A blog series created by Darius Parker profiling members of the Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble
The Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble (KLPE) has been a pillar of Uptown and Chicago for twenty years. Since her inception, the Kuumba Lynx founders and the original KLPE members have always utilized one key element in the development of their creative works, courageous voice. By history, the Lynx, a component of the organization’s name, is a member of the cat family, it is known to be small in size but hosts a mighty roar.
Kuumba Lynx has participated in Chicago’s -wide slam poetry competition, Louder than a Bomb for sixteen years, awarded five 1st place titles, making them the most decorated slam poetry team in the competition’s history thus far.
With a new year and new poetry festival approaching, members of the 2017 Slam Team sat down with alumni Darius Parker. They navigated their individual writing process’, shared some of their favorite KL writing and performance pedagogy, and discussed how they are preparing for to slam this spring. This series of #ViewsFromTheLynx will profile the 2017 slam poetry team in its entirety.
Next up on the mic is Kween Assata L. Assata L. is a senior at Chi Arts and has been competing in the competition for three years and says this year has offered her a new scope into her voice and her poetry. With this year’s poem talking about not being a martyr if she met death and how sometimes poets forget the humanity of victims such as Trayvon or Sandra and that we have to be held accountable for even our most daring poems for the sake of points. Assata is brave and brilliant and has definitely shown she’s an exquisite contender on the Kuumba Lynx slam team.
DP: What has your journey been like being involved in the Louder Than A Bomb competition?
Assata: LTAB has definitely been a difficult journey for me. In terms of coming onto a team that has been consistent in winning and making it to finals it was hard. I would constantly compare my work and assume it wasn’t good enough to be apart of a team like Kuumba Lynx. Despite my mentors and teammates telling me I was good enough I just didn’t feel like it and this year has been one of the years where I had to think about what I was writing for and who I was writing for. Ltab is nerve wracking, it’s time you have to devote that you may not have and it’s a sacrifice, sacrificing your ego, your time with family and friends but it’s worth it. Your team becomes your family, you start to realize what being on a team takes and that includes letting go of your ego and your insecurities and sometimes being vulnerable. And also knowing that your voice, my voice deserves to be heard.
DP: What inspires you to write?
Assata: I honestly struggled with what inspires me for a moment which in turn inspired me to write my new indie which is discovering why I write and who I write for and to stop sacrificing people who have died in order to write them. I think back on my previous work and I think the difference between what motivated me to write back then and what motivates me now is that back then I was sure of what I wanted to say, or at least I thought I was, I was going through a lot and it was my only outlet. Now what inspires me is discovering who I am now, the changes I’ve gone through and how this has impacted me. I’m motivated now because I don’t know who I am and writing may help me discover that.
DP: Why is slam poetry necessary?
Assata: Slam poetry is necessary because it gives voices to those who otherwise wouldn’t be heard. It’s funny how we often neglect voices unless we put a point system on it but I learned that sometimes that’s the only way it will get people to hear us. If we bare ourselves vulnerable on stage maybe we won’t have to build ourselves with armor after we step off of it. At least that’s the way I sometimes see it.
DP: Describe to me a time where slam poetry liberated you? Or has it?
Assata: My first year doing ltab in 2014 I was actually on a team at kenwood in the Academic Center Program. My first piece ever was my internal struggle with depression and freeing myself from the mask I had hid behind. I think that’s when I saw the power poetry had over myself and how it lifted a weight off my shoulder because I got to tell a room full of complete strangers my story and they listened! And for once, someone was listening and that’s when I fell in love with it. I began to continue because people would hear me and relate and that was the most liberating I had ever felt and that’s when I began to write more for people to hear me and relate to me.
DP: What is your writing process like?
Assata: My writing process is basically the first draft is just my feelings, it’s no structure, no guideline, just straight raw emotions. If I don’t get that out, it would cloud what came next in my process. My poetry often times has many many topics all rolled into one. So I separate, find a topic and try to connect them and if they don’t connect, save it for another time. Then I research, I research synonyms, antonyms, stories, theories, history, and I find ways to incorporate what I’ve learned into the story I’m trying to tell, and then I write it over, and then get edits, then write it over, then get edits and basically do that same process until I have a final product I’m happy with.
DP: What do you hope to gain this year in LTAB? What if the team wins? Does this affirm anything for you?
Assata: I hope to gain a sense of why I write, I lost that for a while, or maybe not lost but I struggle with it. And it’s been an internal struggle with me, deciding on whether or not my poems were good enough or worth it. And I found what I write for in the process, I found that if I’m writing for anyone, it’s for me. And I can’t write for anyone else. If we win, I don’t know I think it’ll affirm that I’m good enough and even if we don’t win, I think making it this far has made me realize I have something that needs to be said and I can say it, and people will listen. Honestly, I’ve gained a new piece in this puzzle of my life.