Circling the Waist of Wisdom
By Emily Ruth Hazel• Proverbs 1:8–9, Proverbs 10:14, Proverbs 10:21, Proverbs 17:12, Proverbs 19:13, Proverbs 29:20, Ecclesiastes 10:12
All through college, I had a steady date
with the library. Cozy in a carrel, I held words,
studied the chemistry between them,
listened to their music, and learned
Emily Rose Hazel's work responds to the incorporates her experiences in Ghana with the theme of "Fools" in response to the passages of Proverbs 1:8–9; 10:14, 21; 17:12, 28; 19:13; 29:20 and Ecclesiastes 10:12 as she builds a poetry collection responding to every theme from the year as a 2013 Spark+Echo Artist in Residence.
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8 My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: 9 For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
14 Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.
21 The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for want of wisdom.
12 Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.
13 A foolish son is the calamity of his father: and the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping.
20 Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him.
12 The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.
Throughout the book of Proverbs, the foolish and the wise are defined by their contrast with each other—so writing about foolishness naturally led me to explore the tandem theme of wisdom. Proverbs are also an essential part of the rich oral tradition of African cultures. As the meanings almost always hinge on metaphors, proverbs lend themselves to poetic play and reinterpretation. As I learned from African friends in college—both in the United States and in Ghana and South Africa—there is a sense of humor that translates through many African proverbs as well. (One of my personal favorites is, “A leopard is chasing us, and you are asking me, ‘Is it a male or a female?’”)
I was interested in creating a poem in which biblical and African proverbs could be in conversation with each other. Framing the poem partly around my own experiences as an American traveling in Ghana, I incorporated eight biblical proverbs, five common African proverbs, and eleven specifically Ghanaian proverbs—a bicultural exploration that deepened my appreciation for the universality of wisdom.
Notes on the Poem (Specific to Ghanaian Culture)
- Asantehene: the highest traditional ruler of the Asante people of Ghana
- Baobab: African tree with an extremely wide trunk—a symbol of wisdom
- Batik: commonly worn fabric, dyed using a wax-resist method to create patterns
- Cedis: Ghanaian currency
- Harmattan: dry season during which the wind blows dust from the desert
- Kente: traditional hand-woven cloth featuring bright colors and designs
- Legon: suburb of Accra, the capital city of Ghana
- Tro-tro: mode of public transportation—a van that operates similar to a bus
Emily Ruth Hazel is a New York City-based poet and writer who is passionate about making poetry accessible to a diverse audience of readers and listeners. Twice she has been awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize in a national competition for emerging poets. A collection of her poetry, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press), was published as a finalist in the New Women’s Voices competition. Her work has also appeared in Kindred, Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature, Brown Alumni Magazine, The Mochila Review, Texas Poetry Calendar 2014 (Dos Gatos Press), Deep Waters (Outrider Press), The Heart of All That Is (Holy Cow! Press), and Mercury Retrograde (Kattywompus Press), among other publications.
A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program, she has led creative writing workshops for youth at schools, libraries, and community centers in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, and South Africa. She has also mentored underserved teens through Girls Write Now, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the next generation of women writers.
Emily enjoys cross-pollinating with artists of all kinds and has performed her work solo and collaboratively at numerous events. Two of her recent appearances were at the International Arts Movement conference and at the album release concert for "Soon We Will Not Be Here" by James Hall Thousand Rooms Quartet, a CD featuring poems transformed into songs by jazz trombonist/composer James Hall. You can connect with Emily on her Facebook Artist’s Page: facebook.com/emilyruthhazel.