'Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.' [Carl Sandburg]

POETRY COUCH

'Poetry is everywhere; it just needs editing.' [James Tate]

'Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.'  

[Khalil Gibran]

'Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.'  [Edgar Allan Poe]

POEMS

In light  of National Women's Day celebrated annually in South Africa on the 9th August, I have featured 3 of Gcina Mhlophe's poems. Women's Day commemorates the 1956 march of approximately 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against the country's 'Pass laws' which required black South Africans to carry an internal passport, known as a pass, that served to maintain population segregation, under the Apartheid regime. 

Gcina Mhlophe is a storyteller and poet . Her work has contributed to the the revival of indigenous storytelling in South Africa.

Gcina Mhlophe is a well-known South African anti-apartheid activist. She was born in Kwazulu Natal in 1958  to a Xhosa mother and a Zulu father.

She began her working life as a domestic worker and then as a newsreader at BBC Radio and later as a writer for the magazine, Learn-and-Teach, a publication for newly literate people.

Gcina is known for her engaging stage presence.

She works to preserve  storytelling as a means of keeping history alive and encouraging South African children to read. 

Her emotive poems are simple, direct, lyrical and beautifully visual.

PRAISE POEM FOR NOKUKHANYA LUTHULI

If I were to stand on top of a hill
And raise my voice in praise
Of the women of my country
Who have worked throughout their lives
Not for themselves, but for the very life of all Africans
Who would I sing my praises to?
I could quote all the names
Yes, but where do I begin?!
Maybe, maybe, I would choose a name
Just one special name that spells out light
That of Mama Nokukhanya Luthuli
Maybe if I were to call out her name
From the top of the hill
While the moon is shining bright;
No-ku-kha-nya!
NO-KU-KHA-NYA!
Maybe my voice would be carried by the wind
To reach all the other women
Whose names are often not mentioned
The ones who sell oranges and potatoes
So their children can eat and learn
The ones who scrub floors and polish executive desktops
In towering office blocks
While the city sleeps
The ones who work in overcrowded hospitals
Savings lives, cleaning bullet wounds and delivering new babies
And the ones who have given up
Their places of comfort and the protection of their skin colour
Marian Sparg, Sheena Duncan,
Barbara Hogan, Jenny Schreiner.
And what of the women who are stranded in the homelands
With a baby in the belly and a baby on the back
While their men are sweating in the bowels of the earth?
May the lives of all these women
Be celebrated and made to shine
When I cry out Mama Nokukhanya’s name
NO-KU-KHA-NYA!!
And we who are young, salute our mothers
Who have given us
The heritage of their Queendom!!!

THE DANCER

Mama,
they tell me you were a dancer
they tell me you had long
beautiful legs to carry your graceful body
they tell me you were a dancer

Mama,
they tell me you sang beautiful solos
they tell me you closed your eyes
always when the feeling of the song
was right, and lifted your face up to the sky
they tell me you were an enchanting dancer

Mama,
they tell me you were always so gentle 
they talk of a willow tree
swaying lovingly over clear running water
in early Spring when they talk of you
they tell me you were a slow dancer

Mama,
they tell me you were a wedding dancer
they tell me you smiled and closed your eyes
your arms curving outward just a little
and your feet shuffling in the sand;
tshi tshi tshitshitshitha, tshitshi tshishitshitha
O hee! How I wish I was there to see you
they tell me you were a pleasure to watch


Mama,
they tell me I am a dancer too
but I don’t know . . .
I don’t know for sure what a wedding dancer is
there are no more weddings
but many, many funerals
where we sing and dance
running fast with the coffin
of a would-be bride or a would-be groom
strange smiles have replaced our tears
our eyes are full of vengeance, Mama

Dear, dear Mama,
they tell me I am a funeral dancer

SITTING ALONE THINKING

Lately I have more than once
Found myself sitting alone, thinking
Not that I have such a lot of time
Just to sit and think –
I’m a busy woman with a heavy schedule
I have to try and keep up
With the fast world around me

But then somehow it happens
Right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle
Everything just stops
And I find myself sitting alone, thinking
Would Mr President be a better man
If he had a womb and breasts full of milk?

Would he be impressed by the number of children jailed
All in the name of peace, law and order
If he had just one ten-year-old in jail?
Would the smell of tear-gas and bloody bullet wounds
Be so appetising as to bring
That familiar smile to the President’s face
If he had a womb and breasts full of milk?

All the visions come up to me
When I’m sitting alone thinking
Thinking of my very best friend
As she sits in a jail cell
Longing for her little baby
Her painful breasts full of milk

Jackie Hill Perry 'displays a poet's gift for wordplay matched with exalted vision and a fearless heart.'

Jackie Hill Perry [1989 - ] is an American writer, poet, rap artist and speaker. Her work has been featured on Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition.

Jackie was a homosexual hip hop artist. Since her conversion in 2008, her passion is to share the light of the Gospel through poetry. She is signed to Humble Beast Records and released her debut album, 'THE ART OF JOY' in 2014.

