Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
Research Assistance: Rebecca Gambale, Festival Assistant
To anyone listening to Kwame Dawes reading his poetry, it should come as no surprise that he also has a background as a singer, storyteller, novelist, actor and playwright. For centuries, the word “poet” was often used interchangeably with these other titles. Dawes’ artistic career makes it easy to understand why. He has moved readily among them because, for him, these art forms all use language, rhythm and sound to guide us on our quests for meaning.
As a poet, playwright and creator of multi-discipline performance pieces, Kwame Dawes uses the human voice as an instrument to fill the shared space that connects speaker and listener. That song, incantation, rhythm and verse are essential elements of all ceremonies and rituals is not lost on Dawes. For him, the incantatory rhythms of a great reggae song or poem can transport the listener to a place where communication breaks down the barriers between self and other. Is it a sacred place: in Dawes’ case, one made by singers and poets.
A poet with such a view of his art would readily be drawn to enter the lives of others and attempt to give them a voice. Dawes has described himself as a collector, someone constantly curious about people and how they live, gathering stories, information and memories, without even knowing how or if he will use them in a poem or novel. He has been drawn, over and over, to the stories of survivors.
In Wisteria: Poems from the Swamp Country he enters the lives of men and women who lived through the racial violence that darkened this country’s history during the years of Jim Crow laws and the struggle for civil rights. He journeyed repeatedly to his native Jamaica to interview people living with AIDS. The poems he wrote afterward became part of the Emmy-Award-Winning Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica. Dawes seems to possess an inexhaustible curiosity that feeds his prolific creativity. Perhaps because he understands that art that invites us to step outside of ourselves also guides us deeper into ourselves.
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The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark is October 7 – 10
For more information, visit the Poetry website