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 poet, writer, and cross-pollinator who is passionate about diversifying the audience for poetry and giving voice to people who have been marginalized. Selected as the Honorary Poet for the 25th Annual Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading in Providence, Rhode Island, she presented a commissioned tribute to the Poet Laureate of Harlem in February of 2020. She is a two-time recipient of national Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes and was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for a residency at The Hambidge Center in 2014. Her chapbook, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press, 2005), was a New Women’s Voices finalist. Emily’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, literary journals, and digital projects, including Kinfolks: A Journal of Black Expression and Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature. Her poetry has also been featured on music albums, in a hair salon art installation, and in a science museum exhibition.
Emily has written more than twenty commissioned works for organizations, arts productions, social justice projects, and private clients. Currently, she is developing several poetry book manuscripts and writing lyrics for an original musical inspired by the life of the extraordinary singer and Civil Rights icon Marian Anderson. A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program and a former New Yorker, she is now based in the Los Angeles area.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Pitts-Wiley