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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Kwansaba: Poems by Lenard Moore's Students at Mt. Olive College

Lenard Moore has done more for the vitality of poetry both here in NC and elsewhere than just about anybody I can name. Not only is he a poet himself, he also is a master haiku writer, has written poetry in over thirty forms (this he told me during a telephone call two weeks ago), is a jazz aficionado, with a manuscript of jazz-inspired poems in the works, and he is a teacher who turns his students on to forms like the Kwansaba. The kwan-what? you may be wondering. What follows will explain the what and how of this new form. Lenard's students' work will give you the best introduction--the form itself as poems on the page.(Well, the computer screen!) Following The poems is the news release that appeared in THE TROJAN TIMES, after which you may read a description of the form by Janet Riehl, along with some other examples of the form.

(Lenard Moore)

Lenard teaches at Mount Olive College in Mt. Olive, NC. He notes that the students are seniors rather than juniors as written in their bios,except for Bailey J. Harrell. Bailey graduated from Mount Olive College in December of 2008. The students' poems were originally published in the special issue of Drumvoices Revue, Volume 16, Numbers 1 & 2,Spring-Summer-Fall 2008, celebrating the Richard Wright Centennial. He is justifiably proud of his students' accomplishments.

(Old photo from Mt. Olive College Archive)

Bailey J. Harrell

In Heaven and In Darkness

Bigger choices, Bigger regrets, Bigger is branded.
Unknown names, seasons change, but blame remains
The same. Rape, theft, guilty, nothing left;
“Tell the truth boy,” death’s your destiny.
Mary, Bessie, the Bloody Brick Breaks and
Binds. The mind deters from hate. How
Can a black man survive this fate?

Bio: My name is Bailey Harrell. I am currently a senior at Mount Olive College. I plan to graduate in August of 2008 with two degrees, one in English and another in English Communications. In the fall, I hope to enroll in law school or possibly continue my studies further in Paris, France. During the four years, I have been here at MOC, I have played softball for the Lady Trojans. I have been named 2nd Team All-Conference twice; and I have also been selected as an NFCA All-American Athlete. When I am not on the ball field, I take on the role of copy-editor for the Mount Olive College Trojan Voices, which is a student-created magazine that publishes works of literature submitted by students, faculty, and members of the community.

Alisa G. Jones

Innocent Guilt
BOY! I'm no Boy, I'm a Man
You got nothin' on me, no blood
on my hand. I didn't do it,
Wit, I did. I stole and killed
Then ran and hid. Lord, forgive me
for I've sin. I guess I have
to die for my life to begin!

My name is Alisa Jones. I am currently a junior at Mount Olive College. I am double majoring in Business Management and Human Resource Management with a minor in Sports Management. I also play varsity basketball for the college. After college, I plan to attend graduate school to earn my Masters in Business.

(On the Mt. Olive College Campus)

Brittney Robich

Didn’t Do It

A strong voice echoes the empty room.

“I know you did it boy!” BOOM!

Buckley slams his heavy hand on the

Table. Mary, Bessy, Aston. A rapist was

His label. Bigger is now sweatin’ bullets.

Given this life, didn’t choose it. Now

Yellin’ the words, “I DIDN’T DO IT!”

My name is Brittney Robich. I am a junior at Mount Olive College. I am majoring in Psychology. After graduation, I plan to go on to attend graduate school, and get a Masters in counseling. I play on the Women’s basketball team here at Mount Olive.


Carley Moore


Have you seen this black man-child
Who shot up from a tiny seed
To a man, with full grown hands,
Smoking paper, smoking pens, fiction and poetry?
Must say, “I’ve seen these Black hands.”
From the South arose this “Native Son,”
Of Ella and Nathan, a writer begot.

My name is Carley Moore. I am from Johnsonville, South Carolina. This is my third year at Mount Olive College and I am classified as a junior. I recently switched my major from music to sports management, but I am one class away from having my minor in music. I also plan to minor in English, exercise science, and physical education. Once done at Mount Olive, I plan to go to a school of theology to become a youth minister. Poetry is my way of removing myself from this world and going into a state of peace. Poetry relaxes my mind, body, spirit, and soul.

