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Poetry Friday.

Before you read my poem “Araminta,”
I must tell you the amazing story of my characters’ names . . .

I needed a name.
In fact, I needed two names.
Not just any names.
One had to begin with the sound /n/ and have three syllables.
The other had to begin with a vowel sound and have four syllables.
And at least one had to be African.

You see, I was writing a poem for a writing challenge in response to visual art (see below). I had chosen to write a narrative poem. And I had chosen to try my hand at using trochaic tetrameter, the pattern Longfellow used for Hiawatha: DUM-da  DUM-da  DUM-da  DUM-da.

When I began writing the story, I didn’t have names for the characters. The story was flowing in my head, so I wrote the lines of the poem by putting da-DUM-da in for the first character and DUM-da-DUM-da in for the second character — holding their places.

Well, that worked for a time, but I got to a point where I had to know their names. Without their names, I couldn’t hear their voices. Without their names, I couldn’t find the end of their story.

First, I searched for three-syllable names beginning with “n.” A list came up. One by one, I read the names. That was where I found Nehanda.  It was perfect — a three-syllable Zimbabwean name beginning with /n/. It fit da-DUM-da. And as a bonus, Nehanda means “the beautiful one has arrived,” matching the description I already had in my draft — “beautiful da-DUM-da.”

Then, I searched for the second name, looking for four-syllable names beginning with “a,” the first vowel in the alphabet. It wasn’t long before I saw Araminta. I tested it in my mouth. I said it out loud, listening to the sound of it. Then I slipped it into the lines of the poem, replacing DUM-da-DUM-da, and read.  The rhythm was right, and the roundness of sounds was exactly what I wanted. I was really excited about how well it worked! 

But before I finalized my choice, I searched for its meaning and to see if it had a history. Well, I was ecstatic with what I learned!  Araminta is a rare name, fused from Arabella and Aminta which mean prayer and protection respectively. And Araminta Ross is  Harriet Tubman’s birth name. Perfect! Just perfect!

With their names found, I heard their voices, and they told me their story. I call it “Araminta.”


In an age we all have heard of,
In a time that’s not forgotten,
In her home in quiet freedom,
Lived the beautiful Nehanda,
Daughter of the stars, Nehanda.

In the night of dreadful horror
Came the slavers with their evil.
Evil chased her, evil took her,
Chained the beautiful Nehanda,
Daughter of the stars, Nehanda.

In a land she’d never heard of,
Under bonds of brutal anguish,
Degradation, ceaseless labor,
Grieved the beautiful Nehanda,

Daughter of the stars, Nehanda.

Numb her heart was, lost and hopeless,
‘Til the stars in heaven found her.
Then Nehanda bore a daughter
And she called her Araminta,
Loved her daughter, Araminta.

Telling stories of her childhood,
Speaking words in native language,
Whisp’ring dreams she’d not forgotten
In the evenings, bold Nehanda
Rocked her daughter, Araminta.

Sharing secrets of her people,
Singing joyous songs of freedom,
Naming stars to guide their pathway
In the nighttimes, brave Nehanda
Held her daughter, Araminta.

Summers, winters, time passed darkly
Endless hardships, trouble, sorrows
Slowly sank the strong Nehanda
Death came softly, took her gently
In the arms of Araminta.

Skies were changed by summer breezes
Taking flight in wooden vessel
On the waves of Alshehoptfore*,

Thus departed Araminta,
Daughter of the brave Nehanda.

Found the stars to guide her pathway,
Sang the songs Nehanda taught her,

Whispered words she’d rarely spoken
Fled the young one, Araminta,
Daughter of the strong Nehanda.

Far behind her lay sad mem’ries,
Lay all fierce and evil dangers.
Bright before her rose a new land.
Freedom welcomed Araminta,
Daughter of the bold Nehanda.

© 2018 Alice Nine. All rights reserved.

*Alshehoptfore – “all she hoped for”

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The writing challenge

During February 2018, I participated in a daily poetry writing challenge extended to a FB community by Laura Shovan, her Annual February Poetry Project. This year we wrote ekphrastic poetry — poems in response to art.

On Day 26, Ann Haman shared this batik art piece, “Moon Song” by Lisa Kattenbraker. It was the seed inspiration for “Araminta.”

When I shared a draft of “Araminta” in February, it was rough! I hadn’t given it a title and I needed to work on the sequence of thoughts in the last three stanzas. I also had a number of lines that needed work in order to achieve trochaic tetrameter. They were lines with an unstressed/stressed rhythm (iambic) which sounds more like regular speech. Since February, I’ve given it a title and I revised the sequence of thoughts and I achieved the rhythm.

Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
is hosting the week’s #PoetryFriday Round-Up
Thank you, Tabatha!

#PoetryFriday Schedule
January – June 2018

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