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
ISBN number
Literary Criticism
Country setting
Publication date
08 Nov 2018

“A remarkable resurrection of a major work of Caribbean literature.” 
– Jonathan Galassi, President and Publisher of Farrar, Straus, Giroux

Prophets is a major work of Caribbean poetry and this guide is written from the conviction that whilst it can be read with pleasure without the aid of a book of this kind, the poem is so rich in local reference and biblical and literary allusion that a little help can enhance the reader’s understanding and enjoyment. The first part of the guide, a critical commentary, discusses Prophets in terms of Dawes’ biography and engagement with issues of gender; the poem’s social and political setting in 1980’s Jamaica, including the significance of its social geography. Perhaps most necessarily, the guide elucidates the poem’s relationship to the rich history of prophetic figures in Jamaica and the theology of the emergent charismatic churches. Here, Prophets is seen as confronting African-European fissures in Jamaican culture. The commentary also discusses the poem’s 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 work of Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Ntozake Shange. It concludes by discussing Prophets’ formal excellencies as a poem, the important and often risky role that allusion plays, and the themes and tropes, including madness, that make it an important work in the postcolonial canon. 

The second part of the guide provides line by line annotations to the poem, above all to its 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.

“The reissue of Kwame Dawes’ Prophets, accompanied by Jeremy Poynting's reader's guide, is a remarkable resurrection of a major work of Caribbean literature. Dawes’s poem takes on history, faith, sex, and poetry itself, in lyrical, sometimes contentious dialogue with the voices that have helped frame the poet’s sense of the world and his place in it. An exhilarating and expansive work of art.” – Jonathan Galassi, President and Publisher of Farrar, Straus, Giroux.


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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