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

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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

Literary Lion: I Once Was a Rapper…

I’ve joined another blog link-up…. Literary Lion, hosted by I Smith Words!

This week’s theme is “morning,” and while I’m a bit drained of creativity on this hot, humid Hump Day, seeing this prompt did take me back to a time when I used to be a rapper.

When I was a kid, my dad and I did all kinds of creative things together. He’s the reason I’m a writer today. We wrote stories, songs, hosted a kids talk show with my brothers and four of our favorite stuffed animals using my kiddie tape recorder, and for a short time, we tried to be rappers.

I can’t remember my stage name, but his was 95 cent (like 50 cent but add a quarter and two dimes). His signature verse was, “95 cent! Aye, keep the change! Drive by your house and blow out ya brains!” Lame, right? He sucked as a gangsta rapper. Wonderful guitarist, though.

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Anyway, we only wrote one song in our brief time as rappers, and it was actually just a hook and first verse. It was called, “Kids Got a Hard Way.” When you read these lyrics, try to imitate that urban, fresh, early 90s style of rap (think of Will Smith aka the Fresh Prince). Do you think we would’ve been famous?

Hook:
Kids got a hard way to go to school.
Kids have a hard time to learn the rules.
Kids got a hard way to go to school. (da, da, dun, da)

Verse 1:
I’m a kid,
And when I wake up in the morning,
I get my head fixed,
To get my learnin’ on aaaand
I brush my hair, brush my teeth,
And get something to eat
Before my daddy starts to fuss,
“Hey kids, head to the bus!”

Black History Month: No, Lil Wayne, you may not “beat that p*ssy up like Emmett Till”

Young people, let me give you a prime example as to why you should PAY ATTENTION to the rap lyrics you listen to and repeat out loud. Around this time last year, rapper, Lil Wayne, came under fire for his featured verse in a remixed version of Future’s “Karate Chop,” in which one of the lines went as this: “beat that pussy up like Emmett Till.” Now this wasn’t the first time Emmett Till was referenced in a rap lyric, and it probably won’t be the last. Rick Ross, Kanye West, even newcomer, Kendrick Lamar have all abused the tragic story of Emmett Till for a quick rhyme.

(If you can stomach Future’s overly autotuned, brain cell killing, broken up speech of a verse, you are super human. For those who can’t, the lyric in question occurs at 3:14.)

 

 

When I was younger I was guilty of listening to songs without truly listening to them. I either liked the artist’s singing voice, or I thought the beat was hot, which is the excuse many kids give for listening to less than mediocre rappers. However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve made it my mission to know what these artists are saying because the meaning behind a song can sometimes affect a person’s response to it. While it is said that song lyrics, like lines of poetry, can be up for interpretation, whether positive or negative, there is nothing positive about this:

Emmit_Till_body

That is a picture of Emmett Till at his open casket funeral in Chicago. While visiting Mississippi 1955, this poor 14-year-old child was kidnapped, brutally beaten, taken to the edge of the Tallahatchie River, shot in the head, had a large metal fan used for ginning cotton fastened to his neck with barbed wire, and pushed into the river by white men, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, all because he allegedly whistled at a white woman.

For the longest time, white woman were thought to be docile and weak, and they needed the protection of their white men. On the contrary, black men were viscous brutes who lusted after white women. However, when I read this story, the only brutes I saw were the two white men who murdered an innocent child. This is a classic example of white supremacist thought in the South back then. Lynching was rampant, especially if it was suspected that the victim was a white woman and the perpetrator, a black man. Idiot criminals like Milam and Bryant could get away with their heinous crimes against blacks because they were white and had the law on their side.

When you know the true story behind the name, Emmett Till, it’s hard to accept anything that demeans it, whether intentional or unintentional. Lil Wayne did send a letter of apology to the Till family. Epic Records also apologized and removed the lyric from the song. Although apologies are good, I sometimes feel that if someone were truly sorry, they would not have done the offensive deed in the first place.

This Black History Month, I want you all to KNOW your history, both the memorable and the painful. Give it the respect it deserves.