Throughout this poem, the speaker expresses their sorrow over the death of a young woman—Cynthia, who passed away from a drug overdose. The poem has struck viewers as both profound and comedic.
‘Cynthia’ is an amusing and unusual slam poem performed by Jonah Hill’s character in 22 Jump Street.
The poem begins with Jonah Hill saying whatever comes to mind and attempting to find a subject to speak about. First, his character states that he feels angry about Cynthia’s death. He uses repetition to remind audiences that Cynthia’s dead and even directs words to the deceased college student herself. He also makes an amusing allusion to Julia Roberts’ 1999 romantic comedy Runaway Bride.
You can watch the performance here and read the poem here.
Yelling – Angry!
Waving my hands a lot
Specific point of view on things
In the first three lines of the poem, Jonah Hill’s character, Schmidt, starts his piece of slam/performance poetry by describing the anger he feels or suggests he feels about Cynthia’s death. He uses a loud, direct, and brash tone when speaking these initial lines. They help further the audience’s (who in these moments in the movie is uninterested in his performance) understanding of how he feels. By the end of the performance, everyone in the audience has come around, clapping for Jonah Hill’s character and cheering on his attempt at creating poetry on the spot.
It’s clear in these first lines that Jonah Hill’s character is trying to ease into a piece of slam poetry and is uncertain of the direction it’s going to go. By using lines like “waving my hands a lot” and “specific point of you on things,” he is avoiding expressing any particular idea.
Cynthia — sin-thi-a
Julia Roberts, Julia Rob… hurts
In the next set of lines, Schmidt uses Cynthia’s name and then sounds it out, emphasizing “Cin” (read: “Sin”). This allows him to connect the idea of sin to Jesus, who he says died and cried for “our Cynthia’s” (meaning people like Cynthia who sinned and lost their lives).
The next lines include an allusion to a 1999 romantic comedy film, Runaway Bride, which starred Julia Roberts. Playing off the name once more, he emphasizes “Rob” and “hurts,” sounding out the two syllables of Roberts’ last name and again alluding to the pain a loss can cause.
You are dead
In the next few lines, the speaker uses the name “Cynthia “two more times. He also utilizes sound language by using the sound “mmmmm” before Cynthia’s name as if preparing for something dramatic.
Repetition can also be found in the next lines where he says, “You’re dead” and “You are dead,” changing the contraction from one line to the next.
By repeating the phrase with a different emphasis, Jonah Hill’s character is improvising, but the audience reads deeper into the use of language and feels as though the character is truly saying something impactful.
Be boop beep you’re dead
The final part of this short, humorous piece of slam poetry uses onomatopoeia. Again, the speaker uses language that’s more like sound than it is words. He speaks a series of sounds beginning with “Ba boo beep ba” before concluding with “You’re dead”. At this point in the film, Channing Tatum’s character indicates that Schmidt should get off the stage and stop (as he sees it) embarrassing himself.
22 Jump Street Plot Summary
This comedy film brings two friends, Morton Schmidt and Greg Jenko, together as undercover cops at a University. They investigate narcotics trafficking, specifically of a drug, WHY-PHY, that killed a student (the Cynthia featured in Jonah Hill’s slam poem). Jenko makes friends with jocks on the football team, and Schmidt finds his way into the art scene by pretending to be interested in slam poetry. By the end of the film, the two find the character Mercedes speaking to other drug dealers and eventually find and deal with The Ghost after Jenko gets shot.
What is Slam Poetry?
Slam poetry is a type of spoken word poetry performed at a poetry slam. In 22 Jump Street, the two main characters are at such a performance. Jonah Hill’s character decides to go on stage and attempt to deliver something effective. The audience plays an important role in poetry slams as often they join in with the poet (although this didn’t happen in 22 Jump Street). In the film, they did applaud Jonah Hill’s performance, indicating that what he delivered moved them in some way.
Poetry slams began in the 1980s in Chicago, Illinois. They grew in popularity as readers, writers, and poetry lovers sought to bring poetry into a more accessible realm. Anyone, no matter their background, could participate in a poetry slam. Slam poetry is meant to push back against the historical traditions of classical literature and those deemed capable of writing it.
Structure and Form
‘Cynthia’ is a short, free verse poem that contains a total of twelve lines. These are commonly divided into four sections, three of which are four-line stanzas, known as quatrains, and one couplet stanza. As a free verse poem, this piece does not include a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
But, there are several examples of alliteration that do provide the poem with a form of rhythm. For example, “Dead” is used at the end of the last three lines of the poem. Additionally, the speaker repeats “Cynthia” four times throughout.
Within this unusual poem, the writers make use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Repetition: the use of the same image, idea, word, literary device, etc., within a poem. In this case, the poet repeats the name “Cynthia” four times and reminds readers that she’s dead three times.
- Apostrophe: occurs when the speaker addresses someone or something that cannot hear them or respond to them. In this case, the speaker directs their words to Cynthia, who has passed away from a drug overdose.
- Anaphora: the use of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “Jesus” starts lines two and three of the second stanza.
- Allusion: occurs when the speaker references something outside the poem’s scope. In the second stanza, the speaker mentions “Julia Roberts” and uses the phrase “runaway bride,” this is an allusion to a 1999 Romantic Comedy of the same name that features the well-known actor.
- Onomatopoeia: the use of language that’s associated with sound. For example, “Be boop beep” at the end of the poem.
The movie follows two cops/friends, Schmidt and Jenko, who are sent undercover into a college to find information about a new drug dealer/supplier. They make friends, improve their relationship, and the movie concludes with light finally being shed on the antagonist.
According to some sources involved with the film, improv was encouraged on set. This means that the actors were allowed to break away from their provided script and go off what they believed their character would say or do next. Or do something that they believed would fit the film’s humorous tone.
Originality is at the heart of slam poetry. It is important to speak on a topic in a way that you feel expresses your personal opinion. In the three minutes that a poet has to perform on stage, it’s important to pay attention to time, keep the poem simple and relatable, perform with rhythm and passion, and, very importantly, practice beforehand.
Slam poetry is only performed on stage, spoken, sung, yelled, or chanted, while most other kinds of poetry are written down (and maybe read aloud later).
The three major parts of slam poetry are generally considered to be the composition, rhythm, and audience participation. If the poet can get the audience invested in their performance, it’s more likely they’ll enjoy it.
Some of the best-known slam poets in the history of this form of poetic performance include Dylan Garity, Tonya Ingram, George Watsky, Phil Kaye, and Sara Kay.
Spoken word poetry and slam poetry are both performed. But, slam poetry is more often part of competition, while spoken word is for the performance and feedback only.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider exploring some related pieces. For example:
- 10 Things I Hate About You Poem – a teenage expression of love and frustration. It is told from the perspective of a young woman finding the right words to define her experience. Featured in the 1999 romantic comedy of the same name.
- ‘Awake‘ by Jim Morrison – a collection of surrealist thoughts by the lead singer of The Doors who passed away in 1971 (some believe from a drug overdose).