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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)

Shook Foil

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 speckled grotto
     is drunk with the slow mugginess
of a reggae bassline, finding its melody
     in the mellow of the soft earth’s breath.
I find the narrow stream like a dog sniffing,
     and dip my sweaty feet in the cool.
While sitting in this womb of space
     the salad romantic in me constructs a poem. This is all I
           can muster
     before the clatter of schoolchildren
searching for the crooks of guava branches
     startles all with their expletives and howls;
the trailing snot-faced child wailing perpetual—
     with ritual pauses for breath and pity.
In their wake I find the silver innards of discarded
      cigarette boxes, the anemic pale of tossed
condoms, the smashed brown sparkle of Red Stripe
     bottles, a mélange of bones and rotting fruit,
there in the sudden white light of noon.

II

      How quickly the grandeur fades into a poem,
how easily everything of reverie starts to crumble.
     I walk from the stream. Within seconds
sweat soaks my neck and back; stones clog my shoes,
     flies prick my flaming face and ears,
bramble draws thin lines of blood on my arms.
     There is a surfeit of love hidden here;
at least this is the way faith asserts itself.
     I emerge from the valley of contradictions,
my heart beating with the effort, and stand looking
     over the banking, far into Kingston Harbor
and the blue into gray of the Caribbean Sea.
     I dream up a conceit for this journey
and with remarkable snugness it fits;
     this reggae sound: the bluesy mellow
of a stroll on soft, fecund earth, battling the crack
     of the cross-stick; the scratch of guitar,
the electronic manipulation of digital sound,
     and the plaintive wail of the grating voice.
With my eyes closed, I am drunk with the mellow,
     swimming, swimming among the green of better days;
and I rise from the pool of sound, slippery with
     the warm cling of music on my skin,
and enter the drier staleness of the road
     that leads to the waiting city of fluorescent lights.

From Shook Foil. Copyright © 1997 by Kwame Dawes. Used with the permission of Peepal Tree Press.

From Shook Foil. Copyright © 1997 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

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

poem

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

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,