When I was a student, many years ago, in the mid 1990s, I remember reading a fascinating piece about traditional African poetry. If I remember correctly, it was a scholarly article reprinted an anthology that we were assigned in high school --but I don't know if that's accurate or not. I graduated in 1993, so this was pre-internet. If it wasn't an anthology, it would have been a photocopied handout.

It mentioned a style --maybe from West Africa, maybe related to the griots --where each line of the poem is basically an elliptical allusion to a well-known proverb. So the poem stands as a kind of index of all the proverbs.

For instance if the proverbs were "it takes a village to raise a child" and "teach a man to fish and he eats for life" the poem might say something like:

The village is raising me
They have taught me to fish

I haven't ever been able to locate either the original essay or any corroborating version. Can anyone help me track down what this style is, and some examples.


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