Bob Zaslow – Shakespeare Rap

Yo Yo Yo I’m Prince Hamlet! Gotta problem wi’ that?

Shakespeare Rapper Bob ZaslowHello all and welcome to our continuing series of author interviews.

Bob has many talents and won many awards. Perhaps the biggest question is “How does a suburban white guy make The Bard urbanghettolastic?” and asking that question is a great demonstration of how out of touch I am.

I’d like everyone to stand up and give Bob Zaslow a big round of applause for taking part in our exciting adventure.

It all started when I was in advertising.

Bob Zaslow’s Bio
Bob’s Off-Broadway musical, The Seed of Abraham, was performed at the Bleecker St. Theatre at the 2011 FringeNYC Festival. He also won an American Film Festival award for his documentary film, Nadine Valenti, Portrait of a Painter. Bob was a VP Creative Supervisor at Grey Advertising, writing and producing more than 100 commercials, earning a Clio, two Effies, and a John Staples Direct Response Award. His most recent book, “Rap-Notes: Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits,” was published in 2012. Bob simplified Shakespeare’s stories in rhyme, writing and recording raps that sing the plots of Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, King Lear, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Finally, Bob’s been writing (non-rap) poems since 2016. He was selected Poet of the Week on the Poetry Superhighway site, February 19, 2018.

The creators of SchoolHouseRock were friends of mine.

Bob and I talked about Rap (duh!), Shakespeare, advertising, typewriters versus computers, 5th graders learning about Brazil, the value of entertainment and humor in education, how losing a six-figure job can be a good thing, rapping about math, science and ants, rhyming versus poetry, teaching older versus younger kids, memorizing Homer, who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays, the joys of lake living and voting against high taxes with your feet.

They had a six line poem. Frankly, I didn’t know if this would work or not.

The Interview

You have to make things human and relatable. You have to put things in their language.


Bob’s Links

I write poems because they’re shorter. I can write a poem in a hour or two.

Some of Bob’s Poetry

Peace Piece

As a ruse, I photographed Bill Evans with my Nikon at the Top of the Gate
And his jazzy notes were a jig-saw puzzle of harmony and discord, impossible to hum
But they made me want to sing
Made me want to move inside and around them
Made me want to go to church go to heaven go to Rockaway Beach in winter
And feel the music/cold/night pierce through me
I could hear his feelings like he was revealing them in black and white
Which he was: 36 black and 52 white speaking parts
No structure no sequence no solutions no salutations no cerebralizations
Just vibrations resonations actualizations ideations IDEATIONS
Without words or predictability, where expressions express
And we, the lucky audience, got to take it all in
If we also listened without words
Not like the rube talking up his girl while swirling the ice in his Singapore Sling
And we got to hear what heaven probably sounds like
I heard it, I swear I heard it that day in 1970-something
On the corner of Bleecker and Thompson
And somewhere, up in my attic in a box, I’ve got photos in black and white to prove it

The Chinese Monkey Trap

The monkey grabbed in for a fistful of rice
But then couldn’t pull out of the snare.
Not relaxing her grip and releasing said rice
She clenched her fist tight and stayed there.
And there she got caught, holding on to her grains
As the poacher whisked her, “Goodbye.”
How much I’m like her, holding on to my gains
Without ever knowing quite why.
But what’s so compelling, why grip them so tight
That I’d rather hold on than run free?
What’s my fistful of rice, what drives me to fight
And keeps me bound in captivity?
Does my place in the line keep my hand tightly closed?
(I cannot let go and don’t care.)
Or a fistful of gold and the world I suppose
That accrues to a millionaire?
Whether I clench my fist or my jaw
The result seems to ‘ere be the same
The rice in my hand ends up worthless as straw
Once the chaff in my head makes its claim.

The Trueing

When trueing your saw, file and stone twice,
with even strokes to expose fresh steel.
Stop when the flat disappears, be precise,
and move down ‘til you reach to the heel.
Then re-clamp and repeat, but do it reversed,
all the better to cut ‘cross the grain,
at the same bevel angle as the first.
Place it flat, handle over the plane.
Then lightly run an India stone
to even the set of each tooth.
And remove every burr for a fine hone
to reveal your saw’s own perfect truth.
Whether I’ve trued my saw or pen,
I think I’ve done what I could
to treat my tools like fine workmen,
trueing both words and wood.

Practice, Practice, Practice

A Japanese sage once wrote enlightenment is an accident
but spiritual practice can make you accident prone.
I laughed at his wit, then wondered what he meant.
I used to practice. On my guitar, on my flute, on my times’ tables.
But spiritual practice…how do you practice on your spirituality?
Could I do that just by showing up in the moment?
And so, I imagined
what if I really tasted one raisin?
Really noticed how my fingers grasped this pencil?
Really smelled freshly crushed oregano?
Really listened?
Really felt my feet flattening down the grass?
Could I practice that?
Could the sage’s practice be that simple?
That innocent?

Writing is hard but not writing is more difficult.