By Brianna Duffy (’23)
Neon Green Aliens Ate My Homework and Other Poems
by Nick Cannon
Scholastic Inc., 2015,
Reviewed by Brianna Duffy
Nick Cannon’s 2015 poetry collection, Neon Green Aliens Ate My Homework and Other Poems, weaves Hip-Hop and poetry in an ode to the Rap gods that laid the foundation for the future of Hip-Hop. Although the collection is meant for elementary and middle school children, adults (specifically millennials and older gen Z’ers) can also enjoy this collection as a reminiscence of childhood. From the freakish lunch lady to managing anxiety and insecurities, Cannon creates a space to recollect the “funny, wacky, and gross” memories of youth. In addition to honoring rappers like Eminem, Tupac, and Dr. Dre, Cannon includes artwork from famed street artists to deepen the dimension of living and experiencing the city life. The title is misleading, as this poetry collection details more than boogers and P.E. class. Cannon comments on parental relationships, mental illness, school struggles, adjustment to fame, and understanding his race. In his poem “Grandpa Esau”, readers see these dimensions of family relationships and conceptions of race and culture:
My Grandpa Esau was quick on the draw
The coolest brotha this side of the maw
Brim hat laid to the side, Cat Daddy was raw
We played Cops and Robbers, and I was the law
Grandpa Esau wore glasses, so he couldn’t see as good as we saw
Even though he walked with a cane, he still pushed me on the seesaw
Grandpa Esau loved Grandma
We were all heartbroke when he said “I’ll see y’all…”
We miss you, Grandpa Esau (124)
This may be Nick Cannon’s debut in poetry, but he is certainly not unfamiliar with the art of composition. His credits include rapper, actor, comedian, record producer, and TV and radio host, the Ben Franklin of the entertainment industry. He began writing poetry and raps when he was around 8 years old which led him to a recurring role on Nickelodeon’s All That, an American sketch comedy television series, in 1995. Cannon began to experience fame at an early age. This sense of popularity was new as he describes that his schoolmates did not share that same admiration during their school years. “PE” recounts this experience of bullying and stress caused by classmates. Specifically, the experience of being picked last, yet always being a target for teasing and torment:
Physical education class —
the best place to feel out of place.
Insecure, insufficient, and insignificant.
I’ve always been the last one to get picked,
And the first one to get picked on. (82)
While this poetry collection is quoted as autobiographical, bullying is often cited as a shared experience among all ages from elementary students to millennial adult. This poem is not the only instance of Cannon working to place the reader in the shoes of the speaker. Poems like “Positive vs. Negative” (42), “Great Grades” (44), “Just To Throw You” (113) and “A Champion Named Ikiaka” (114) acknowledge this anxiety with peers and working to fit in with the norms of the “it” crowd. “Ikiaka was born outside the angel’s fence / Disabilities plagued his core; the weight of his world was dense / But no obstacles would stop this brace young prince” (115). Cannon strategically uses these experiences to create a bond between reader and speaker.
As a poet, establishing a well-founded relationship with the reader is integral to a poem or poetry collection’s success. To create this relationship, strong vocabulary, rich imagery, and sonorous rhythm is essential. Cannon effectively uses all three elements divided between the 66 poems presented in Neon Green Aliens Ate My Homework. He keeps the vocabulary relevant to middle school readers and provides both amusing and mature imagery to challenge young readers and engage higher level readers.
Cannon presents, as author, a speaker who transitions from relatable to unrelatable life. In “Just Like You” (59), the speaker is established as a well-known celebrity who now “shop[s] at the same address” (59) as the rappers — Outkast, Snoop Dog, Biggie, etc. — acknowledged in “School of Hip-Hop” (54). Celebrities are often idolized as having a perfect life. However, Cannon acknowledges this disconnect between reality and fantasization. “Just Like You” details feelings about consistently trying to prove oneself, but also staying true to roots planted in the projects and low-income living. “But I grew up on WIC and Food Stamps, too,/ With dishwashing soap as bubble bath and shampoo. / So you see I, too, am just like you” (59). Cannon works to break this boundary of relatable and unrelatable through a sequence of connections from childhood to adulthood.
Cannon keeps it emotionally real in this poetry collection. He presents a diverse spectrum of themes to absorb readers of all ages: familial relationships, anxiety, fame, and identity. Although the cover is misleading with a ghastly monster that possesses a substantial space on the cover, the cartoonish style and use of color appeals to millennials and older gen Z adults as a reminder of growing up with Nickelodeon. Neon Green Aliens Ate My Homework and Other Poems successfully weaves Hip-Hop and poetry in an ode to the true OG rappers while simultaneously creating a speaker that identifies with the outcasts and humanizes celebrity life. Overall, Cannon transcends the YA genre with his range of mature topics yet succeeds in keeping his work palatable for all audiences with his ability to craft connections with the reader.
Cannon, Nick. Neon Green Aliens Ate My Homework: and Other Poems. Scholastic Inc., 2015.