Written by Idowu Omoyele for Calabash on

Kwame Dawes’ Requiem and Jacko Jacobus reveal a fresh talent, ready to take his place as one of the finest poets who has emerged during the 1990’s. Like his two great compatriots, Derek Walcott and Kamau Braithwaite who, undoubtedly, represent the best tradition of Caribbean poetry, Dawes is similarly committed to capturing the essence of the Caribbean islands in expressions of compelling lyricism.

In Requiem, a work whose inspiration is derived from the illustrations of American artist, Tom Feeling’s award-winning work, The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo, Dawes relies on the lyric form of the elegy to re-create the the pain of suffering of slavery, and the possibility of redemption.

Indeed, in ‘Requiem’, the title poem, a lament for the many casualties of transatlantic slavery on the one hand and a celebration of hope on the other, the poet-persona reveals that he hears ‘a blue note/of lament, sweet requiem/for the countless dead,/ skanking feet among shell,/coral, rainbow adze,/webbed feet, making as if/to lift, soar, fly into new days’. In ‘Vultures’, the poet finds an apt metaphor for the beneficiaries - in the purely commercial sense - of the inhuman crime of slavery: ‘These vultures speckle a blue sky/and learn the trade routes/to the castles by the sea...’

The gloom conveyed to the reader by the threnodic import of Dawes’ imagery is remarkably tempered by a sense of hope, life, of survival, freedom: ‘We sing laments so old, so true/then straighten our backs again.’