Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stolen from Hip Hop

OK, so I'd been going into schools and, in trying to get my students, to apply critical minds to poetry, I'd taken in song lyrics, hip hop lyrics - you name it. But they kept making distinctions. So what I came up with, eventually, was a series of poems (one of which I have pasted below) which borrowed heavily from lyrics. I then asked them what they thought of these 'constructions' and they said, 'yeah, nice poems, but more intricate than lyrics.' Then I said, 'well most of the lines here are taken from or inspired by song lyrics so your homework is - guess who wrote what'. Now I'm sharing with you guys... The game here is - if you're a hip hop fan - to guess the origins of the lines in the poem and add them as a comment. To make it easier the lines are numbered - enjoy!

Miss H in the City
by Nii Ayikwei Parkes with props to the original lyricists who inspired the collage


  1. I arrive in the city at dawn, just before sunrise, step
  2. onto shore with hope bright in my eyes. This is
  3. a new start; new dreams away from the hearts I broke;
  4. excitement’s got my heart racing like a hummingbird
  5. pacing. I try to be cool and patient, but it’s harder than
  6. the calculus of quantum leaping. See I’m a small city
  7. boy with big city dreams, I’ve dreamt of this existence
  8. amidst the harbour lights; ships coming and going
  9. like ghosts, dropping – like flies – new dreamers
  10. who prayed for wings. Now I take it all in; its five
  11. dimensions, its six senses. I feel the seven firmaments’
  12. force and hold myself back from screaming. I sit
  13. outside myself, observe from a bird’s eye view, a boy
  14. descending into this fantastic beautiful mess. I wrestle
  15. with words and heartbeats seeking the phrase to express
  16. the moment, but the usual is no longer suitable. So
  17. I rest my eyes on a purple bud bursting into a high-five
  18. flower, its reflection shimmering on tranquil waters
  19. like something greater than depth, something eternal.


  1. And soon there is a girl; filled with magic
  2. and strife and scaled just right. A smile
  3. like a spear, on point and timed to perfection.
  4. I lose myself in it, hear a distant bass ride
  5. out like an ancient mating call. The duration’s
  6. infinite – enough time for me to ponder sugar,
  7. spice, and other things she might be made of.
  8. I feel my flesh burn, my cell walls disintegrate
  9. to allow me to absorb her essence. Her head is
  10. wrapped but her aura peeks out at the back.
  11. The big city’s first riddle and I have no answers.
  12. It’s too loud to think; maybe my dreams are
  13. larger than my hands can grasp. I realise now
  14. the streets are too shrill to ever hear freedom
  15. sing, too crammed for love to grow wings.
  16. A new moon rides high in the metro’s fading
  17. crown; across the way the ancient is manifest
  18. in knife fights. I take a deep city breath, watch
  19. my broken dreams fly to where waters fall
  20. as she walks away – a devil in a blue dress,
  21. a beast in a blue Chrysler, karma coming back
  22. hard. My chest heaves against the evening’s
  23. flesh. I sigh, watch the city lights throb
  24. against a purple flower’s reflection, hope
  25. that from this night a sweet dawn will come.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


It's been a while since I blogged and I don't think I will properly for a few weeks yet - way, way too busy! But I recently had a poem Re:configuration published in the PEN International Magazine (the issue is on shelves now and most of it can be seen online at: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/pen-international-magazine), which I'd like to share part of as a post. I'm particularly happy the poem got published for two reasons
  1. It's one of my favourites,
  2. It's one of my more experimental ones.
So, I'm sharing what I call it's second movement, but don't just read - please, let me know what you think...


The story is simple; my father went

with a cancerous light, chasing Swedru

in the shadow of his fat/her for answers

to questions he divined I would ask

forgetting that project/ions dance, shift

like rhythms. In a hot panic he left

before night could come to hurry him

along with songs. My mother bears the scars

but only a fraction of the answers; for

how was she to know she would be the one

I clawed at for maps of my existence – one

in a role meant for absent sound/and/light?

So I am left with darkness; the high

window through which imagination creeps,

the room I at/tempt to enter to evoke

more than fading echoes of footsteps that

haunt me. I am a slave to the hard hold

unable to yield chance to the light/less

of grip that all moments employ for

the velo/city of sand’s passing. Maybe I am

slowly learning that with each green breath

I blow my life away. Rushed, all I want

is for my father to explain what I mean

to my name, how I be/came configured

as Parkes when I don’t harbour its phantom

rhythm beneath my tongue.

I have lost

my way again: did I not hear the tri/angle

and the gankogui tinkling responses into

the vacuum of the drum’s silence? My

father is rest/less again. Please tell him

to open his window for my tear/full chants

have left me hoarse – and my siblings

the thieves too; who took his skin, spirit

and mind, leaving me captive in his body.

We confess our parents never truly told us

their names, we over/heard others calling

them Auntie and Uncle, Mr and Mrs so and so

so we did the same. Did we err? Did I

trap my pa/rents by calling their red shadows

names meant for colours? All I know

is that I am at/tuned to brown like no other

shade, yet cold breath haloes frame me black.