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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, 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)

Alado Seanadra

Something like forty runs to pile up in fifteen overs
with the sun round like power over the compound.
I prayed like hell out there on the boundary

far from the scorers talking Test cricket as if this game
was another day in the sun. I prayed like hell.
I had made something like twenty – out to a stupid short ball

which should have been dispatched to mid-wicket with ease.
But too greedy, I got a top edge,
and was caught looking naked as a fool in the blazing

midmorning. Now, like a mockery, the bowling was soup
but the boys still struggling to put one single before a next.
So I prayed like hell out there on the boundary, trying to will

a flaming red four my way. Still, I should have known,
after all, God’s dilemma: We playing a Catholic team
that always prayed before each game. And where their chapel

was a shrine, ours, well sometimes goats get away
inside there; and once we did a play right there using the altar
as a stage. So I tried making deals with the Almighty,

taking out a next mortgage on my soul; asking him to
strengthen the loins of Washy who looking alone in the wilderness
out there in the blaze, bedlamized by the googly

turning on the rough patch outside off-stump.
Washy went playing at air, and the wickets kept falling
until it was Alado, flamboyant with his windmill stretch action,

his fancy afro and smile, strutting out to the wicket
still dizzy with the success of his bowling that morning.
And Alado take his guard loud, loud to the umpire:

“Middle and leg, please.” Lean back till his spine crack.
Alado, slow like sugar, put on the tips, prolonging the agony.
Now, Alado surveyin’ the field, from boundary to

boundary as if somebody was about to move a stone,
and the boys start to wonder if this was some
secret weapon, some special plan to win the match

in a trickifying way. I fantasised a miracle
in that moment, but I blame the sun for that.
And then the boy take his stance. Classic poise, bat tapping,

looking like a test class stroke-player, toes shuffling,
waiting for the pace bowler sprinting stallion along the worn
dry grass. Up to the wicket, he bowls, good length ball,

dead on mid and off. Alado shift the front foot forward,
sheer poise and style, head down according to the Boycott book,
elbow up, and unleash a full cover drive,

bat like flying fish catching the sun. And even when we heard
the clunk of the stumps, and see the bails take off,
we all still searching the extra cover boundary

to see the ball slap the boards. Alado Test stay posed off
like that for Lord knows how long. Big smile in his eyes
staring at the ball he must have hit in his dreams.

The umpire signal end of play with the gathering of the bails
and the pulling of the stumps. My soul was saved that day,
the year we never made the finals.

From Progeny of Air. Copyright © 1994 by Kwame Dawes. Used with the permission of Peepal Tree Press.

From Progeny of Air. Copyright © 1994 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

Last night
you look

at me hard
then soft

like you see
something

old and sad
in me.

poem

A truckload of fresh watermelons, 
lemon-green goodness on a slouching 
truck, cutting through so many states: 
Arkansas, West Virginia, Maryland, 
into the smoke-heavy Pennsylvania cities; 
from red dirt like a land soaked 
in blood to the dark loam of this new 
land—from chaos

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