Growing Concerns Poetry Collective • We Here (Thank You For Noticing)

 Photo by Zakkiyyah Najeebah

Photo by Zakkiyyah Najeebah

Growing Concerns Poetry Collective’s first album release is finally here. They are here, making their presence known through every word, breath, beat, plea and song. This album is not like any other album released this year, and will reach into your soul and pull out memories and feelings you have so easily and readily forgotten about. Driven by passion and a demand for truth in our fucked up reality, Growing Concerns Poetry Collective brings spirituality to words and song. Their project 'We Here (Thank You For Noticing)' focuses on a movement of the soul, body, mind, and heart, and listeners can prepare to be taken by a subtle yet intentional wave. The flow begins as a slow current that steadily yet suddenly pulls you away into the depths of perceptions and experiences with a demand for their voices to be heard.
Growing Concerns Poetry Collective is a group that takes spoken word and combines it with beautifully composed music to offer a hypnotizing atmopshere for their poems. It consists of poets Mckenzie Chinn, Mykele Deville, and musician Jeff Austin. Take some extra time to sit down and listen to this album from start to finish and experience what I felt was an emotional and spiritual journey. Catch them this weekend for their release performance at Steppenwolf Theatre Company August 4th and 5th . 

How did Growing Concerns Collective form and how has it evolved into what it is today? 

Growing Concerns started as a side project between Mykele and Jeff. Mykele wanted to have a group strictly dedicated to the poetry he was writing that he couldn't transpose into rap. Jeff would underscore those poems with a music from his loop station and they would go around under the Growing Concerns moniker playing in backyards and coffee shops. Mykele wanted more perspective than his so he recruited Actor/Poet Mckenzie Chinn to add a new sound and poetry style to the mix. The group has evolved from just reading poetry from journals to include rap, tandem pieces, narrative poetry, instrumental tracks, beatbox, singing, and storytelling. Over time the idea of poetry being fluid stuck and the side project became a collective. 

It seems as individuals you are very active in your communities. How does your activism play a role in Growing Concerns?

We think of our roles as artists and activists as the same. We believe that greater visibility for underrepresented groups is a key element in furthering social justice and equality. Our work is shaped by our own experiences and perspectives with the understanding that the personal is always political and vice versa. As artists of color, as allies, and as a woman, it's impossible for us to separate our own experiences and how it influences our art, from the concerns of others who share our identities, especially in the politically and socially charged moment that we are in, within our communities and as a nation. We strive to use our voices and vision to amplify the stories of those who feel underrepresented or marginalized because of their identities.

What inspired you to add music to your group? Is the music composed before or after the poems have been written?

Music had been a foundational element of the work, and has underscored the poetry from the start. Our musician Jeff Austin creates scores and compositions separately as part of his own practice. When we come together as a group, we find ways of weaving his compositions and our poetry together to make a new piece.

What is your creative process like as individuals and as a whole?

As artists who each have our own individual arts practices, we tend to make work separately, then come together to share what we've been working on. If a poem, story, or piece of music resonates with all three of us, we'll work together to develop it into a piece for the collective, and explore ways in which each of us can contribute to it. 

When was the first moment you remember writing a poem that you were excited to share with everyone you knew?

Mykele: In my final year in high school, I wrote a poem as part of After School Matters/Gallery 37 called Little Brother. I played guitar underneath it. It was deeply personal and it was the first time I felt real ownership of my own voice in a public space.

McKenzie: Before moving to Chicago to go to grad school for acting, I was living in Baltimore and writing a lot of poetry. I moved to Chicago and went to a few open mics. The first poem I ever shared in front of friends as well as strangers was called My Clitoris as Proof of a Benevolent God. I was incredibly nervous to share it but when I heard and felt the audience respond, I began to understand that my stories could hold meaning for other people.