MOC Students Published
MOUNT OLIVE - Four Mount Olive College students have published poems in the special issue of Drumvoices Revue, Volume 16, Spring/Summer/Fall 2008 celebrating the Richard Wright Centennial. The students wrote Kwansabas, a poetry form that consists of 7 lines with 7 words each line and no more than 7 letters in each word, as part of their English 240 African American Literature Class taught by Assistant Professor of English Lenard Moore.

After reading and discussing Wright's novel, Native Son, students wrote their own poems. Bailey J. Harrell, of Kinston, a December MOC graduate, wrote "In Heaven And In Darkness; "Alisa G. Jones of Fayetteville a member of the MOC Women's Basketball Team, wrote "Innocent Guilt;” Brittany Robich of Rockingham also a member of MOC Women's Basketball Team, wrote "Didn't Do It;" and Carley Moore of Johnsonville, SC wrote “Writer's Hand." Copies of Drumvoices Revue can be ordered for $10.00 plus $2.00 for shipping and handling from

“It is important for our students to experience the publication of good writing,” Moore stated. “Hopefully, the publication of their poetry in such a well-respected literary journal will inspire them, too. If they choose to become career writers, then they will know the process from craft to publication.”

Mount Olive College is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park and Washington. For more information, visit

Kwansaba: birth of a poetry form
Posted by Janet Grace Riehl on June 18th, 2008

The Kwansaba came into being as a praise song. Drumvoices Revue has used the Kwansaba form to praise Richard Wright (2008), Maya Angelou and Quincy Troupe (2007), Jayne Cortez (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 Kwanzaa 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 nouns
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.


Nancy Simpson said...

Kay, I don't know when I've enjoyed reading a post more. It's informative. I get it. What you say about Lenard D. Moore is true to me. He supports and promotes the writing of NC poets. The Kwansaba poems by his students are excellent. I was fascinated by the form of 7 lines adding up to 49 words.

I was pleased to read the poem dedicated to Quincy Troup. I remember Troup's long tribute poem to Magic Johnson, and I understand how this new Kwnsaba form makes it more simple to pay tribute where tribute is due.

Janet Grace Riehl said...

I'm pleased to see the Kwansaaba form spreading to other parts of the country. Eugene Redmond has blessed us in many ways.

Also, thanks for the mention of my site "Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century" ( whose mission is to create connections through the arts and across cultures. Since I moved to St. Louis in 2007, I've focused on the Black arts and cultural scene here, as it is woefully uncovered in the dominant press...and unknown in most white circles in this (still) segregated city.

On Riehlife, you'll also find a newly invented form there called the "Sankofet" (refering to "Sankofa" the Ghanaian Adrinka symbol meaning "Reach back and fetch it." The Sankofet is a poetry form created by the Sisters-Nineties Literary Group. Here's a link where you can read Linda Jo Smith's “Jazz Marsalis”:

I love your blog title: My Laureate's Lasso. During my two cycles of being nominated, but not chosen, for the position of Poet Laureate of Lake County, California, one of my sister nominees used to joke that we would show up with our lariates,dressed as cow girls, twirling, with cowgirl boots and hats. Alas, we never had that chance.

Keep up your good work as a lossoed laureate.

Janet Riehl

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Nancy, I'm so glad you enjoyed this post. I'll have to try this form right away. And Janet, thank you for your essay and for the additional information you gave here. I hope folks will track you down. I love the cowboy boots story; I'm sorry you didn't get a chance to twirl your lariats and stomp around in your boots! Stay in touch and thank you for the good words
Kay B.

Jessie Carty said...

I have not heard of this form before! I am going to pass it along to my Managing Editor (I do a small, mostly online press called Folded Word) to see if it can be a form we add to our new Form Discussion page :) to find someone to write about it!