Sherry: We have a very special feature for you this week, my friends. This very beautiful prayer for peace in the world is sung by the Ladysmith High School choir of South Africa. They were performing at the 2017 Eisteddford competition, which they won. Our friend Kerry O'Connor teaches at this high school, and encourages a love of poetry in her students.
The song in the above video is a Zulu prayer for Peace in the World (Click HERE for a translation). The choirmaster is Kerry's colleague, L. de Lange.
Kerry: I have been an English teacher in a South African high school for three decades. Increasingly in the last 5 years, I felt the pressure mounting as my classes got bigger and the rigours of completing a weighty syllabus within a limited timeframe began to take its toll. I had no ‘space’ for creative exercise and I could see that without the stimulus and outlet for writing, my students were battling to express themselves meaningfully.
This was when I decided to make poetry writing ‘a thing’ in my classroom. Using NaPoWriMo as a springboard, I challenged my students to write a poem a day. At first many were opposed to the idea, if it did not come with an assessment attached which would be added to their academic mark, but I explained that the only reward would be the poems they wrote, and encouraged them to take pride in the value of intellectual property.
My purpose was never to get mass participation, but to win young writers over to poetry one at a time, if that is what it took. I believe that I have achieved some level of success over the years. Certainly, I have seen a renewed love of the notebook and pen – no small victory in the age of electronic devices.
Every time a student shares his or her work with me, I receive it as a gift, in the belief that every poem is a small work of art.
Sherry: I so admire that you have created a space for self-expression aside from the demanding curriculum. Appreciation of poetry is a gift that your students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Two of Kerry's students agreed to share poems with us, from their writings during NaPoWriMo. Uwais Coetzee wrote a poem a day during April, and allowed me to choose two that I thought would fit with the message in the above video, as young people look at this bewildering world, and strive to be the best they can be.
He closed his eyes and wondered:
Would the world still be fine?
If the things that made history
Had changed along the line.
If black was just a colour
And the plague was just a flu
And the ark wasn’t buoyant
And there was always me and you.
If spiders couldn’t kill you
And Hitler hadn’t felt that way
And Da Vinci couldn’t paint,
Would we have met that day?
If tigers had spots,
If Malcom didn’t care
And King hadn’t marched,
Could I still stroke your hair?
If the sea weren’t salty
And the sky weren’t blue
And love was just a feeling,
Would I have you?
Nobody is You
Sometimes we feel
that we aren’t good enough
that were always at the bottom
and that we aren’t good at stuff.
But I’m here to say
that you’re perfectly you
and I’m proud that you’ve reached this point
and I’m proud that you grew.
Nobody knows your life,
Your struggles, your kin,
Nobody knows your pain,
No one’s been in your skin.
No one knows what you go through
Every single day.
No one stops to sincerely
Ask if you’re okay.
But you’ve gone through life
No matter how hard.
And you’ll be there till the end.
And you were there from the start.
And you’ll go through every trial
And come out the stronger man
And you rose from every obstacle
Screaming ‘Yes, I can’
And you’ll be there till the end
And you were there from the start.
And nobody can ever be you
And that is your art.
© Uwais Coetzee
Kerry: Uwais Coetzee is a grade 12 student of Ladysmith High School in KwaZulu-Natal. He is the Deputy Head Boy and in 1st XV Rugby and 1st Cricket teams. As well as being a top athlete, he is also a member of the school choir, participates in Speech and Drama Eisteddfods and school plays.
When asked how he came to write poetry, Uwais replied, "I started writing poetry for NaPoWriMo in 2014, when the challenge was made by my English teacher, Mrs Clark. Since my first attempt, I have completed 30 poems in 30 days for two consecutive years (2017, 2018). Most of my inspiration comes from spur of the moment feelings and experiences put into poetry form. I'd encourage people to write poetry as a means of self-expression to help one cope with issues and as a method of putting thoughts into the written word."
Sherry: Thank you so much, Kerry and Uwais, for taking time during your busy exam schedule, to participate in this feature. We so appreciate it. Uwais, I so admire the honest emotion in your poems. I especially love the "Yes, I can", and "Nobody can be you, and that is your art." Indeed, it is.
