The Sunday Poem : Kwame Dawes


Born in Ghana in 1962, poet Kwame Dawes spent most of his childhood in Jamaica. (Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths courtesy the Poetry Foundation)

Today’s Sunday Poem, “Tornado Child” by Kwame Dawes, is one of many powerful poems in Dawes’ book Wisteria, Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country. The poems in this collection are based on Dawes’ conversations with the elders of Sumter, South Carolina, who shared their memories of growing up in the Deep South under Jim Crow.

Dawes skillfully channels the voices of Sumter’s elderly African-American women—beauticians, seamstresses, teachers, domestic workers and farmers who lived through the 20th century. These moving accounts, retold in Dawes’ empathetic and unique, musical style, honor the resilience of these women who, until now, have largely been invisible.



Dawes, a prolific poet, playwright, novelist, actor, and musician, was born in Ghana in 1962, and grew up in Jamaica, where the “reggae aesthetic,” in particular, the music of Bob Marley, had a profound and lasting impact on the direction of his work. The musical traditions of both reggae and Negro spirituals seem particularly relevant to the poems in Wisteria. As the journal Chicken Bones says, “Dawes understands that redemption is essential, and he finds it in the pure music of his art.”

The musicality of Dawes’ poetry is best appreciated when his work is read aloud. This video of “Tornado Child,” which is part of PBS’s Poetry Everywhere series, captures Dawes at his most lyrical. Enjoy the poem and your Sunday!






About Kwame Dawes

Born in Ghana in 1962, Kwame Dawes spent most of his childhood and early adult life in Jamaica. As a poet, he is profoundly influenced by the rhythms and textures of that lush place, citing in a recent interview his “spiritual, intellectual, and emotional engagement with reggae music.” His book Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius remains the most authoritative study of the lyrics of Bob Marley.

His 11th collection of verse, Wisteria: Poems From the Swamp Country, was published in January 2006. In February, 2007 Akashic Books published his novel, She’s Gone and Peepal Tree Books published his 12th collection of poetry, Impossible Flying, and his non-fiction work, A Far Cry From Plymouth Rock: A Personal Narrative.

In October, 2007, his thirteenth book of poems, Gomer’s Song appeared on the Black Goat imprint of Akashic Books. His most recent poetry collection is Wheels.

Dawes has seen produced some twenty of his plays over the past twenty-five years including, most recently a production of his musical, One Love, at the Lyric Hammersmith in London .

His essays have appeared in numerous journals including Bomb Magazine, The London Review of Books, Granta, Essence, World Literature Today and Double Take Magazine.

Kwame Dawes is the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner, a Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and a faculty member of the Pacific MFA program and of Cave Canem. He is also the programming director of the Calabash International Literary Festival, which takes place in Jamaica in May of each year.

For more information about Kwame Dawes, please visit his website.

Don’t miss the next Gwarlingo feature. Click here to subscribe to Gwarlingo. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

This video is part of the Poetry Everywhere project airing on PBS. Produced by David Grubin Productions and WGBH Boston, in association with the Poetry Foundation. Filmed at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival on location at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. “Tornado Child” © Kwame Dawes. To read a print version of “Tornado Child,” visit the Poetry Foundation website.

By | 2016-11-11T21:52:58+00:00 03.24.12|Greatest Hits, The Sunday Poem, Words|Comments Off on The Sunday Poem : Kwame Dawes

About the Author:

I'm a writer, photographer, and the creator of Gwarlingo, a crowd-funded arts & culture journal that covers contemporary art, music, books, film, and the creative process. I’ve spent nearly 20 years as an arts enabler, helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I’ve also done time at an arts magazine, a library, and an art museum in Atlanta. For two years I cared for injured eagles, hawks, and owls at a raptor rehabilitation center in Vermont. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, consulting, and creative projects full-time. (You can check out my recent projects here.) I’ve appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, served as the judge for A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Literary Prize, and received fellowships from the Hambidge Center and Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. My writing and photography have appeared in RISD XYZ magazine, 2Paragraphs, Psychology Today, Born Journal, and other publications. I offer one-on-one coaching sessions, group workshops, and speak to businesses, arts groups, and students about overcoming the psychological and practical barriers to producing your best work. (Read more here .) If you'd like to work with me one-on-one or hire me to speak at your school, business, or organization, please contact me at michelle (at) gwarlingo (dot) com. -