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World Poetry Day

World Poetry Day

In celebration of World Poetry Day a group of Rhodes Scholars have written an anthology of poems. Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Held every year on 21 March, World Poetry Day celebrates one of humanity’s most treasured forms of cultural and linguistic expression and identity. Practiced throughout history – in every culture and on every continent – poetry speaks to our common humanity and our shared values, transforming the simplest of poems into a powerful catalyst for dialogue and comfort.
 
UNESCO first adopted 21 March as World Poetry Day during its 30th General Conference in Paris in 1999, with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard.

Reflections of a South African Scholar by Julia Hampton (Diocesan College, Rondebosch & St Antony's 2019)

Geography is a strange thing. Geography is located, is material, is experienced.
But then what is movement? And what is time?

I remember my life in Cape Town, far away, and now here I am in England, carrying my memories and my body and my emotions and my dreams

To the centre of the world.
The centre of the world is old old old and rich rich rich
and very convincingly seduces one to believe that it is in fact
the centre
of something.

I find myself here, revolving, relating. Aside from the usual student topography:
all the learning students do, in a new place, with new people, new bodies and memories pouring over the contours, marking this place as if they had always been
here

Power turns over, motionless we can't see its face.
But it has histories and
tends to the status quo,
to the centre.

There is a change in the light.
Like the sun moving moving moving
repetitive rhythm over every last
patch of Earth; today and a thousand years ago
Light implies vision, imagination, coherence and the strength
to recognise when power is being abused.
Light marks out inconsistencies and tensions; gives us the energy to grapple with our own ambiguities.
It is painful to feel the shadows and dark legacies of the past that, through the porosity of time and space, spill into the present.
I embody the past every day.
The present rolls
over it.
Of course, I am not a victim and my pain is negligible really but what I believe to be true:
It is more painful not to feel it than to face it. Elision can become toxic; to leave it buried in the dark, manifesting and multiplying solipsism compromised;
disjointed;
uneasy.

Move into the light.
Space, place and time morph and collide inside – unexpectedly, I grow and change and move across the land.


Poem of Survival by Dineo D.T Serame (Botswana & Hertford 2019)

On 1 January 1956, the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan gained independence as the Republic of the Sudan.
That is the year Africa learnt to allow herself to be greater than the silence she’s been reduced to. The year of birthing all things great into being; like my grandmother surviving the
patriarchal system of the 50’s and getting a formal education.
Like finally having permission to carry our backbones to the years of liberation ahead.

Back then, religious wars were fought by men and women still learning to write their pain into freedom anthems.
Back then, women found the courage to carry babies and guns in one lifetime. And men muscled up to days when staying down was not an option
Sudan learnt to find prayer circles within herself
Some days being all cracks and pain and death, and on some bottling up her past laughter in gestures of goodwill.

My grandmother also learnt to find prayer circles within herself
She was there, when Sudan survived apocalypses made by white men.
She was there, when our ancestors dragged their frail bodies to farm sites that ultimately became their resting places.
That year she turned 7 and in 14 she turned bride.
There was nothing holy about sewing a love story out of that pain.But

she survived.

She outlived summers and winters of collecting bullets inside her own home. Raised all her children on hope and prayer, as if to say Faith is all she could offer. That is how she

survived.
That is how Sudan survived.


“Modimo, E re o Ntima o mphele bana O ba gamele kgomo tsa mafisa ke santse ke itheeditse”
Feed my babies the labour of my tired hands.
Be generous to their hungry bellies before we return our daily bread to the accents of our colonizers
We’ve left ourselves hungry to the pleasure of our enemies.
But in God we still trust.
This is how they’ve survived.


In the early 1970’s, diamonds were discovered in Northern Botswana.
1970 is the year they carried the second generation of formidable women on their breaking backs like they did the struggle.
Like they did the unwritten poems of breaking hearts, and breaking homes.
My grandmother learnt to forgive herself enough to love her eyes in the body of another woman.
She named her Onkutlwile.
Back then, African babies carried their mother’s pain in their names. And sometimes their joys; like the answered prayer that is my mother.

