This week’s form: the kwansaba

I just found out about this form a couple of weeks ago and thought I’d share it with you. It consists of seven lines with seven words in each line and no word with more than seven characters.

Here’s an explanation of the form via Janet Grace Riehl:

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.”


2 responses to “This week’s form: the kwansaba

  1. Love the title of your blog and your photo.

    Thanks for referencing here. I love the Kwansaba and am delighted you are letting more people know about it.

    Janet Riehl

  2. Oh no problem, Janet. It’s a beautiful form that people really should try out. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

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