Detailed Studies of Poems from Different Cultures in the AQA Anthology

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Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Limbo
Tatamkhulu Afrika: Nothing's Changed
Grace Nichols: Island Man
Imtiaz Dharker: Blessing
Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Two Scavengers...
Nissim Ezekiel: Night of the Scorpion
Chinua Achebe: Vultures
Denise Levertov: What Were They Like?
Sujata Bhatt: from Search For My Tongue
Tom Leonard: from Unrelated Incidents
John Agard: Half-Caste
Derek Walcott: Love After Love Imtiaz Dharker: This Room
Niyi Osundare: Not My Business
Moniza Alvi: Presents from my Aunts...
Grace Nichols: Hurricane Hits England
Introduction to the Anthology
Poems by Seamus Heaney
Poems by Gillian Clarke
Poems by Carol Ann Duffy
Poems by Simon Armitage
Pre-1914 Poetry Bank
Printing and copying this guide
Introduction to prose Fiction

This guide is written for students and teachers who are preparing for GCSE exams in English literature. It contains detailed studies of the poems from Different Cultures in the AQA Anthology, which is a set text for the AQA's GCSE syllabuses for English and English Literature Specification A, from the 2004 exam onwards.

The writers in this section may live in the UK as members of ethnic minority groups or may live overseas. All the poems in this section are written largely or wholly in English, but in several you will find non-standard varieties of English, while several make use of other languages. One even has text in Gujarati.

The guide gives detailed readings of poems from Different Cultures, with ideas for study. For a general introduction to poetry in the Anthology with extensive guidance for students and teachers, then please see the Introduction to the Anthology by clicking on the link below.

Go the Introduction to poetry in the AQA Anthology
On this page I use red type for emphasis. Brown type is used where italics would appear in print (in this screen font, italic looks like this, and is unkind on most readers). Headings have their own hierarchical logic, too:

Main section headings look like this
Sub-section headings look like this

Minor headings within sub-sections look like this

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Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Limbo
This poem tells the story of slavery in a rhyming, rhythmic dance. It is ambitious and complex. There are two narratives running in parallel:

the actions of the dance, and
the history of a people which is being enacted.
Going down and under the limbo stick is likened to the slaves' going down into the hold of the ship, which carries them into slavery. In Roman Catholic tradition, limbo is a place to which the souls of people go, if they are not good enough for heaven or bad enough for hell, between which limbo lies; it has come to mean any unpleasant place, or a state (of mind or body) from which it is difficult to escape. The story of slavery told in the poem is very easy to follow, yet full of vivid detail and lively action.

The poem has a very strong beat, suggesting the dance it describes: where the word limbo appears as a complete line, it should be spoken slowly, the first syllable extended and both syllables stressed: Lím-bó. While the italics give the refrain (or chorus) which reminds us of the dance, the rest of the poem tells the story enacted in the dance: these lines are beautifully rhythmic, and almost every syllable is stressed, until the very last line, where the rhythm is broken, suggesting the completion of the dance, and the end of the narrative.

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This poem is suited to dramatic performance - there is the dancing under the limbo pole (difficult for most Europeans) and the acting out of the voyage into slavery. The poem can be chanted or sung, with a rhythmic accompaniment to bring out the drama in it (percussion, generally, is appropriate but drums, specifically, are ideal: in fact, the text refers to the “drummer” and the “music”).

What do you find interesting in

the way the poem appears on the page
sound effects in the poem
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