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Poem of the week: Akwaba by Kwame Dawes

Written by Carol Rumens for The Guardian on Monday, August 17, 2020

Akwaba, sometimes spelled with an additional “a” (Akwaaba), is a Ghanaian word from the Twi dialect meaning “welcome”. It’s the joyous title of a joyous early poem by the multi-talented and far-travelled Ghanaian-born writer Kwame Dawes, greeting a new daughter through a single word steeped in memory.

[...]

The poem resembles a miniature song cycle, each song having a shape of its own, while following an upward curve of emotion. Line seven, standing by itself at the end of the first poem-song, signals intensity when it utters the child’s name. It goes on almost to recreate the sound of new baby’s cry: “Sena! Wailing across my heart!”

[...]

The speaker is always addressing the child in the poem, and, in the first line of part three, it’s she who is “my heart’s solace” and is given this image of herself to treasure as a “picture”. The walls of the room have been opened out and stretched into time. The time is “Forever” because the poet’s religious faith allows him that concept – eternal life. The focus on vision contrasts the “blaze” of young eyes and the middle-aged “blur”. Physical loss of vision is repaired in this stanza through the power of imagination: even “lensless” eyes can see the “blaze” of the child’s. And it’s implied, I think, that the child is also looking back at the parent who looks at her. Similarly, she is his “heart’s solace” but the love declared is also solace given. The return to welcome in the poem’s last line, with the triple flourish of “Akwaba”, is splendidly simple and effective. It suggests that welcome is registered not only on the singular occasion of birth, but that it is endlessly renewed.

Kwame Dawes continues to build on his achievements. His work covers many genres besides poetry, and is driven by a spirit of creative generosity, shown in his collaborations with visual artists, musicians and other poets. His latest collection is a fresh cycle of poems co-written with the Australian poet John Kinsella, A New Beginning.

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This is a review of Progeny of Air

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