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American Verse

Kwansaba is an African American verse form of praise. The Kwansaba, (swahili kwan - first fruit / saba -principle) was created in 1995 by Eugene B Redmond, East St. Louis Poet Laureate and professor of English at Southern Illinois University-East St. Louis. The form was developed in honor of the celebration of Kwanzaa . The poetic form adopts the number 7 from Kwanzaa's Nguzo Saba (7 principles) as well as embraces its roots in the South African tradition of the Praise Poem.

  • Unity, family
  • Self Determination
  • Work Collectively
  • Cooperative economics
  • Purpose
  • Creativity
  • Faith

Kwanzaa is a 7 day celebration of the African-American family encompassing African-American heritage, culture and principles. The celebration was introduced by Dr. Maulana Karenga, African-American educator, following the Watts riots of 1966 with the intent of bringing the African American community together. Kwansaba, the birth of a poetry form The 7 principles of Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Each day of the celebration focuses on one of the principles.

The defining features of Kwansaba are:

  1. a celebration of family and African-American culture, a praise poem.
  2. a septastich, a poem in 7 lines.
  3. measured by 7 words in each line.
  4. written with no word exceeding 7 letters.


    Blow the trumpet and pound the drums
    wave the vibrant flags of many lands
    Hold high the red, white and blue
    where hope stirs hearts to join hands
    the diverse colors from this our earth.
    Each proud in our culture to share
    with others our talents and unique being.
                              ~~Judi Van Gorder  12-31-2017

    Writer's Hand by Carley Moore

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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  • 8 months later...

My attempt at a poem for each principal.

Day 1 Dec 26  Celebrate Unity/Family

Sisters and Brothers

We bond in blood, grow in love,
two families unite for double blood bond.
Sunday dinners hosted laughter, tears and debate.
When in doubt or in some trouble 
I know who to call when right 
 or when wrong. It takes a team
to carry the load, DNA links strong.

Day 2 Dec 27 Self Determination

Being Me

Scrappy, they call me. I keep coming.
I'm willing to work with my hands
and my mind and always my heart.
Focused on points far in the future,
I train to take hurdles in stride
kicking out high and long to propel
over the rails without a second's pause.

Day 3 Dec 28 Work Collectively


You have heard it many times before
"no man is an island unto himself"
You are not alone, nor am I,
we are here in this with others.
We must learn to share our talents
lending our hands and our hearts
to the task of making things whole.                        

Day 4 Dec 29 Cooperative Economics

Can Do

"Put your money where your mouth is."
Another good old saying to live by.
He is hungry, she needs a coat,
they need shelter, we want to learn.
People helping people in what they can,
Even the poorest can share one thing.
One by one we rebuild our world.

Day 5 Dec 30 Purpose

Here I Am

What does this world hold for me?
Am I here simply to be here?
What are the gifts I've received
and how can I use those talents?
A purpose or reason to be alive
is why we learn, why we grow,
why we give and strive and search.

Day 6 Dec 31 Creativity


Born in His image, we too create.
I write, you paint and she sings.
If it is dreamt, it can be.
So much beauty and pain to explore
To be heard, really heard, my soul
to your soul can only be done
through the gift of art, our reward.

Day 7 Jan 1 Faith


I've said it many times, I know
faith is an action word, for faith
without works is dead. My God lives.
What would Jesus do? I'm called.
I am charged to honor His words
and care for others as my own
for they are His, as am I. 

Technically, for me the most difficult element to embrace is keeping the words at 7 letters or less. The other element that gave me some trouble was writing 7 words not syllables in a line.

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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Seven Principals

We bond in blood, triple in love,
each of us must carry our brother.
You are not alone, nor am I
our lame and beaten will chant praise
Our goals diverse yet one in purpose
born in His image we too create.
Faith is an action verb, so act.
                       ~~Judi Van Gorder

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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