As if convinced that all divination of the future is somehow a revisioning of the past, Kwame Dawes reminds us of the clairvoyance of haunting. The lyric poems in ‘City of Bones’ constitute a restless jeremiad for our times, and Dawes’s inimitable voice peoples this collection with multitudes of souls urgently and forcefully singing, shouting, groaning, and dreaming.
During 2015 and 2016, two poets from opposite sides of the world, Kwame Dawes and John Kinsella, exchanged poems in two cycles, Echoes and Refrains and Illuminations, that were in constant dialogue even as they remained defined and shaped by the details of their own private and public lives.
Kwame Dawes’ base was the flat prairieland of Lincoln, Nebraska, a landscape in which he, a black man, originally from Ghana and Jamaica, felt at once alien and deeply committed to the challenges of finding “home”. John Kinsella’s base was in the violently beautiful landscape of Western Australia, his home ground, thick with memory and the challenge of ecological threat and political ineptitude. In the first cycle, Echoes and Refrains, the poets sought and found a language for this conversation of various modes and moods. They were linked by the political and social upheavals in their respective spheres – Dawes contemplating the waves of violence consuming the US and the world, and Kinsella confronting the injustice of the theft of indigenous land and the terrible treatment of refugees and immigrants. These poems chart an unpredictable journey towards friendship. They reflect commonalities – love of family, cricket, art, politics, music, and travel – and in poem after poem one senses how each is hungry to hear from the other and to then treat the revelations that arrive as triggers for his own lyric introspection – risky, complex, formally considered and beautiful. They stretch one another, and provoke to a poetic honesty that comes with authority and assurance. In the second cycle of poems, Illuminations, locations shift but the concerns remain and are considered in different lights. Speak from Here to There reminds us of how poetry can offer comfort and solace, and how it can ignite the peculiar creative frenzy that enriches us.
In Wheels, Kwame Dawes brings the lyric poem face to face with the politics, natural disasters, social upheavals and ideological complexity of the world in the first part of this century. Somewhere between prophecy and meditation, this major and extensive new collection of Kwame Dawes’ work illuminates our confusing world.