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Prophets

Written by Chris Searle for Morning Star on no date provided

TWO huge Third World cities are the protagonists of these two oustanding works: Kingston, Jamaica and Lagos, Nigeria - ‘great learning places’ for the mass of humanity which lives and struggles within them.

Kwame Dawes is a Ghanaian who grew up in Jamaica. In ‘the battered coast of Kingston’s slums’, he sets his narrative poem Prophets, focusing upon the lives of two individuals who find their callings in the ‘debris of sin’ around them. ‘This land spawns its prophets in plenty, their ministry brilliant in the squalor.’ In his 150-page poem of three-line stanzas, Dawes skilfully creates an atmosphere redolent of oppression and decay, invoking a fusion of history and the present in the battery of his images: ‘In the air the stale renk/ of spilt Red Stripe, curdling vomit, ganja and/ sweat is thick as in the drifting carcass of an old slaver.’ It is a ‘cursed city’, a regrown Nineveh where the ‘indiscriminate gun’ and the ‘wheeling machete’ rule and those burning to leave will swap a ‘visa for a soul.’

Dawes’s descriptive power is formidable, and he contrasts the frenzied but vapid messages of the new evangelistic slavery with the ‘American twang’ which accompanies the ‘symphony of gunshots from the tenement’, with the call of the people’s song, the call of Marley’s voice and lyrics, giving a ‘pure light and hope’ from the overwhelming morass of Jamaican urban life. A true and integral voice of Africa in the Caribbean is Kwame Dawes, a reuniting of divided worlds bringing new meanings and symbols to a modern middle passage.

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