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Kwame Dawes: "Duppy Conqueror"

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message 1: by Betty (last edited Mar 29, 2018 10:40AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3614 comments Kwame Dawes published the poetry collection Jacko Jacobus (1996). Its title draws from the biblical story of the trickster brother Jacob (Jacko) and the vengeful one Esau (Eric), the shrewd younger one convincing the rash older one to relinquish the inheritance of a first-born son.

Selections from that published volume reappear in Duppy Conqueror. In Dawe's poems, memory and family ease harsh realities, countering the maelstrom of daily living. How can vivid memories from a distant past come into the light of present day?
How can a contentious family provide amiability?

History, as later generations know it, occupies the poem "A Way of Seeing." Jamaicans' African connections to the Caribbean island ebb and flow in remembering. The past as known in the present day may survive as random artifacts, in some way connected to the unknowable circumstances of their previous owners. Dawes cites some wool socks and a calabash bowl, inventing a context in which to place them as they possibly relate to the people once possessing them.

In "Emigrant," Jacko Jacobus leaves the land of his birth, as he does so in the biblical story, but here voyaging from the Caribbean to the peach farms of South Carolina, relinquishing possessions and faith as talk of easy money in the new land gets his attention.

Trickery again becomes the subject of the poems "Trickster I" through "Trickster IV."
I. Kingston's mayhem and the exotic global cities prove disturbing. Marcus Garvey speaks about a pan-African movement like "The Nile" itself inundating the land and renewing its life-bringing fertility. The new way of thinking also introduces the Rastafari movement and reggae music. Winston Rodney Dawes notes in the poem's dedication. Though the haunting memory of the first African diaspora to the Caribbean ebbs and flows, a new spiritual center arises.

II. Lee "Scratch" Perry, to whom Dawes dedicates this poem, brings 'innovation' to the Jamaican music scene.

III. "This music finds me giddy and centered, but when
morning comes, I am lost again, no love, just lost again."

IV. Dancehall then happens, bringing the inimitable songstress Sista Patra.
"Kingston Harbor" sets the scene of the reunion--Jacko, Eric, and their mother, Becky. As in the Bible, Jacko offers gifts to reconcile with Eric. Jacko faces the sea in the direction of distant ancestral shores but turns his back to it to face his brother and the uncertainty therein.

message 2: by Betty (last edited Apr 01, 2018 05:49PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3614 comments Dawes's collection Brimming, included in this volume, looks to the inspiration he draws from the abstract painter Brian Rutenberg (and 59 studio visit videos). In spite of those resources and other ones, finding specific paintings by Rutenberg meets hurdles.

The first of these poems, "Dreaming of St. Augustine," portrays rebelling slaves during the 1739 Stono Rebellion in South Carolina. Wanting back their former free lives, they address St Augustine of Hippo, who repudiated human slavery as it contradicted God's conception of creation.

"How To Pick a Hanging Tree" followed through from the Rutenberg painting "Shade" and Lewis Allan's poem-song "Strange Fruit," the latter itself germinated from Lawrence Beitler's historical photograph.

The eponymously titled poem "Brimming" takes its theme from Rutenberg's "Waccamaw #28, the latter presumably relating to Indians of the river land in the North and South Carolina woodlands.

"Graves," after one of Rutenberg's Irish paintings from experiences during the artist's Fulbright year in Ireland, limns nature's palette of light and shadow, lingering evidence of landscape reshaped by weather and society, river's depths and movement, and life-sustaining air.

"Carolina Gold" might refer to a patron's musings at an art exhibition. The artworks reclaim actualities similar to forests' rapid regrowth screening what happened there.

By contrast to the above meditation on bitter times, the next collection "Wisteria" (2006) within Duppy Conqueror, contains the poem "Tornado Child," bringing to mind childhood's unstoppable 'energy.' The YouTube of Dawes's reading it aloud I added to the videos on this site.

message 3: by James (new)

James F | 123 comments This was a great collection of poems, and as I said in my review it summed up everything we've been reading this year in this group. I'll post my review below. I can't comment on individual poems as I had to return the book to the library.

Although the World Literature group on Goodreads still has three more Caribbean authors to go, the Jamaican-born but Trinidad-raised Nalo Hopkinson, the Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat, and the Dominica-born Jean Rhys, this is the last book which is strictly Jamaican, and appropriately enough, because it summarizes all the themes from the other authors which we have been reading for the last year: Jamaican history, the poverty and violence of current Jamaica, the conditions of Jamaican women, the positive and negative effects of religion, and the experience of emigration. The poems, though personal, are nearly all accessible; I couldn't help comparing him to the other great Caribbean poet, Aimé Césaire.

Duppy Conqueror is a sort of anthology of anthologies, containing selections from each of the author's previous fifteen poetry anthologies, as well as a generous selection of new poems. Although I am not a great reader of modern poetry, this is one of the books that will stick in my mind.

message 4: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3614 comments James wrote: "...selections from each of the author's previous fifteen poetry anthologies, as well as a generous selection of new poems...."

Dawes experiments in so many directions. When I look further into some of the poetry books partly republished in "Duppy Conqueror," I am fascinated with the meaningfulness from culture, history, etc., which becomes the rationale of a single poem, or a sequence of poems, and which might not immediately be evident.

message 5: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3614 comments In Duppy Conqueror, Dawes includes a portion from one of his earlier poetry books, "Back of Mount Peace." Peepal Tree Press summarizes the plot of that sequence of poems. It seems unconventional for a poetry collection, such as Back of Mount Peace to convey both a 'novelistic' and poetic intention from the beginning to the conclusion. Duppy Conqueror reprints some of the poems, but the gaps don't seem to diminish the satisfying 'love story.'

The excerpts begin with "Found" and "The Habits of Love," which describe the widower Monty's discovering the unusual girl. Naming her Esther since she's lost any memory of her identity, he concludes from the 'evidence' on her skin (light where a ring had been, childbearing scars, etc.), and in her manner of eating fish, etc., about her former life.

The Jamaican setting fluctuates from the 'open sheet of sea' to 'a chilly mountain road' as their association undulates, moves along, and changes. In "Seer," the sparse lines portray the consciousness of another's psychological insight, that poem printed here. In "Redux," their initial encounter happens again. This time her memory comes around. Lastly, a poem of five parts, titled "Esther's Nightmares," completes the sample from "Back of Mount Peace." In it, parts one through four limn an accurate or dreamy backstory, it being hard to distinguish, of a family car accident in which Esther dreams of drowning through foul play. Next, Esther's dreams see her daughter as alive. The fifth suggests an additional development -- Esther's helplessness in dying of cancer as it became 'too much' to bear:
"when the pain will be too much; the body prefers
forgetting and flight. A woman runs from the rotting
heart of her home, the room where she is waiting

for the cancer to begin to reek [...]"
In Guernica Magazine, Dawes states that Back of Mount Peace originated from his 'vivid' dream. He used 'sonnet form' or 'invented' a form and that the absence of memory then its resurrection could affect the love story's outcome.

message 6: by James (new)

James F | 123 comments Kwame Dawes and Kei Miller were just elected Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature in June.

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