The Praise Poem Tradition

Hola mi Gente,
In some cultures, part of the coming-of-age ritual involved announcing yourself to the world. It was a way of identifying your gifts, of establishing who you were, and what you were bringing to your community. In a way, the praise poem tradition forced a member of a tribe or society to recognize and commit to their gifts. I am using the praise poem exercise with my participants at my Rikers Island workshops. Perhaps I will share some of their offerings.

The following poem, written by Aurora Levins Morales, was inspired by her multicultural heritage. In it, she identifies the virtues of her diversity, the power she derives from her multi-ethnic make up. Perhaps you can write a poem following her format describing your own ethnic background.

Child of the Americas

06-02-16_ Praise Poem Tradition

I am a child of the Americas,
a light-skinned mestiza from the Caribbean,
a child of many diaspora, born into this continent at a crossroads.

I am a U.S. Puerto Rican Jew,
a product of the ghettos of New York I have never known.
An immigrant of the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants.
I speak English with passion: it’s the tongue of my consciousness,
a flashing blade of crystal, my tool, my craft.

I am Caribeña, island-grown. Spanish is my flesh,
Ripples from my tongue, lodges in my hips:
the language of garlic and mangoes,
the singing of poetry, the flying gestures of my hands.
I am of Latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent,
I speak from that body.

I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not Taína. Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.

I am new. History has made me. My first language was Spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads
and I am whole.

— Aurora Levins Morales

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My name is Eddie and I’m in Recovery from civilization…