• Yahaira Muyea Tarr

Afriquena w/ Kwynology

When Kwyn Riley picked up the phone she was in the middle of hair and makeup, preparing “a middle part with a tiny bun” for a slam poetry competition with Southern Fried, an annual performing arts festival in Atlanta, Georgia. She is residing there for a summer internship, on the path of a masters degree. Originally from Chicago, Kwyn began her poetry journey in highschool at Kenwood Academy. True story, she was heartbroken and used the talent show stage to let a certain nigga know exactly how she was feeling.

Always a writer, she recalls keeping a journal in kindergarten. Still, auditioning for the poetry team was a debut to sharing her word, and she won the talent show. Eventually she went on to audition for Louder Than A Bomb but was not accepted into the chicago highschool poetry competition. This was discouraging for a while but as she ventured into undergrad she continued to find her voice. Authors like Sonia Sanchez have inspired her journey to “embracing sensuality, boss-ness, and womanhood.”

The Session is a club at the University of Dayton, Ohio that facilitates open mics and Riley was eventually drawn back to the stage. Soon after she was performing in her college town at Therapy Bar amongst “real poets like 25- 27 year olds”, and being younger than them she felt “not good enough.” Despite the fear she delved into performance with a piece entitled PWI: 10 Commandments and “the crowd received it so well.” Just listening to her talk about it gave me chills.

That poem sparked the beginning of Kwyn’s virality online which has continued to accompany her poetry ever since. It’s interesting that age was a fear factor in her relationship to poetry before because these days she is particularly intentional to “make sure pieces are intergenerational in terms of where they land.” She reaches out to her mom sometimes and “prefers feedback from those she loves.”

I asked Kwyn: “how would you define slam poetry specifically?”

She responded: “Accepting and prioritizing that the piece you are performing is going to land with the audience.”

I learned this differs from other kinds of poetry because the competitive culture incorporates external perspectives and validation (like scores from judges and audience reactions).

When Riley is booked by political officials and in general she never code switches. She does give a “disclaimer about politics and identity when being booked” so the audience knows what they will be receiving. This “desire to let people know, maybe imposter syndrome,” is to ensure that she is respected as a queer abolitionist. Even when bookings may seem tokenizing (like being brought in specifically for Black History Month or Pride Month) Kwyn remains optimistic because she sees it as being given the space that allows her to feel heard.

You can find Kywn reading erotica, organizing with Black Youth Project 100, and on her platform, Kwynology (https://www.kwynology.com/).

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