What is this thing called poetry?

Nikky Finney “Left”
Nikky Finney was born in South
Carolina, USA. A child of activists, she
came of age during the Civil Rights and
Black Arts Movements. Finney's fourth
book of poetry, Head Off & Split, in
which “Left” appears, was awarded the
2011 National Book Award for poetry.
For more poetry and info:
Nikki Finney reads “Left”
The poet as community historian
What is the effect of the inclusion of the Rudyard Kipling’s “A Counting-Out Song” in the epigraph
and then quoting from it in the poem itself? What word is the poet asking the reader to silently
add to the poem? With what effect?
EeneeMeneeMainee Mo!
Catch a—
• Why are several places from South East Asia mentioned
in reference to where the helicopter pilot has also flown?
“Bong Son, Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai” – what
historical context does this add to the poem?
• Who is “Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind”?
• Who is Bull Connor and how does his inclusion in the poem
add further historical context to the situation? Watch Nikki
Finney’s National Book Award acceptance speech.
• Find out for yourself what happened to the people of New
Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
• Why is New Orleans an important American and global city
– what has New Orleans given to the world?
• Why were the grandmothers and Kanye West finally right?
• What is the design of the poem?
– where does it start? Where do we end off?
What effect does this have on your experience as a reader?
What is this thing called poetry?
Lecture Six: The reply poem
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what
they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least
something different.” — T.S. Eliot
• Poets don’t write in a vacuum – they write for a reader, for a community of readers,
and often in response to the idea and styles other writers, engaging with literary
histories and influences, taking them on or defiantly shaking them off.
• This lecture focuses on poems written in direct response to other poems and on
poetic conversations across time, Poets who write back to other poets,
• Focus on the process of
reflection: poets often use a
a mirroring or echoing of form &
content – but with a difference –
to signal this writing back to/writing
In response to another poet.
How does a poem do what it does?
A poem is not a code to be cracked –
it is an act of communication with you.
Look up words and references that are unclear to you.
Attend to the poet’s CHOICES in writing the poem.
What Genre of poem is it? What metre,
rhyme scheme & stanza structure is
used? (various forms in English poetry.)
In the absence of rhyme, is it blank
verse or free verse?
the movement of thought in the poem, where does
the poem begin and where does it end?
Use of repetition, questions, turns of thought
Pay close attention to the poet’s word choice,
imagery and metaphor
How is emotion conveyed or implied?
Poetic conversations across time & space
The classic poetic
conversation between
 Christopher Marlowe
and Walter Raleigh 
in their poems, “The
Passionate Shepherd to
His Love” (1599) and
“The Nymph’s Reply to
the Shepherd” (1600).
William Carlos William’s
poem “Raleigh was
Right” (1940) in which
he sides with Raleigh in
the argument.
Poetic conversations across space and time
South African
poet Lesego
Rampolokeng 
who replies to
 Gil ScottHeron’s “The
Revolution will
not be Televised”
(1970) with his
poem “To Gil
“The revolution will not
Be televised/ The revolution will be live”
“when WINTER IN AMERICA froze bloodstreams in south africa
gil scott heron the revolution got on television”
Marlow and Raleigh
• Argument about the correct attitudes to love,
sexuality, nature, the pastoral longing of city
dwellers for the purity of the natural world.
• See definition of the pastoral in Productions of
The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
by Christopher Marlowe
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields
Woods or steepy mountain yields
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flower, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold
With buckles of the purest gold;
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.
The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
by Sir Walter Raleigh
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.
Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold;
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complain of cares to come.
The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.
Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy bed of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten,
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.
Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.
But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.
“Raleigh Was Right” (1944)
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
We cannot go to the country
for the country will bring us
no peace
What can the small violets tell us
that grow on the furry stems in
the long grass among the lance shaped
Though you praise us
and call to mind the poets
who sung of our loveliness
it was long ago!
long ago! when country people
would plow and sow with
flowering minds and pockets
at ease –
if ever this were true.
Not now. Love itself a flower
with roots in a parched ground.
Empty pockets make empty heads.
Cure it if you can but
do not believe that we can live
today in the country
for the country will bring us
no peace.
Form – no formal rhyme structure
Diction – colloquial, conversational
Design – use of repetition
Tone –sceptical about what nature can
teach or tell us.
“To Gil Scott-Heron” Lesego Rampolokeng
"RUN NIGGER RUN was inspiration injection
of the LAST POET'S intonation insurrection
gil scott-heron was suckled on
a mouth to brain respiration rot's subversion
liberation doctrine brought art to the fight
for immunisation against the degeneration
of garvey's children & the spawn of fanon
on the run from the super-duper-shit-man
now life's an acquisition
the unborn have to make requisition
the terror campaign's gone electronic
in the bionic generation a computerised nation
that won't falter at the altar of self-immolation
satan collaboration spiritual contamination
life experimentation with extermination
gil scott-heron the revolution is on television
tricks of the triple six cripple mystics
at the feet of the crucifix no place for romantics
relics of the FUNKADELIC ground on the FAMILY STONEd
in the street's PARLIAMENT
no relation to the white louse saxophoney man
but the one on the JAMES BROWN SEX MACHINE
salaam alaikum MALCOLM-Xed the CLAN
made the ENEMY go PUBLIC on BASS
brought the PRODUCTION out of the BOOGIE DOWN
got the PARIS panther on the howl on the prowl on the tracks
not preachers of fractured futures
we choke in angeldust the stars go bust
street art vision goes to rust
creeping up the aliment of the pop-charts
when WINTER IN AMERICA froze bloodstreams in south africa
gil scott heron the revolution got on television
acting out industry designated parts
of self-emascluation masturbation on the bbc sabc mtv screen
& flip flop goes the hip hop nation
in sudden homicide running down the blood-line
of the griot running riot from dusk to the AFRICAN DAWN
& they called it negroid hell descended devil child
but black was MALOPOETIC mental attitude
in FULANI frontal attack
in psychological genocide time
but now scott-heron, the industry's mutant children perform
a systematic life devaluation coward-style
they defile then revile the warrior profile
& the revolution's pantomime is broadcast
in an audio-visual bomb-blast
gil scott heron the revolution is on television
switch off that shit.
Useful Links
• Response Poems by W. Todd Kaneko
• Glossary Terms “Pastoral”
“Post-Freedom Poetry: An Interview with Lesego Rampolokeng”
• “Bantu Ghost: a Stream of (Black) Unconsciousness by Lesego Rampolokeng”
reviewed by mphutlane wa bofelo