All photo credits: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
“Set Dem Free Again”: Duppy Conqueror and the Invocation of Legacy by Corinna McLeod
What We Have Learned by Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Kwame Dawes’ Requiem—Or, A Defense of Narrative in Black Poetry by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Prophet Man by Shara McCallum
BOSOMTWA: The Sacred and Profane in Kwame Dawes’ Prophets by Vladimir Lucien
Seven for Kwame by Kevin Simmonds
Kwame Dawes on Shore by Ishion Hutchinson
On Kwame Dawes by Linton Kwesi Johnson
Respect Due to Kwame by Lorna Goodison
Sight by Kwame Dawes (poem) & Kevin Simmonds (music & commentary)
Kwame Dawes is deserving of many superlatives, but crucial is the word that most came to mind when reading and working with the marvelous essays we received and include in this, the inaugural Poetry International symposium on the work of a major poet.
One of our contributors, in correspondence, noted that the act of reflection made her “want to pull a stack of Kwame’s books off my shelf and sit and read every single one of them!” Agreed. And, remembering the at times thwarted experience of seeking out his work in bookstores and libraries in several North American cities, we believe the following essays show inherently that his writing should be much more widely available, read, taught and discussed (most libraries have a recommendation / request form and, hint, it almost always works). The archive we link to above offers at least a starting point.
Dawes, an award winner many times over, has reinscribed the word prolific with the words rigor and selflessness in the process of 20 poetry collections with another forthcoming this year, over 50 editorial contributions, books of fiction, plays and essays, mentorship of and introductions to some of our favorite young poets of the past several years, and co-founding both the groundbreaking Calabash Festival and African Poetry Book Fund, among many other contributions and achievements. His cruciality is such that any future accounting of this time in Caribbean, African, North American, British and worldwide literatures would be remiss not to address Kwame Dawes.
These three weekly installments of essays—by peers, elders, students, collaborators, colleagues, friends, observers and witnesses of Kwame Dawes—attentively engage with his work to inform us of the nuances of his significance while resonating with the ethics, aesthetics and insights that make him so remarkable.
The contributors respond to questions of poetics, thematics, craft, lineage, and artistic and cultural contributions, critically examining the lines and arcs of Dawes’ poetry, thought and praxis and, in several cases, specific memories of him in order to address his impact personally, socially and historically.
Apart from noting that each installment moves and cycles—tidalectically we hope—from introduction through scholarly engagement into reflection, we will say two further things for our part: first, that the breadth of the essays included and the depth of worthwhile inquiry they are part of unearthing exemplify a need for ongoing projects on the work of Kwame Dawes; second, that the contributors and all those we contacted share in a Dawes-like generosity, a theme that returns and returns again within the essays.
We offer gratitude to Matthew Shenoda, Justine Henzell and Jeremy Poynting for their guidance and support. Finally, crucially, gratitude immense to Kwame Dawes himself for initiating many resources and contacts that made this project possible and, respect due, for making this work necessary.
—Cecily Nicholson and Hari Alluri