'Jackie Hill Perry's sanctified lyrics and confident flow make THE ART OF JOY one of the most compelling Christian rap debuts in recent memory.'   [www.jackiehillperry.com]

Jackie is a Female Mentorship Coordinator at Grip Outreach for Youth, a non-profit organization ministering to fatherless teens in Chicago.

She is married to Preston Perry and they have a daughter, Eden Grace.

Jackie's testimony is that God and His Word transform lives and she testifies that people can change.

SUFFERING SERVANT

 

Some people make me sad
They walk past me

With the rattle of buried bodies in their skeletons
And I am interested in why they haven't dropped them off yet

How they have gotten so comfortable
With the weight of death on their backs
And I wonder
If they have seen stars in their eyes
And moons beneath their smirk
But you can tell
That a mirror would only give them nightmares
And I wish I could wake them up

Untuck them from the comfort of lonely
And remind them that some dreams do come true

That a heart with chameleon like pain
Won't always be that color
Even though the past and present hunts them like a vidual eternity
Scaring the peace out of their faith
I place my two fingers next to their weary hands
And pinky promise them
That worship isn't too far from their reaches
Long as they are willing to try
Willing to crawl
A dying hope to the edge of the Throne of Mercy
Drag their weak hearts
Into the castle skies of David's God
And beg for Him to reign there when no umbrella
Just heaven disrupting the hell and prison beneath their ribcage
Filling your lungs with songs that have been too scared to fly
It is okay
Your earthly tears will be a means for praise
The day that you see your King's face
And He wipes them away
So smile
Because peace is coming

Explanation:

Jackie speaks of burdens that are weighing people down on them so much that they will soon be the death of them one way or another. Yet she questions why these people don’t leave these burdens and turn to God who wants to take on their burdens instead. She is implicitly talking about Christians and their unfaith in God sometimes. [Matthew 11: 28-30]

As burdened people slowly take solace in their suffering, loneliness seems admirable for them.

As all hope is just a far off fantasy for them, but Jackie wants to remind them that through God,

all dreams can come true and all things unimaginable can come to pass through his power

https://genius.com/Jackie-hill-perry-suffering-servant-lyrics

Langston Hughes is my favourite poet.

Langston Hughes' poetry is moving as he has the skill to say something profound using simple words in short, free verse poems. He wrote from 1926 to 1967 and in that time wrote more than 60 books, including poems, novels, short stories, plays, children's poetry, musicals, operas, and autobiographies. He was the first African-American to support himself as a writer, and he wrote from personal experience.

He was born in Missouri in 1902 and as an only child, his childhood was lonely. His grandmother was a great storyteller.

At the age of 22 he moved to Harlem, New York and became an important figure during the Harlem Renaissance - an African-American cultural movement. He would sit in clubs and listen to blues music while he wrote his poetry. He died in 1967.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America. 

                                                  

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.


Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow. 

                                    

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain. 

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands! 
My dark hands! 
Break through the wall! 
Find my dream! 
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun! 

                                                

Chris Mann is a South African poet.

Chris Mann was born in 1948 in Port Elizabeth and went to school in Cape Town.

After studying English and Philosophy at Wits University, he did his Masters in English Language and Literature at Oxford University. He also studied African Oral Literature at the School of Oriental and African Languages in London. 

He is currently a Professor of Poetry at the Institute of English in Africa at Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape.

His writing is informed by his varied experience of people and life in South Africa. His nickname, ‘Zithulele,’ (Xhosa/Zulu) means a taciturn person. 

He speaks English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa, and his poetry is influenced by the richness of these different languages. He was a founder and song-writer of 'Zabalaza', a cross-culture band performing in English and Zulu. His lyrical and narrative style of poetry conveys to the reader the textural details of the South African landscape, its political journey and the intimacy of its people. 

Is this the freedom for which we died?

 

Whenever I stop to think deeply
during these days of violent change
I meet up with the martyrs for freedom.

 

I see Steve Biko again
and Ahmed Timol
and David Webster,
all, all of them killed by deeds of hatred.

 

I also see Nelson Mandela
who was buried alive in prison
but stepped from his tomb still living
and is the Lazarus of our times.

 

These are the heroes I think of often,
that knock at the doors of our memory,
that travel around this country of ours
looking about them and talking
like ancestral spirits of the new South Africa.

 

Going into the home of a drunkard
they see him beating his wife and children.
Says one of the heroes, 'Look at that!
Is this the freedom for which we died?‘

 

Entering the townships
they find the skies full of flames
and people running confusedly around the streets
like termites whose homes have been kicked over.
Another says, 'Oh! what a disgrace!
Is this the freedom for which we died?‘

Mandela’s Cell

I stood among a crowd
of tourists from abroad
and stared into his past:

a cage of bricks and bars
as gloomy and as cramped
as racial bias in the mind.

And in that ancient tomb
a bench, a gleam of bowl,
a stone-cold strip of floor.
I could not hear the clang
shook from a gate of steel
that bigotry kept locked,

nor see a gaunt-faced man
fold up each dawn for years
the mat on which he’d dreamed.

Instead, far off, I heard
the cheering of the world
when he, the era’s Lazarus,

walked out into the sun.

