A short one about a collection of kwansabas.
The kwansaba is a poetic form invented by Dr. Eugene Redmond in the 1990s as a new and unique form designed to for use in “praise poem[s] for African-American culture”.
The kwansaba is a form that has several strict rules, though none of them are to do with rhyme or syllabic count, so they don’t bother me as much as strict formal rules usually do.
A kwansaba contains seven lines, each of seven words, with none of its words – excepting proper nouns and words from a different language – containing more than seven letters.
As a form, the kwansaba has its stated and deliberate purpose: a kwansaba must offer praise to other black Americans, and that is what Ran Walker does in Most of My Heroes Don’t Appear On No Stamps, through 49 short poems. Within this book there are seven sections of seven poems, sevens within sevens, all of them offering praise and positivity to a varied selection of people (personal and not) who have impacted upon his life.
There are moving poems about love for Walker’s parents, his child and his wife (as well as some love poems that could or could not predate that relationship), as well as respect for major cultural figures. There’s a poem about Public Enemy, about Beyonce, about P Diddy, there are poems about Toni Morrison and James Baldwin and many other people of significant import.
There’s also a section of less direct poems about the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement which is obviously deserving of praise, though its lack of a clear leader to directly address/describe makes the kwansaba’s flexibility pleasingly apparent. The poems in this section are felt, even without a direct subject. Throughout, the poet gives a clear and powerful expression of personality.
Walker, a lawyer turned creative writing professor, has some intriguing pieces about his own personal history (including a witty one about his feelings of envy towards the mobile phones of the distracted students he teaches), and the collection is a nice selection of works from, as he mentions in the intro, well over a decade’s worth of kwansabas. What this does mean, though, is that the collection is somewhat one-note: these are all broadly positive poems, all of the same size, all sitting in the same space on the page.
It’s nice though, I suppose, to read something that is generous and celebratory and hopeful, as such things – in this world – are (maybe rightly) hard to find.
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