Mama
Do you realize the weight of your name?
Do you see the breath of God holding back the winds of destruction even before you pray? Mama I’ve seen love poems write themselves in the way you held me up
You’ve been holy water to my dying mornings.
Built a world where parents consume their daughter’s aches for themselves Mama
When nameless assailants tried to carry my dead fortunes over my life like rotting love, you washed me clean with your embrace.
And just as God heard your mother’s prayers He gifted me you.
To have and to love, Till death do us part.
In 2012 South Sudan continued gathering the rest of her living limbs The fires within her borders slowly died out while her babies watched. And that’s the irony of fire
The eyes always go last.
So, some lived long enough to watch their bodies fall apart. To see their skin washed off their bones like sin.
That was the year Mmakgosi dressed her bipolar for a funeral
2012 was the year grace embodied a woman and called her testimony. And she continues to love in ways I never imagined possible.
This is how she survives
This is how South Sudan has survived Holding herself worthy of love, of peace.
Baptizing her young body in holy water like


“you’ve shaken me enough, Crucified my faith long enough
But I can still see my beautiful scars, so I am alive And God is alive
This fire has not swollen me whole”


In 2019, Botswana decriminalizes same sex relations
This becomes the year the poems we hid in locked journals recite themselves
Though the women and men I’ve loved are still learning to mangle the selves they’ve learnt to love in open corridors
Learning to dismantle the closet that gave them the ability to ruin things with silence We are televising this revolution
Outside closet doors and dark rooms
We are learning to paint rainbows over pain-distorted faces
I’m learning to love the woman in me like she deserves midnight prayers I’ve found Christ in her when all she knew was survival
“ke ithuta go Nna pelo telele mo Modimong”
I’m learning to be patient with parts of me that still want to write my pain into poems.

I love these women
I’m learning to be patient with their mending hearts
I learnt to love the women in them because they deserve midnight prayers Because they are revolutions waiting to be televised
And they are mine to have and to love Until death do us part.


Am I dreaming? By Nabeela Kajee (South Africa-at-Large & Christ Church 2019)

Am I dreaming?
In the gleaming
Of the rain-dropped city of stone

Drifted greying clouds
And looming faces above
Perched in the sky

There was a moment of sunlight
Reflecting in magical illumination
Across the way

In that time
The space seemed to magnify
And a warmth swept over me
As the stone parched
And I, I continued to walk
Until there was night
And the city came alive

As if candles dotted the streets
And the strangers on the path
Were from distant fairy tales


Stranger Tides by Katherine Reiss (Maritimes & Lincoln 2019)


and to think
you were once a stranger to me
stranger than this northern sea,
sailing in from far off lands
we met upon these pebbled sands

and soon, as bound, the ice did break
and shallow bonds made new,
that took not long for roots to take
– deep friendships forged with you

now storms have come, and we depart
to make our haste back home,
my wish, this spring, is not to part
but you’ll never walk alone

so as we give Goodbyes today
let me stop. and say,
I know not when we’ll meet again
but I know we will, someday


An Ode to Teaching by Gia-Yen Luong (South Australia & Green Templeton 2019)

Once upon a time

Back in Warrnambool

We were asked to read

A chapter from a book

Titled ‘The Heart of a Teacher’


In this chapter, the author,

Something Palmer,

Wrote about teaching

But told a different tale

Far beyond anything I had ever read


He wrote

Of how

Uniquely resilient

And oh so boundless

Is the heart of a teacher.


With room to spare,

So much so, that she gives

All she can

To the boy who cannot read

And the girl who loves to draw.


To the child who once

Refused to attend her class

Yet now

Is the first

To offer his help.


To the boy whose dad

Is never around

To the girl who is

Oh so mad inside

And yet, still she gives.


To the boy who once

Could not sit still

Long enough to write his name

Who then became

The first the call her ‘mum’


To the girl who had never

Been told that she could

To both Taylors, who each

Needed so much

Love, oh how she gave


And yet, something strange

Began to happen.

She noticed that her days

Flew by, and she always

Came home with a heart so full


That the more she gave

The more her heart swelled,

With love and with pride,

For these children

For whom she cared day after day

About The Rhodes Scholar Blog

The Rhodes Scholar Blog features the excellent research from our Rhodes Scholars and their insights into important topical issues. If you would like to contribute, please contact sophie.crowe@rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk