Keeping it in the family: Redmonds share poetry at MU

Eugene Redmond developed a form of poetry called Kwansaba.
East St. Louis native Eugene Redmond recited poetry with his daughter Treasure Shields Williams on Friday night at Ellis Auditorium. The duo performed as part of the 2012 Black History Month "We Speak Series."

With connections to both Maya Angelou and M.C. Hammer, Eugene B. Redmond and his daughter Treasure Shields Redmond are considered a big deal in the world of poetry.

The pair visited MU for Black History Month on Friday evening, and shared their poetry, which focuses on the past and present trials and tribulations of African Americans.

The Redmonds, both professors of English, write from the streets of East St. Louis, or, as Eugene likes to call it, “East St. Love.”

They recite their poetry together, voices intertwining to form a perfect rhythm. Treasure, who was previously a hip hop artist with an album produced by M.C. Hammer himself, occasionally raises her voice in song to add to the piece, making true her father’s opinion that “poetry is music’s twin.”

The poets were both passionate about reciting, especially to younger generations.

“We want to bring everybody abreast of certain issues, ideas, thoughts and historical events,” Eugene Redmond said.

Treasure said she had never written in any type of form until her father developed the Kwansaba, a poem with stanzas comprised of 49 words, with seven lines and seven words per line. No word can be more than seven letters, which results in sometimes making one word into two at the writer’s whim.

At the time, Treasure Shields Redmond was studying Fannie Lou Hammer, a woman who played an instrumental role in played a role in the gaining of rights for African Americans during the turbulent sixties and seventies. Treasure’s intense interest in this woman paired with her father’s style resulted in a poems series about Fannie Lou Hammer entitled “chop,” from which she recited at the reading.

Treasure said she enjoyed speaking to young people in particular because “they’re in the middle of finding their calling.”

“In order to hear it, your brain has to be clear,” Treasure Shields Redmond said, referring to the meaning of the poetry.

Eugene’s love of poetry began in his younger years. He said he began to write and perform poetry for two reasons. The first was that he was assigned to memorize poems in school, church and oratorical events and decided he had a knack for it. The second is that he simply loved to memorize things.

“I wanted to recite (poems) to friends and to the girls,” Eugene Redmond said. “I liked to impress my friends and classmates through memorization. I also memorized the best songs of the time. The lyrics caught my imagination.”

He said singing and writing are good stuff, close to poetry itself. He also attributes his interest in poetry to the Bible.

“The roll of language in the Bible has a sort of poetic sensibility,” he said.

This was not Eugene’s first visit to MU, as he has been here before to visit friends and family attending the school. He also made an appearance last April with his close friend Maya Angelou.

“Mizzou has a special place in my heart,” he said.

Freshman Naomi Daugherty summed up the event with no hesitation whatsoever.

“It fed my soul,” Daugherty said.

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