As a traveling teaching artist and a poet for the last 26 years, I have been deemed a praise poet, which can be a tad confusing because the word praise is often associated with religion. Yet, the word praise—from the West African tradition from which I teach—comes from a larger context. It translates in some West African languages into the English word tendon, suggesting one must make connections between him or herself and the external world. It also requires a flexing of creative muscles to strengthen the ability of observation.
Ironically, I have been writing Praise Poems since I was 12, but I had no idea that by doing so I was linking myself to one of my places of origin. In my late 30s, when I took a DNA test, I discovered that I come from Nigeria on my father’s side. It was really a goose-bump moment when I read in Judith Gleason’s book, Leaf and Bone: African Praise-Poems, that Nigerians are the chief praise poets of Africa. Unbeknownst to me, as a teen, I was already writing in the vein of my ancestors. Praise poetry is a poem form that I am thoroughly connected to on many levels. I have been teaching others how to write Praise Poems for 19 years, helping them to affirm themselves through this form.
When I enter a classroom, I always begin with praise—a Praise Poem, that is—an introductory poem of origin, because it is an accessible poem form for students and teachers to begin writing. It also allows me to assess where students are developmentally. In addition, I start the class with praise because in my opinion, there is not enough positivity going around in the world today. I also start with praise because Alex Haley, author of Roots, wrote: “Find the Good and Praise it.”
Praise Poetry Definition
These poems are made up of metaphors and similes—forms of comparison relating the writer to an object, a person, a color, or a feature in nature. Each line is a celebratory declaration, an invocation that acts as a cathartic affirmation as the poet places him or herself on the continuum of his or her ancestry. It is also an awesome way to work with metaphor and simile while enhancing writing skills and strengthening voice. I lead the lesson with an example of my own Praise Poem, “New Wings."
How to Write a Glenis Redmond Praise Poem
A Praise Poem is not to be written in a linear fashion—the goal is more than ticking items off the list from one to seven. The student must enter where their imaginations call the loudest. Yet, all seven guidelines should be included in the poem, but not limited to the list.
- Heritage. (literal and metaphoric) For example: I am as my grandfather’s withered hands that pushed the plow on southern Carolina soil.
- Height. (literal and metaphoric height) For example: I am as tall as my mother’s earnest daily prayers cast up for me.
- Color. (personality and skin tone) For example: I am sunburst orange with a streak of grey, or I am the color of cream adding joy to the recipe.
- Animal. Compare yourself to an animal. For example: I am the crows who always remember the stories of the people below the treetops, or I am the play of intelligent dolphin reminding us to be our best selves.
- Nature. Compare yourself to the natural world. For example: I am the rays of the sun shooting through the clouds.
- How You Walk in the World. For example: I do not walk, I dance through life on tip toes that twist to the beat of my own drum.
- Profession or Wannabe Profession, Pastime, or Hobby. For example: I am the burnt orange globe that is swallowed by the hoop. The roar of the crowd inspires me. The endless days of practice gives me a deep satisfaction.
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