Sing This One Back To Me

Poems by Bob Holman.

“The postmodern promoter who has done more to bring poetry to cafes and bars than anyone since Ferlinghetti.”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The New Yorker

May 2013
164 pages
Paperback Original

ISBN: 978-1-56689-325-1.



An epilogue to Bob Holman’s travels to West Africa to discover the roots of spoken word, hip-hop, and the oral tradition, this collection is a celebration of language and its power to make us see. Building on his transcription of the Griot poems sung to him by West African legend Papa Susso, Holman uses verse as another lens for experiencing visual art (“Van Gogh’s Violin”) and as a vehicle for sharing his own intimate history. The landscape shifts, and grief makes itself evident, as do those very necessary, sneaky, ecstatic reminders of life’s continuing possibility for joy.


“The postmodern promoter who has done more to bring poetry to cafes and bars than anyone since Ferlinghetti.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The New Yorker

“Bob’s the world’s showman, full of secrets. And a Zukofsky, recently felt.” —Eileen Myles

“Like his hero, Bob Holman sings of himself, in human, woven strokes—raw to boundaries of self, the narrator perpetuated by love in all its phases—a relationship to an external world that dares to be lived. From explorer to teacher, from performer to life poet…Bob has always encouraged using skin and ears to see, and to let love pour over intimate breath. Sing This One Back To Me shows that the color of intimacy is painted by location—let’s talk ear to ear, to understand what words do, in the moment, of word. This gift is in us, Bob says, to sing back at who we are. Do we dare express the love we feel? How daring to admit, that the world, is the poem. Were I to levitate beyond a now of not, I would shadow to Holman, this book to you—reading this—have become—a Holman. Birth the spoken, weave the broken, arrange in notes the song awoken, here…for you, out there.” —Edwin Torres

“These poems are colloquial, honest, and sure of themselves, which makes reading them a pleasure. . . . These are poems to share with friends and family until everyone is singing them back.” Hazel & Wren


“How Kora Was Born”
– as sung by Papa Susso to Bob Holman

This story begins long long long long ago
So long ago that it was a place not a time
There was a man
He was so alone
The only person he could talk to was Africa
Luckily there was a tree nearby
Even more luckily behind that tree
That’s where his partner was hiding
All the sun and all the water were condensed
Into a single tiny block
Which the man planted in the sandy soil
He blew and he blew on that spot
Each time he blew he thought he heard something
What he was hearing was of course his partner singing
The man didn’t even know what singing was
Because he could only talk
He couldn’t sing yet
So he blew and he listened, blew listened blew listened
And the plant pushed out dark green
And began to twist and grow
A vine reaching for the breath
And stretching towards the song
(Because it was made from sun and rain, remember?)
So at the end of the vine that was the calabash
And the tree it was not a tree anymore
It was the neck and handles
That was when the man’s partner Saba Kidane
Came out into the open (but that’s another story)
And the breath and the singing and the vine?
Well, there are 21 strings, what do you think?
And now you say what about the bridge and the cowhide
And the rings that tie the strings to the neck
So you can tune the kora
Hey, what about the thumbtacks that hold
The cowhide taut over the calabash
And the resonator hole
Well you go right on talking about all that
I’m playing kora now
Next time I’ll tell you about the cow

– as sung by Papa Susso to Bob Holman

Yay! Jaliyaa!
Alaleka Jaliyaa Daa!

God created the art of music
This music! This song!
This song is a celebration!
A celebration for the griots! for the jeli!
Whenever griots perform a ceremony
We will perform this song of praise
To honor and commemorate all the griots and griottes
Not just one! All of us! The many many many voices
The griots as part of West African society
Mandinka, Bambara, Fulani, Wolof, Sarahule
Just to name a few
These are the voices
That carry the tradition

Yay! Jaliyaa!
Alaleka Jaliyaa Daa!

Hey, Horseriders!
How brave you are!
To face the enemies
I mean the enemies of Peace
Enemies of Peace-loving people
Tighten your belts! Fight hard!
So that peace will remain on the Earth

Yay! Jaliyaa!
Alaleka Jaliyaa Daa!

Jelimusso and Jelikaylu!
All female griottes, all male griots!
Hold strong to the tradition
The practice brought to you
A gift from your ancestors
Passed down voice by voice
From generation to generation
It’s a long and glorious tradition
That we must always try to keep
Because this is who we are
We know who we are
Because we know where we came from
That is the meaning of History
That is the meaning of Poetry
This is the song of Jeliya

Yay! Jaliyaa!
Alaleka Jaliyaa Daa!

Yay! Jaliyaa!
Alaleka Jaliyaa Daa!