By Marina Murayama Nir
What happens when you live in a world that carves your narrative out for you? When you are told that you have no choice but to live out the life that white people design to hold you down? Mykele Deville and McKenzie Chinn use their poetry to unpack historical oppression and create a space both to allow for conversation about the barriers to survival, and to heal and move forward.
In WE HERE: Thank You For Noticing, Growing Concerns Poetry Collective unveils their own, true narrative about the challenge of surviving as people of color in the States, honoring Black beauty and matriarchal strength through vivid, intimate scenery, and envisioning a reality where people of color live free of fear and shame, where they are celebrated, and their lives are held with reverence.
The album is a true collaboration between spoken word, melody, and instrumentation. As the album progresses, it becomes clear that Mykele, McKenzie, and Jeff take time to listen to and to be present with one another as each piece and each thought unfolds. Jeff Austin helps establish tone in each poem with light hip-hop beats that filter in delicate and meditative guitars, keyboards, and marimbas, humming and distant whistling – and sometimes- silence.
Deville introduces the album with “WE HERE,” a track that explains that despite the ongoing displacement and one-sided narratives, Black people have continued to exist and are here to stay.
The album also reveals a reverence for women and matriarchy. In “Temples,” McKenzie describes what it would be like if women’s bodies were recognized as sacred. She conveys an ideal world that would be filled with the comfort of family gatherings, without the weight of having to be afraid of police officers, and with the pride of existing as a Black person in all its beauty. Mykele offers an ode to “sister mothers” and “mother mothers” in “Bow,” describing the sacrifices Black maternal figures make for their children, how “The world only still turning ‘cause they (mothers) benevolent gods.”
There’s a juxtaposition of timelessness and ephemerality that is evoked when McKenzie considers how her experiences have been handed down through generations. In “I Am Only Passing Through Here,” Chinn speaks of her strength to overcome, and the beauty of being able to remain soft despite the hardships- and she captures resilience, as an “ember in the woods at night…”
An essential component of the album’s beauty is in the way Mykele and McKenzie conjure a platform where they examine oppression and counter it with their vision of what could be. McKenzie and Mykele illustrate beautiful and intimate scenes of Black households and relationships, they nod toward each other in deep respect, and they ask their kin to let go of externally imposed trauma in order to create a better future.
Chinn completes the album with “Thank You For Noticing,” a song about what it feels like to be invisible until she catches the attention of white people, but to be dismissed when the harder parts become exposed. She says, “Everything that I am is questionable, but donned on a white body it’s acceptable,” and later, “They’d really rather be Black until it’s time to be Black.” The album comes full circle, when McKenzie says, “Look at what we’re holding – thank you for noticing.”
Growing Concerns Poetry Collective will be releasing their first book, Five Fifths, published by Candor Arts, on January 26th and 27th at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre in Chicago, IL.
ABOUT GROWING CONCERNS
Growing Concerns Poetry Collective fuses lyrical, narrative, and hip-hop poetry with original music and soundscape to create spoken word performance that is greater than the sum of its parts. The collective released its inaugural album We Here: Thank You For Noticing in August 2017. Growing Concerns is poet and rapper Mykele Deville, poet and actor McKenzie Chinn, and visual artist and musician Jeff Austin. You can follow them on social media @growingconcernspoets.
Mykele Deville is a rapper, poet, curator, and actor from the west side of Chicago. His solo hip-hop and poetic recordings include Peace, Fam (2017), Each One Teach One (2016), and Super Predator (2016). He has performed on stages across Chicago and led workshops on hip-hop and identity in the midwest and Portland. His work has been profiled in the Chicago Tribune, The Reader, Consequence of Sound, Vocalo radio, and NPR radio.
McKenzie Chinn is a poet, actor, and teaching artist whose work has appeared in PANK, Crab Fat Magazine, The Fem, Juked, Sundog Lit, and others. She has performed her poetry and worked as an actor on stages across Chicago and in Washington, DC, as well as on film and television. You can learn more about her work at mckenziechinn.com.
Jeffrey Michael Austin is an interdisciplinary artist, musician and educator based in Chicago. Austin currently produces music with Growing Concerns Poetry Collective, and his visual artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally, recently including such venues as Société d’Électricité (Brussels), The Luminary (St. Louis), Chicago Artists Coalition, Hyde Park Art Center, Ed Paschke Art Center, Le Carreau de Cergy (Paris), Kunstenfestival Watou (Belgium), The University of North Texas Art Galleries, Lehr Zeitgenössische Kunst (Berlin), The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Fondation Vasarely (Aix-en-Provence), The Mission, The Franklin, and Manifold, a partner of ACRE Artist Residency. Austin studied at Columbia College Chicago and the Burren College of Art in Ireland before eventually receiving his BFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. jeffreymichaelaustin.com
Marina Murayama Nir is an editor at Culturework.