#BlaPoWriMo – Fridays

I know how to count to 10 in Swahili, say “Great is the Lord” in Yoruba (a rough translation I think), and love in Swahili (thanks to the Lion King II).

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do—learn an African language and feel just a little more connected to my roots. But having knowledge of a tongue other than one’s native English is always a great way to broaden one’s horizons. By the way I love the Japanese poetry form. I write a lot of haiku and tanka myself.

Ok, time to visit Ray’s blog. This poem is all about the love of culture and language. A great example of what BlaPoWriMo is all about!


Friday mornings always take me back in time
to foreign language classes & my turn coming
to say what I’m doing for the weekend – 

I used to regret not learning an African language
while living overseas – but no more.
More Portuguese is spoken in Africa
than in Portugal. More Arabic than in Arabia.
Numbers speak. What are the Ghanaians saying
on Twitter today? Is it in English or Twi? 

See what I mean? So I’m feeling fulfilled
this Friday morning, recalling phrases
& words in Arabic & Portuguese,
& writing in Haiku. My list of weekend
activities is ready for recitation.

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Cut off the lights. Come
to bed. My British girlfriend
stares at me, raises an eyebrow—
“You want me to use a knife?”


frapalymo#frapalymo (the German version of NaPoWriMo) is hosted by FrauPaulchen and translated from German into English by Bee at Just Fooling Around With Bee. Today’s prompt is: “ cut off.”

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem that Starts a Conversation

On Being Told I Don’t Speak Like a Black Person

Emphasize the “h,” you hignorant ass,
was what my mother was told
when colonial-minded teachers
slapped her open palm with a ruler
in that Jamaican schoolroom.
trained in England, they tried
to force their pupils to speak
like Eliza Doolittle after
her transformation, fancying themselves
British as Henry Higgins,
despite dark, sun-ripened skin.
Mother never lost her accent,
though, the music of her voice
charming everyone, an infectious lilt
I can imitate, not duplicate.
No one in the States told her
to eliminate the accent,
my high school friends adoring
the way her voice would lift
when she called me to the phone.
A-ll-i-son, it’s friend Cathy.
Why don’t you sound like her?
they’d ask. I didn’t sound
like anyone or anything,
no grating New York nasality,
no fastidious British mannerisms
like the ones my father affected
when he wanted to sell someone
something. And I didn’t sound
like a Black American,
college acquaintances observed,
sure they knew what a black person
was supposed to sound like.
Was I supposed to sound lazy,
dropping syllables here, there,
not finishing words but
slurring the final letter so that
each sentence joined the next,
sliding past the listener?
Were certain words off limits,
too erudite, too scholarly
for someone with a natural tan?
I asked what they meant,
and they stuttered, blushed,
said you know, Black English,
applying what they’d learned
from that semester’s text.
Does everyone in your family
speak alike?, I’d question
and they’d say don’t take this the
wrong way, nothing personal.

Now I realize there’s nothing
more personal than speech,
that I don’t have to defend
how I speak, how any person,
black, white, chooses to speak.
Let us speak. Let us talk
with the sounds of our mothers
and fathers still reverberating
in our minds, wherever our mothers
or fathers come from:
Arkansas, Belize, Alabama,
Brazil, Aruba, Arizona.
Let us simply speak
to one another,
listen and prize the inflections,
differences, never assuming
how any person will sound
until her mouth opens,
until his mouth opens,
greetings familiar
in any language.

—Allison Joseph, from Imitation of Life (2003)


A couple years back, I wrote a poem inspired by Allison Joseph’s “On Being Told I Don’t Speak Like a Black Person.” It addresses an issue that many young black students might have faced in school: being accused of “talking white.”

How does one “talk white”? Does one have to use big words consistently in sentences, as if a walking dictionary? Does one have to enunciate their words? Or is it the inflection of one’s voice that makes them sound “white”?

What are the requirements for speaking like a black person? Is it like yin and yang? Everything opposite of white? Should one use small words, short, choppy sentences? Should one slur vowels, treat ending consonants like d or g as if they were silent letters? Speak loudly, with a deep, threatening voice?

What’s basically being said here is that white people innately are supposed to talk “smart,” while black people by nature are ignorant and unintelligent, and therefore should speak as such. Why are we still believing these horrible stereotypes?

Anon1244479975-YoAreYouActingTooWhiteOrBeingToo257992_lgMy language has just as much to do with my race as my ability to dance, or how athletic I am, which, if you were measuring my race by stereotype, you would conclude that I am white in every way—except for the fact that I am very much BLACK, and I am not an anomaly.

It’s time we stop judging people by assumptions we’ve heard about them based on race and ethnicity. White, Black, Muslim, Latino, etc. We are all people. Open your mouths and talk to one another!

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem that starts a conversation. Speak English, Spanish, French, Cajun, Gullah, Ebonics, Patois. Language can be a culture, yes, but it’s not limited to race, ethnicity, or even location. Let your poem be a Rosetta stone for your speech.

#BlaPoWriMo: Numbers (poem)

we count one to ten
in Swahili to the
pulse of djembe . . .


Our voices crescendo
like musical scales . . .


return to steady rhythm,
deep; rising, waiting
for final beat . . .


A slap of the palm at drum’s
center. A vibration lingers,
filling our ancestral void



This poem is inspired by a Swahili numbers song I learned in summer camp when I was a kid. It’s hard to describe how the song goes without actually singing it, but think of it as a version of Do, Re, Mi that you can actually shake your hips too. And the drum beat went something like… BOO! ba, da, ba, da, BOO!

All those songs from summer camp are starting to come back . . .

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.

Guard behin’;
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


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.


#BlaPoWriMo: Dankeschön – Thank You (poem)

German for Thank you.
Grandpa speaks it to impress.
Dankeschön when the waitress
brings his coffee
(two creamers on the side).
Dankeschön as he passes the tithing
bucket around the sanctuary.

He picked up the language
fighting in Korea—
or was it ‘Nam?
Or had he only served the men
who fought, West German soldiers
who said Dankeschön as he ladled
goulash into their bowls?

Dankeschön, duspreka,
he tells me when I fold his laundry,
dust framed photos on his shelves,
water his garden, drive him to the bank.
Thank you, miss, he translates,
but no dictionary can detect
the alien tongue: duspreka.
As if his German education
halted at thank you
and he ad-libbed from there,

passing gibberish off for Deutsch
a creole dialect mixing speech he
acquired in battle, in chains,
with the native vernacular
he lost before birth in a foreign land.


Written for today’s #BlaPoWriMo prompt: write a poem for your elders. Original poem written for #frapalymo