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Progeny of Air

Written by Bill Broady for Brag on no date provided

In winning this year’s prestigious Forward Poetry prize for first collections, Kwame Dawes’ Progeny Of Air should bring deserved wider exposure to Leeds-based press Peepal Tree’s list of contemporary Caribbean writing. A loose verse autobiography in four remarkably distilled sections, it confidently reaches for the poet’s grail - subtle and complex effects achieved by simple and accessible language.

In the first two sections, ‘Singing Stories’ and ‘Hall of Fame’, Dawes is drawn back to his Jamaican schooldays, an induction into vestigial and colonialism’s hierarchy of humiliation. Forced by bullies to sing in the opening poem, he - painfully and slowly, innocence exchanged for fear and guilt - sings his way out of the labyrinth. His teachers and contemporaries are portrayed as grotesques, pitiable and pitied but still dangerously present.

The three longer poems of ‘Cabinet Of Beggars’ are the most brilliant but paradoxically the most uncertain, as Dawes, kicking against repression, weighs up the outlaw freedoms of reggae and the Kingston posses. The final section, though, is perfectly achieved. Meditations on love, birth and death in Canada and North Carolina stand in parenthesis between the two ‘Salmon’ poems, ‘Progeny
of Air’ and ‘Grace’, where, in the leap for freedom of the entrapped salmon, slave or human spirit, Dawes asserts himself as man and artist and finally, with grace achieved and grace said, sits down to begin life’s tragic feast. ‘Progeny Of Air’ reads like the opening communications from a writer of major significance.

This is a review of Progeny of Air

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