Around that unlocked gate,
that legacy’s stark shrine
the cameras flashed applause

Message poems from South African middle schoolers.

I believe anyone can write poetry. I believe anyone can write good poetry. That was my premise when teaching Poetry to 13-15 year-old students. The following message poems all follow a poetry outline that I gave to my students from my personal example. This did not result in uniformity but rather in diversity and freedom to create. The result was some beautifully powerful message poems.

PLAYING FIELDS

[By Leanne Johnson]

 

I hear the bombs and gunshots

I hear the shattering screams

I hear the cries of pain and loss

All I want to do is play.

I see the devastation

I see the mothers sobbing

I see the tears of pain and loss

All I want to do is play.

I feel the fear and hatred

I feel the moving ground

I feel the despair of pain and loss

All I want to do is play.

THE ORPHAN

[By Jaina Holtshausen]

 

I hear them laugh out loud

I hear them clap their hands in excitement

I hear their goodbyes as they drive away

When is it my turn?

I see tears of happiness running down their faces

I see them jumping for joy

I see them run into their new parents’ arms

When is it my turn?

I feel the wind brush against my skin

I feel alone as another family drive away

I feel the sadness of my heart as I think…

When is it my turn?

ALONE AND BEATEN

[By Kristin Botha]

 

I see the black and blue marks

I see the misery

I see his angry face

'Oh please don’t hurt me. 

I’ve done nothing wrong.'

I hear the cries of mercy

I hear the screams of agony

I hear my mother pleading:

'Oh please don’t hurt her. 

She’s done nothing wrong.'

I feel the hurt deep down inside

I feel the sting of his slap

I feel the terrible loneliness

'Oh please don’t hurt me.

What have I done wrong?'

AVALANCHE

[By Ashleigh Botha]

 

I hear the thundering snow

I hear the panicked screams

I hear the deathly after silence

I’m all alone.

My family buried under the snow.

I see the devastation

I see the dead bodies

I see the orphans, like me

I’m all alone.

My family buried under the snow.

I feel the terrible cold

I feel the aching hunger

I feel the tear slipping down my face

I’m all alone.

My family buried under the snow.

AWOKEN FROM A PERFECT DREAM

[By Danni Venter]

 

I hear her sweet voice singing a lullaby

I hear her reassuring whisper in my ear

I hear her laughter echoing until it disappears

But then I’m in reality. Awoken from a perfect dream.

I see her melancholy eyes sparkle as she looks at me

I see her suffering day by day from this deadly HIV

I see her mouth those treasured words,  'I love you forever.'

But then I’m in reality. Awoken from a perfect dream.

I feel the devastation as I watch her pass  from me, and then

I feel the gaze of someone who quickly looks away, but now

I feel gentle arms around me – my mother. Can it be?

But then I’m in reality. Awoken from my perfect dream

Oswald Mtshali began writing in boarding school to 'impress girls.'  Writing was a way of keeping record of his own thoughts and feelings and articulating day to day life.

Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, born in 1940 in Vryheid, KZN,  is a South African poet who writes in English and Zulu. 

His poems are about life in the the Johannesburg township of Soweto.

His parents were schoolteachers. He moved to Johannesburg after High school, hoping to study social work at the University of the Witswatersrand, but was prevented from studying there due to Apartheid legislation. He completed a degree via correspondence through the London University-affiliated Premier School of Journalism and Authorship while working as a messenger in Soweto. He wrote poems based on experiences in the township.

Many of his poems explore the injustice and extremes of Apartheid. His poetry reflects his bitterness.

‘Many people write poetry, but there are few great poets in any country.’  [Oswald Mtshali]

Always a Suspect

I get up in the morning
and dress up like a gentleman –
A white shirt a tie and a suit.

I walk into the street
to be met by a man
who tells me to ‘produce’.

I show him
the document of my existence
to be scrutinized and given the nod.

Then I enter the foyer of a building
to have my way barred by a commissionaire
‘What do you want?’

I trudge the city pavements
side by side with ‘madam’
who shifts her handbag
from my side to the other,
and looks at me with eyes that say
‘Ha! Ha! I know who you are;
beneath those fine clothes
ticks the heart of a thief.’

Nightfall in Soweto


Nightfall comes like
a dreaded disease
seeping through the pores
of a healthy body
and ravaging it beyond repair

A murderer’s hand,
lurking in the shadows,
clasping the dagger,
strikes down the helpless victim.

I am the victim.
I am slaughtered
every night in the streets.
I am cornered by the fear
gnawing at my timid heart;

in my helplessness I languish.

Man has ceased to be man
Man has become beast
Man has become prey.

I am the prey;
I am the quarry to be run down
by the marauding beast
let loose by cruel nightfall
from his cage of death.

Where is my refuge?
Where am I safe?
Not in my matchbox house
Where I barricade myself against nightfall.

I tremble at his crunching footsteps,
I quake at his deafening knock at the door.
“Open up!” he barks like a rabid dog
thirsty for my blood.

Nightfall! Nightfall!
You are my mortal enemy.
But why were you ever created?
Why can’t it be daytime?
Daytime forever more?