Kwame Senu Neville Dawes was born in Ghana in 1962 but grew up in Jamaica where he attended Jamaica College and the University of the west Indies at Mona. He studied and taught in New Brunswick on a Commonwealth Scholarship to Canada. Since 1992 he has been teaching at the University of South Carolina. He is as an Associate Professor in English on the Columbia campus of that institution. He is also a critic, actor, playwright, storyteller, and a poet-reggae singer.
Dawes has published six collections of poetry, Progeny of Air (Peepal Tree 1994--Winner of the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection, UK) Resisting the Anomie (Goose Lane 1995), Prophets (Peepal Tree 1995), Jacko Jacobus, (Peepal Tree 1996), Requiem, (Peepal Tree 1996) a suite of poems inspired by the illustrations of African American artist, Tom Feelings in his landmark book The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo, and Shook Foil (Peepal Tree 1998) a collection of Reggae-inspired poems. Dawes is also awaiting the publication of two non-fiction books, Natural Mysticism: Towards a Reggae Aesthetic (Peepal Tree 1998), and Talk Yuh Talk: Interviews with Caribbean Poets (University of Virginia Press 1998), and a novel set in Jamaica (Bivouac) (Peepal Tree 1999), a collection of short stories (A Place to Hide) (Peepal Tree 1999). Dawes has also edited an anthology of reggae poetry, Wheel and Come Again, which was published by Peepal Tree Books and Goose Lane Editions in Canada in 1998.
Poems by Kwame Senu Neville Dawes
The boat trundles into a vast sea of rootlessness.
Here freedom is the absence of soil.
Jacko feels alone on the slippery deck,
as stars like his promised descendants
untethered by the limit of his dreams,
dart across the black sky.
The smoke from thc limping steamer's
upturned mouth, flakes into snow,
black snow falling like bread on the water,
undulating with news of so many shores.
Afloat on this vast fabric of green,
Jacko believes in the impossible of heaven,
in a bright wash of light and sound
lifting the slumbering Africa to glow--such light
seeping pink and promising on the horizon
uneven like the edges of a watercolour sheet,
lumpy, those soft clouds, the spread
of colour, blue, green, red, yellow, pink,
still moving before all dries into stillness.
Jacko sees his descendants rising, rising,
new names, new clothes, counting new beads
on their proudful necks, new colours, new days.
(for Kamau Brathwaite)
This is the path to new life and to death,
renaming the earth with familiar sounds,
calling, calling across the green hills
in three part harmony, everything jumping,
the way the snare springs you back,
what to do but jump to the pumping sound.
This is the path by the river, now red,
now reeking of stale bauxite,
the fish are dead, the shrimp are dead,
the sea snake dead, the algae dead.
This is the path of new music that calls
Africa, calls it without knowing,
the pattern of the drums on the skin.
This is the way the snare makes you jump.
My heart beats like a baby's, alert each time
I embrace dark nights alone.
Here in the stillness, waiting for the crack
of something, my head pulses in fear.
Then I look for open fields away from predator
gunman, a place to wet my body in night dew.
I have returned to plant new grass, new trees,
and now I have returned knowing only
that when death comes, I will be ready,
for home fires flame in my tender heart, my heart.
Things have not changed much.
The treeline is almost the same.
This journey over oceans was long
and we jettisoned much on the way,
but our eyes were never startled by the new
light, and the earth still took to our feet
so well. At night I would dream it was simply
another long march, a long trek from the disease
of the river fly so another space, another landscape.
Once, we walked for months, till we came to a dry place
where the earth was orange, flaming orange and dusty;
we had never seen anything like this before.
Still we buried our dead in tbe sand,
and at night around the fire and drums
the ancestors found their way to our feet,
to our hearts, to our livid tongues.
So this is all familiar as yesterday,
and the yams grow large in this soil,
and my fingers still cake with the dirt,
making tradition in new land, new spaces,
and in the sky, Nyankopon looks on
with the same unwinking eye of the moon.
With nothing but a bag
pack with yam and bread
a few coins in the pocket
to multiply into food,
Jacko board the ship for Charleston,
with not even a map to tell him where
this black liner heading,
just watching the way it leave a trail,
long and white in the soft waters,
and the way the mountains start to fade,
till nothing else was left but sea.
And in his heart, Jacko's sadness was great,
leaving behind love, leaving behind Mother,
leaving behind a naked brother, red with anger,
leaving behind a father to bury himself,
a father weeping psalms of regret to God.
Find yuh Uncle Al, my brother,
and marry one of him pretty daughter dem,
den multiply yuhself, son
till you is nothing but blood and water,
multiply yuhself, son,
so yuh inheritance might breed life.
Jacko meet a young hustler
with glitter in his eyes
talking 'bout how money easy
in the peach fields of North Carolina
and work easy for hardworking man,
and that become the plan for Jacko Jacobus,
now without anchor,
without a home, just darting
like a kite abandoned to the wind,
trying to forget that him have a history,
trying to forget that there is a place
called yard, called house, called home.
When the dark embrace the ship
way out on the Caribbean Sea,
Jacko toss the Bible overboard,
and hear it touch the water soft.
Cut-off, cut-off so far from shore.
And the boat trundle on