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Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes was born in Ghana and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He received a BA from the University of the West Indies at Mona in 1983 and went on to study and teach in New Brunswick, Canada, on a Commonwealth Scholarship. In 1992, he received a PhD in English from the University of New Brunswick. 

In 1994, he published his first collection of poetry, Progeny of Air (Peepal Tree Press), which received the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. He is also the author of City of Bones: A Testament (Northwestern University Press, 2017), Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2013), Wheels (Peepal Tree Press, 2010), New and Selected Poems, 1994–2002 (Peepal Tree Press, 2003), Midland (Ohio University Press, 2001), and Prophets (Peepal Tree Press, 1995), among many others.

Dawes is also the author of several works of fiction, including the novel Bivouac (Peepal Tree Press Ltd, 2010), and non-fiction, including the memoir A Far Cry from Plymouth Rock: A Personal Narrative (Peepal Tree Press, 2006). He is the editor of numerous anthologies, most recently Bearden’s Odyssey: Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden with Matthew Shenoda (Northwestern University Press, 2017). 

Dawes’ many honors include the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for service to the arts in South Carolina, a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry, the Musgrave Silver Medal for contribution to the Arts in Jamaica, the Poets & Writers Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Windham-Campbell Prize for Poetry. In 2009, Dawes won an Emmy for LiveHopeLove.com, an interactive site based on his Pulitzer Center project, “HOPE: Living and loving with AIDS in Jamaica.”

He has served as Faculty Member for the Cave Canem Workshop and a teacher in the Pacific MFA Program in Oregon. He is also founding director of the African Poetry Book Fund and co-founder and programming director of the Calabash International Literary Festival, which takes place in Jamaica in May biennially. In 2018, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He is currently the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska, where he is a Chancellor’s Professor of English.


Bibliography

Poetry
City of Bones: A Testament (Northwestern University Press, 2017)
Speak from Here to There (with John Kinsella; Peepal Tree Press, 2016)
Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems(Copper Canyon Press, 2013)
Wheels (Peepal Tree Press, 2010)
Back of Mount Peace (Peepal Tree Press, 2009)
Hope’s Hospice (Peepal Tree Press, 2009)
Gomer’s Song (Akashic Books, 2007)
Impossible Flying (Peepal Tree Press, 2007)
Wisteria: Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country (Red Hen Press, 2006)
I Saw Your Face (with Tom Feelings; Dial Books, 2005)
Bruised Totems (Parallel Press Madison, 2004)
New and Selected Poems, 1994–2002 (Peepal Tree Press, 2003)
Midland (Ohio University Press, 2001)
Map-Maker (Smith/Doorstop Books, 2000)
Shook Foil (Peepal Tree Press, 1997)
Requiem (Peepal Tree Press, 1996)
Jacko Jacobus (Peepal Tree Press, 1996)
Prophets (Peepal Tree Press, 1995)
Resisting the Anomie (Fredericton, 1995)

Prose
Bivouac (Peepal Tree Press Ltd, 2010)
She’s Gone (Akashic Books, 2007)
A Place to Hide and Other Stories (Peepal Tree Press, 2003)
A Far Cry from Plymouth Rock: A Personal Narrative (Peepal Tree Press, 2006)
Natural Mysticism: Towards a New Reggae Aesthetic (Peepal Tree Press, 1999)

By This Poet

17

Talk

            For August Wilson

No one quarrels here, no one has learned
the yell of discontent—instead, here in Sumter
we learn to grow silent, build a stone
of resolve, learn to nod, learn to close
in the flame of shame and anger
in our hearts, learn to petrify it so,
and the more we quiet our ire,
the heavier the stone; this alchemy
of concrete in the vein, the sludge
of affront, until even that will calcify
and the heart, at last, will stop,
unassailable, unmovable, adamant.

Find me a man who will stand
on a blasted hill and shout,
find me a woman who will break   
into shouts, who will let loose
a river of lament, find the howl
of the spirit, teach us the tongues
of the angry so that our blood,
my pulse—our hearts flow
with the warm healing of anger.

You, August, have carried in your belly
every song of affront your characters
have spoken, and maybe you waited
too long to howl against the night,
but each evening on some wooden
stage, these men and women,
learn to sing songs lost for centuries,
learn the healing of talk, the calming
of quarrel, the music of contention,
and in this cacophonic chorus,
we find the ritual of living.

Requiem

I sing requiem
for the dead, caught in that
mercantilistic madness.

We have not built lasting
monuments of severe stone
facing the sea, the watery tomb,

so I call these songs
shrines of remembrance
where faithful descendants

may stand and watch the smoke
curl into the sky
in memory of those

devoured by the cold Atlantic.
In every blues I hear
riding the dank swamp

I see the bones
picked clean in the belly
of the implacable sea.

Do not tell me
it is not right to lament,
do not tell me it is tired.

If we don’t, who will
recall in requiem
the scattering of my tribe?

In every reggae chant
stepping proud against Babylon
I hear a blue note

of lament, sweet requiem
for the countless dead,
skanking feet among shell,

coral, rainbow adze,
webbed feet, making as if

to lift, soar, fly into new days.

Land Ho

I cannot speak the languages
spoken in that vessel,
cannot read the beads
promising salvation.

I know this only,
that when the green of land
appeared like light
after the horror of this crossing,

we straightened our backs
and faced the simplicity
of new days with flame.
I know I have the blood of survivors

coursing through my veins;
I know the lament of our loss
must warm us again and again
down in the belly of the whale,

here in the belly of the whale
where we are still searching for homes.
We sing laments so old, so true,
then straighten our backs again.