Caribbean Poetry, as we know it, changed forever with the coming of Kwame. For a start, he is the embodiment of the African Jamaican, born as he was of Ghanaian and Jamaican parents, and he moves with ease and authority between multiple worlds. Everything about Kwame’s art is multi-dimensional.
Poet, playwright, scholar, editor, musician, social activist—I’m sure I’ve left some things out—he brings to poetry that “broad unhemmed latitude” that Walt Whitman called for in his own poetry; except Kwame’s unhemmed latitude has an extra dimension, and that is the complete inclusiveness that powers his voice to speak for whole communities of people all over the world who have no voice. Women and Children. AIDs sufferers. Southern Blacks. Singers and players of instruments. Illegal immigrants, spirit wrestlers, and hopeless sinners. Dawes’s gaze falls on everyone, everything human.
One of the qualities about Kwame’s poems that is most intriguing to me is the way in which the voice(s) in his poems all sound completely natural, which brings to mind something John Keats once said: “if Poetry comes not naturally as the Leaves to a tree then it had better not come at all.” Kwame’s best poems have that ‘leaves to a tree’ quality; natural, unforced, often startling, like the image of the kudzu vines overwhelming the fences in his poem “Parasite,” which speaks with great power and pathos to the state of many millions of human beings in the world today.
Poetry has never been the same since Kwame arrived on the scene, and that is a cause for rejoicing, for in addition to producing some 20 volumes of his own prize winning poetry, through his work as poetry editor of Peepal Tree press, editor of the Prairie Schooner journal, and editor of the African Poetry Book series at the University of Nebraska Press, he has introduced the world of English Literature to the work of scores of new and gifted writers from Africa, the Caribbean and beyond. Kwame’s life project has at its heart a great overflowing generosity, which spills over into all his does for poetry, his own, and for the world of writers and writing, and I for one feel blessed to know him.
Respect Due to Kwame, part of Respect Due: Symposium on the Work of Kwame Dawes
Lorna Goodison, Professor Emerita, University of Michigan was born in Jamaica, and is now a major figure in world literature. She has numerous awards for her writing in both poetry and prose, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Americas Region), and the Musgrave Gold Medal from Jamaica. She also received one of Canada’s largest literary prizes, the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction for From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People. Her work has been translated into many languages, and is included in the major anthologies and collections of contemporary poetry published in the United States, Europe and the West Indies; most recently in the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry as well as the HarperCollins World Reader, the Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, and the Longman Masters of British Literature.