Kerry: The other poems were chosen by the poet. While the first is not quite on the theme of peace, it may provide the balance in showing the origins of violence.
These streets that we roam
Are the wilderness we call home
I’ve got blood on my shirt
But this blood ain’t mine
I thank God
I guess it wasn’t my time
I’ve got four mouths to feed
Fuelled and driven by need
Poverty is the chain from which we can never be freed
So I stay locked and loaded with a weapon better known as greed
And I’m blessed to find out that I can still breathe
I’ve got blood on my shirt
But this blood ain’t mine
The animosity clock is ticking
And I’m running out of time.
The animosity of gang banging
Poverty a mother that gave birth to drug slanging
A suicidal community
Drugs are the rope that’s hanging
But for me, the last bullet in his gun
Ended my time
Now I’ve got blood on my shirt
But this time the blood is…
Hands of Empowerment
There is nothing more powerful
than the tender hands of a person
A person who gives up her life
to make sure others live on.
A person who takes her time
to mould the ever so shapeless minds
into a sculpture of gold.
A person who carries the future
of many in her palms
A person who aims to enrich
instead of harm.
A person who dries the tears
of a nation’s many faces
A person who makes all of this
seem easy or so it appears.
A person who takes your hand
“I’m a teacher and I will always be here.”
Kerry: Ntandoyamangwe Mazibuko, better known as Tribal_Afrxca, is a young and talented boy who fell in love with the power of poetry from a young age. He is currently a Grade 12 student at Ladysmith High School, a Deputy Head Boy and member of the school choir. He is a member of the 1st Boys Hockey team, participates in Speech and Drama Eisteddfods and acts in dramatic productions. He also plays African drums in the choir.
Sherry: Such powerful poems. The poet fully grasps the factors that play into violence: poverty, desperation, hopelessness. In the second poem, I love Ntando's recognition of the encouraging role a good teacher plays in her students' lives. We are so fortunate your students were willing to share their work with us, Kerry. We thank them both, from the bottom of our hearts.
My friends, when Kerry posted the above video on her site, she also posted the most beautiful poem, written to her students. She has allowed me to include it here, to inspire us with the beautiful sharing going on between Kerry and her students, around the love of poetry, and so much more.
By Kerry O'Connor, March 1, 2018For my students, with thanks
People say, the trials of life will make you stronger
But I am weaker –
They say, you will get over the losses, the grief
But I am over nothing –
I carry the weight of my own suffering
And it drags me down –
Nothing means the same to me, not food, nor friends
Not even the rising sun, or bird-call, or words.
In spite of this, I must go out to the children each day
Walk with them –
Even though the earth seems hollow beneath my feet
I talk with them –
When I feel the pressure of a minute as an individual blow
Still they call for me –
Their eyes are upon me as they seek for answers I do not have
They listen to my speech as if I could tell them anything.
But I see them rise before my sight like a new day
And how they shine –
Their voices remind me to be courageous and believe
They lend me strength –
When my sense of purpose falters, when I doubt my own life
The children place theirs in my hands –
They say, take our hands, we will lead you to the door
But you must guard the way for us, and guide us through.
Sherry: Reading this poem is a gift, Kerry. Your students are so fortunate to have you for a teacher. Seeing those beautiful, hopeful faces, singing a song for peace, really touches my heart. We adults have to do everything we can to make this world a safer place for them in which to live.
This feature illustrates very well the power of poetry to inspire the young, and the influence of teachers in developing a love of words that will last their students all their life long.
Thank you, Kerry, Uwais and Ntando, for the privilege of reading your words. May poetry take you as far as your brightest dream.
And to the Ladysmith High School Choir, thank you for putting such beauty out into the world. You have touched our hearts.
Wasn't this wonderful, my friends? Such a beautiful sharing of the love of words and the longing for peace. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!
[Sources: Kerry's blog: Skylover https:// kerryoconnorpoems.blogspot.co.za/