Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Kwansaba: birth of a poetry form

The Kwansaba came into being as a praise song. Drumvoices Revue has used the Kwansaba form to praise Richar Wright (2008), Maya Angelou and Quincy Troupe (2007), Jayne Cortex (2006), Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez (2005), Katherine Dunham (2004), Miles Davis (2003). Outside of haiku and the blues, the Kwansaba is one of the most portable forms. It distills content economically.

In 1995 the kwansaba---a new poetry form---was invented in East St. Louis. The Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club, organized and chartered in March 1986, brought together cultural workers and creative artists searching for "new tools, concepts, vehicles, and challenges within regional and global contexts."

In the early 1990s Kwanzaa (based on a 7-day ritual) Celebration based around the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) was introduced to the United States by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Eugene Redmond says in a 2004 Drumvoices Revue that "Over several months I toyed with the Swahili words Kwanzaa (first fruits) and Saba (principles) until the term kwansaba hit me like fresh--or ancestral---love."

The Kwansaba is a poem consisting of seven lines. Each line has no more than seven words. Each word has no more than seven letters. Thus, the form, revolving around the number 7, adding up to 49 words, is based on the seven principles of the Kwansaa celebration.

Redmond continues to explain the importance of the number 7 in "astronomy, numerology, and mythology." In 2004 Drumvoices Revue published a special series of Kwansabas for Katherine Dunham, who arrived in East St. Louis in 1967, "at the height of the Black Arts Movement and one year after the invention of the Kwansaba."

Since then, special contests and themes featuring the Kwansaba have been featured in Drumvoices Revue. I attended a workshop Eugene Redmond led in which he shared Kwansabas inspired by Richard Wright's "Black Boy." Wright wanted his life to "count for something. Drumvoices #15 (2007) featured this example of a kwansaba for Quincy Troupe.

by Reginald Lockett

Lion roaming the vast Serengeti of verse
On the Great Plains he stalks words
Dogs the scents of verbs and nous
King of musical lines tracks poetry's song
In the forest there stands his prize,
A sleek gazelle of a poem desired
He makes a quick study and pounces.

The Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club meeting in its 21st year now holds twice-monthly meeting on the first and third Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. in Building B of the Library of teh East St. Louis Higher Education Campus, 601 J.R. Thompson Drive, September through May. All writers, beginners to professionals are welcome.

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8 Responses »

  1. A Blues For Obama

    you are the trumpet that blows respect
    the upright bass lics so so complex
    drum and snare kicks, the what's next
    the bassoon breeze, the black global digest
    the viola soft strings with galant finesse
    kalimba king with dulcet rings, silent moon
    cymbals that don't oppress, Obama is promise!

  2. My Kwansaba veers from the stated standard. Have seven syllables per line rather than seven words.

    Kwanzaa is the name given
    the great life celebration
    of women, men, boys and girls
    rising up in the power --
    the African-born spirit
    of oneness, purpose and faith,
    of truth, beauty and goodness.

    Rise up my people, rise up.
    Let's accomplish what we will.
    With each new life liberated,
    there's a new world we must build.
    Nguzo Saba power
    our world-wide foundation
    for true life in our nations.

    Let that power find in you
    fertile spirit, heart and mind
    yearning to be truly free.
    Let Nguzo Saba fruit
    be no stranger on your tree.
    Let them grow prodigiously --
    nurture for freedom seekers.

  3. i stretch my arms to touch Chioma
    she says no, still three months more
    come back to see whats in store
    but now be kind and walk away
    yes walk but not too far away
    for when the month of harvest comes
    you will reap, my dear, many tons!


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