Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem in Dialect

Southern Road

Swing dat hammer—hunh—
Steady, bo’;
Swing dat hammer—hunh—
Steady, bo’;
Ain’t no rush, bebby,
Long ways to go.

Burner tore his—hunh—
Black heart away;
Burner tore his—hunh—
Black heart away;
Got me life, bebby,
An’ a day.

Gal’s on Fifth Street—hunh—
Son done gone;
Gal’s on Fifth Street—hunh—
Son done gone;
Wife’s in de ward, bebby,
Babe’s not bo’n.

My ole man died—hunh—
Cussin’ me;
My ole man died—hunh—
Cussin’ me;
Ole lady rocks, bebby,
Huh misery.

Doubleshackled—hunh—
Guard behin’;
Doubleshackled—hunh—
Guard behin’;
Ball and chain, bebby,
On my min’.

White man tells me—hunh—
Damn yo’ soul;
White man tells me—hunh—
Damn yo’ soul;
Got no need, bebby,
To be tole.

Chain gain nevah—hunh—
Let me go;
Chain gain nevah—hunh—
Let me go;
Po’ los’ boy, bebby,
Evahmo’. . . .

—Sterling A. Brown, from Southern Road (1932)

 

Dialect was historically viewed as unsophisticated by the literary elite. They thought the use of vernacular exposed a writer’s failure to use correct grammar and understand proper English.

The presumption is present in art even today. Rihanna’s latest single, “Work,” was received negatively by a lot of reviewers because they didn’t understand the lyrics and assumed it was just lazy gibberish, when in fact, she was speaking Jamaican Patois, an English-based creole language with West African influences. Knowing that Rihanna is a native of Barbados, her singing in a language/dialect common to her region would represent a big part of her identity and artistry.

Work, work, work, work, work, work
He said me haffi (He said I have to)
Work, work, work, work, work, work!
He see me do mi (He saw me do my)
Dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt!
So me put in (So I put in)
Work, work, work, work, work, work
When you ah guh (When are you going to)
Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn
Meh nuh cyar if him (I don’t care if he’s)
Hurt, hurt, hurt, hurt, hurting

Screen_Shot_2016-01-27_at_8_08_20_AM_0

Sterling A. Brown’s “Southern Road” uses choppy dialogue and local colloquialisms to illustrate a chain gang member lamenting his woes while performing hard labor. The repetition of lines and the ababcb rhyme scheme creates a musical tone to the poem. While on the surface, it appears very simple, “Southern Road” is a lyrical poem that creates a strong sense of setting, strikes the visual and audio senses with the repetition of “hunh” as the speaker brings down the hammer over and over, and provides a literary medium for social discourse and conversations about race.

Today for BlaPoWriMo, write a poem in dialect. How do you express your identity using colloquialisms? What sophisticated concepts can you express with uncomplicated words and phrases? Illustrate a scene that invokes the senses and summarizes our culture.

—Nortina

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5 thoughts on “Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem in Dialect

  1. Great assignment.
    I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, or how educated you are, you speak in dialect. I really could go on about this, but I’ll just say people who write fiction with NO changes in speech from one character to the next are the most boring writers ever.

    Liked by 1 person

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