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Kwame Dawes' Prophets: A Reader's Guide

Jeremy Poynting's illuminating and entertaining introduction and comprehensive notes offers a user friendly guide to Kwame Dawes's Jamaican poetic masterpiece, Prophets.


Jeremy Poynting
Literary Criticism
Date published
8 Nov 2018

This guide is written from the conviction that Prophets is a major work of Caribbean poetry, and that whilst it can be read with enjoyment without the aid of a book of this kind, it is a work so rich in local reference and allusion that a little help can enhance the reader’s understanding and pleasure. The introduction discusses Prophets in its social and political setting of 1980s Jamaica, the significance of the poem’s social geography; and perhaps most necessarily, it elucidates the poem’s religious context, in particular, how it relates to both Biblical and Jamaican notions of prophecy and to the theology of the emergent charismatic churches. It discusses Prophets’ relationship to the key texts that influenced it, or against which it was written, including Derek Walcott’s Omeros, Sylvia Wynter’s The Hills of Hebron and the early novels of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. The introduction concludes by discussing Prophets’ formal excellencies as a poem, and the themes and tropes that make it an important work in the postcolonial cannon. The introduction also discusses the important role that allusion plays in the poem and its conscious riskiness as a communicative device.

The second section of chapter summaries and annotations provides a line by line guide to the poem. This includes notes to its very specific references to the social and cultural manifestations of 1980s Jamaica, identification of places mentioned in the poem, but above all there are notes to the poems’ many allusions: to the Bible, but also to other works of literature and to the reggae lyrics that form a bridge between the Bible, the prophetic and Jamaican popular culture.

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Jeremy Poynting

Jeremy Poynting is Peepal Tree’s founder and managing editor. He first developed an interest in Caribbean writing as a student fifty years ago. He holds a PhD from the University of Leeds, an honorary DLitt from the University of the West Indies (Mona). In 2018 he was elected as an Honorary RSL Fellow by the Royal Society of Literature.

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