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How to Write a Dinka Poem


Dinka poems, named after a southern Sudanese African tribe poetic form, are short, two-stanza poems, with the first stanza twice as long as the second. They use visual imagery to express intense feeling about a beloved possession or a beloved person. A famous example is "The Magnificent Bull," a traditional poem from the African Dinka tribe that has been handed down through generations. A writer's choice of subject is important, as Dinka poems should express authentic emotion.

What do we see in something we love?

Start by brainstorming. Set a limited amount of time, maybe five to 10 minutes. Think of someone loved, or something loved. How can the subject be described? Start writing and write freely without stopping until time is up. If free writing is difficult, make a list or draw a map. Place a name or image of the subject in the middle of a circle and then note as many attributes as possible around the circle.

A beloved dog might be a good subject.

Look at the list, map, or writing, and underline every visual image. Visual detail is the key to writing a successful Dinka poem -- it allows the reader to see what the author sees. Revise all statements that relate to description into short, direct statements, formed in complete sentences. Use active words that relate to the five senses and describe color, smell, taste, sound or touch. Use active verbs, and avoid language that sounds artificial.

Revision is key to writing a Dinka poem.

Place the short statements of visual description in an order that makes best sense. Dinka poems have a first stanza, usually 12 lines, that is primarily descriptive. Start with the descriptive statements and arrange them. What should come first? What should come second? Keep descriptions simple and direct. Remember that poems are music. Words should convey visual beauty and be pleasing to the ear. Read the stanza aloud and rewrite or eliminate statements that sound awkward or abrupt.

Good Dinka poems are straightforward and authentic.

Write the second stanza. Second stanzas of Dinka poems usually describe an encounter. Go back to the original brainstorming and note any material related to an encounter. Here's an example from Stanza 2 of "The Magnificent Bull": "I will water him at the river." Using complete sentences, arrange descriptions in an order that makes sense and is pleasing to hear. Eliminate unneeded material so that the second stanza is half as long as the first. If Stanza 1 is 12 lines, keep Stanza 2 to six lines.

Read the poem for content, making sure ideas and descriptions are in logical order. Delete anything that does not fit the poem's purpose. Then set the poem aside. Wait some time, then revisit and read aloud. Do words flow? Do descriptions sound accurate? Review word choice. Are grammar and spelling correct? Note any areas where revision is needed, but don't over-revise. A well-written Dinka poem celebrates what is loved in simple, joyful, visual language.

Tip
  • Before starting, read "My Magnificent Bull" to gain understanding of a Dinka poem's focus and structure. Then, when choosing a subject, take care to select an authentic subject -- something or someone loved. Writers should truly care about their subject, because that will make the poem much more real.
Warning
  • Avoid plagiarism -- don't copy anyone else's work. That's not ethical, and is the opposite of an authentic voice.
Items you will need
List of visual descriptions of beloved
List of descriptions of encounter with beloved
About the Author

Sharon McCamy is an experienced educator with 19 years of instructional and academic administration experience in the non-profit and for-profit education sectors. She has taught more than 200 credit hours of coursework at the post-secondary level, and has recently written a nationally-implemented baccalaureate writing course for Pearson Education. Her current project is a textbook on transitional writing.

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