A praise poem is a tribute. Praise poetry holds a special place in southern African literature.
In Zulu, praise poetry is called izibongo. It refers to poetic expression that not only defines but names an individual. Praise poetry is written with bold imagery, expressed in the most distinct or carefully selected language. Writing a praise poem is to write about your life and the events or sacrifices that have brought you to the moment you are in today.
Praise poetry is often a celebration of heritage, family, and place – a celebration of who we are and where we come from. As such, Praise Poetry can be intensely personal. Sometimes praise poems are written about places, events, or animals. Praise poems can be a celebration of something much larger than ourselves, such as national identity, but they can also be intensely personal and focus on a specific person or relationship.
I have created a Praise Poetry playlist to help you on your journey to create your own praise poetry. It begins by sharing some examples that have touched me. I truly adore Lucille Clifton’s Won’t You Celebrate With Me — especially her closing line:
I also love Alice Lovelace’s Praise Poem for Jikki. You can also read another praise poem she wrote in tribute to a fellow writer: Praise to the Writer. In addition, I chose to include Annika Izora as her powerful poem is a wonderful example of praise sandwiched around an epic slam poem.
I love teaching, writing, and sharing praise poetry because it is such a celebratory and life-affirming activity. Some examples of my praise poetry include, Praise to the Teacher Writer and Won’t You Celebrate With Me. I often encourage my students and fellow teachers to write praise poetry to combat stress and guide them through difficult times, but I urge you to write about whatever sparks your passion. What has made you who you are? Who has had a dramatic impact on your life? Where do you come from? Those are all ideal praise poem prompts.
Now go forth and write your own praise poems! Don’t forget to share them using the #JustWrite hashtag.
The featured image for this post is the mythical African bird the Sankofa. The Sankofa inspires us to look at the past, lest we forget it. The Sankofa is an ideal visual representative of praise poetry as in these poems, we are to look at our personal and collective histories to make connections to the present and our future.