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About this poet

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, and a Pushcart Prize. 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)

African Postman

for Soloman Ephraim Woolfe

Son, who is dat?
Is de African Postman, Daddy

—Burning Spear

East from Addis Ababa, and then south
deep into the Rift Valley, I can hear the horns
trumpeting over the flat-roofed acacia trees,
see the African women bend low with wood
heavy on their backs, and the cows, goats,
donkeys, mules, sheep, and horses snapped
into obedient herds by sprinting children,
move along the roadside. Life happens here.
I am traveling to the land I have heard about,
Shashamane, the green place, five hundred acres
of Jah’s benevolence, and I know now that
I long to hear the rootsman tell me how,
despite rumors of his passing, the natty
keeps on riding, keeps on standing in the fields
of praise to hold on to the faith of roots people.
Brother Solomon, you put the name Ephraim
on your head and carry the face of the true
Rasta, the face of an Ashanti warrior, eyes deep
under heavy lids, and your skin tight as leather,
blacker dan black. I have met you before
on the streets of Kingston, there where you trod
to the hiss and slander of the heathen, you,
natty dread, gathering the people’s broken minds
into your calabash. You carry it all, tell them
Return to the roots, the healing shall take place.
You are Burning Spear’s voice in the fields of teff,
you tell me of the prophecy of Marcus,
and I listen to you, through the phlegm,
through the gruff of your voice, and suddenly
when I ask about the passing of the Emperor,
you rise up like a staff of correction, your voice
reaching back to the mountains, your warrior
self, your yardman greatness, and you speak
a mystery of those who have ears but won’t hear,
and those who have eyes and won’t see,
and I know/ that this dread will one day stand
in this soil, and find his feet growing roots,
that soon the earth will be darker for the arrival
of Solomon. Let the heathen rage, let the doubters
scoff, let this Ghanaian youth whose eyes
have seen the face of Jesus Christ, let him too
sit and marvel at the face of the natty.
For this African Postman has forsaken
father and mother, and has come to stand
before His Imperial Majesty, to call only him
Father, so that the Father might call him son,
and the world will carry on its weary march,
and the ibises will swoop in the Ethiopian dusk
and the smoke will rise from wood fires,
and the night will come with news that the rootsman,
after four hundred years of being told
he is homeless, has come home, yes, Jah,
has come home.

Sons and daughters of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie,
Earth Rightful Ruler, without any apology say:
This is the time when I and I and I should come home,
yes, Jah… Nah leggo! Nah leggo! Nah leggo!

—Winston Rodney

From Wheels. Copyright © 2011 by Kwame Dawes. Used with the permission of Peepal Tree Press.

From Wheels. Copyright © 2011 by Kwame Dawes. Used with the permission of Peepal Tree Press.

Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes was born in Ghana and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. The author of more than ten poetry collections, he currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem

This bassline is sticky like asphalt
and wet like molasses heated nice and hot,

and the bass drum booms my heart,
jumping me, jump-starting me

to find the path of this sluggish sound;
I follow the tap like a fly catching light

in its rainbow gossamer wings
on top of a big-ear

poem

I

The whole earth is filled with the love of God.
     In the backwoods, the green light
is startled by blossoming white petals,
     soft pathways for the praying bird
dipping into the nectar, darting in starts
     among the tangle of bush and trees.
My giddy walk through this

poem

I got one part of it. Sell them watermelons and get me another part. Get Bernice to sell that piano and I’ll have the third part.
—August Wilson

We who gave, owned nothing,
learned the value of dirt, how
a man or a woman can stand
among the unruly growth,