Classic Poem Series Note: We are excited with the positive response so far to the announcement of the $500 H.O. Prize for Humorous and Original Slam Poetry!

And to celebrate and spread the enthusiasm, as many days as our internet works before the National Poetry Slam in Denver in August, we’re going to share poems that inspired this prize. These poems come from comedy, or utter weirdness, or savage intelligence, or pure exuberance.

Our aspirational poem today by Nkosi Nkululeko is a lovely twisting comment on performance poetry form, an indictment of the limitations of narrative poetry, and a searing examination of the the experience of the black male poet in America.

There are many things to love about this poem, but let me roll through with those most pertinent to the goals of the H. O. Prize. First, this poem plays with form. The entire poem plays as a prelude to a poem that doesn’t exist. This twist is awesomely funny to any poet, because we’ve seen so many disclaimers before poems and Nkosi’s grasp of them is exquisite. Second, this poem plays with tone. The engaging, kind-of-bashful warmth of the disclaimer verses; the sparkling, almost mystical, dreamy descriptors of how poetry flows forth; and the slowing of pacing of those dreamy descriptors for the indicators of terrible violence — the interplay between these streams results in a piece that is ruinously evocative and to the author’s purpose of describing what it is like to be him, writing a poem, when there is so much to capture that is bigger than words can hold.

Last, because of the wide expanse between the tone and setup and the meaning, this poem allows the listener to bloom into understanding in a way that even a well-crafted, meticulous direct narrative does not allow.

In short, this poem does the job of poetry fantastically well, using words to cause a meaning to arise within the reader/listener, rather than didactically presenting an argument or reciting a narrative that the audience cannot enter, only admire.

Thanks so much to Nkosi for this poem. #soblessed

Follow along with this year’s contenders for the H. O. Prize for Humorous and Original Poetry by liking us on Facebook!

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H. O. Tanager

H. O. Tanager is the author of Autograph Penis: An Adventure Through Competitive Performance Art and Haiku Princess: Poems in Ascending Order of Profanity. You can also find beautiful Haiku Princess prints and more at RedBubble.


H. O. Tanager is the author of Autograph Penis: An Adventure Through Competitive Performance Art and Haiku Princess: Poems in Ascending Order of Profanity. You can also find beautiful Haiku Princess prints and more at RedBubble.