You have to see him in the dying embers of a beach bonfire, the reggae from the sound system is turned low so the steady wail of the breeze is heavy, ancestral breeze; the whole sorrow of the Trade Winds in there, and he seems to understand this in the way he stands, hands crossed behind his back, head slightly tilted, listening, and occasionally his eyes look out to the sea, which is a dark moving body, yet so tranquil it is motionless. You stand by his side a sentinel and apparition, some prodigal of his genius, grateful for his presence on the landscape, real and literary, of the literary you know little but know enough that whatever new life it has he is the beating heart, the motive force, behind its existence. Such things cannot be objectively praised. You can just stand there as dawn sketches out the peninsula, and that is a benediction: the moment the light’s changing scansion resembles his lines you have read in your own parish, and his voice, when he speaks, takes shape from the clear cold sea, humble speech, deepens like a coastal shelf your ambition, your love for words. Your faith is redeemed in the legend that says the poem is the cry of the occasion and faith is work, the example of which he is the ultimate testament, that there, at daybreak, the fire now tremulous ash and the hills stirring, the master departs, leaving the morning bright with songs.
Kwame Dawes on Shore, part of Respect Due: Symposium on the Work of Kwame Dawes
Ishion Hutchinson was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He is the author of House of Lords and Commons (FSG, 2016) and is a professor at Cornell University.