fieldtrip” to a performance of mele will be required.

No prior knowledge of Hawaiian language or culture is required, although students with such backgrounds are encouraged to utilize their skills and knowledge throughout the course in class discussions, course papers, and other assignments.


Course Requirements: Class participation through regular attendance and in-class discussions, Laulima discussion board questions and responses, oral group presentation, a midterm, final exam, and occasional quizzes. This is a writing intensive course, which requires a minimum of 4000 words (about 16 pages) of writing across the semester. This will be accomplished in a variety of ways, including composition of at least three essays (1200 words each).


Course Texts: Course reader, and/or readings posted on Laulima.

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.