Born in Ghana in 1962, Kwame Dawes moved to Jamaica in 1971 and spent most of his childhood and early adult life there. As well as poetry, he is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and plays; he also practices as an actor and musician. His poetry is profoundly influenced by his “spiritual, intellectual, and emotional engagement with reggae music”, and he has collaborated with musicians and artists to create a dynamic series of performances based on his poetry. His book Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius book remains the most authoritative study of the lyrics of Bob Marley.

Dawes studied and taught in New Brunswick, Canada on a Commonwealth Scholarship, and as a PhD student he was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Brunswickan. From 1992-2012 he taught at the University of South Carolina; he is currently Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, and with Glenna Luschei editor-in-chief at the Prairie Schooner. Dawes is also a faculty member of Pacific University’s MFA Program. He is co-founder and programming director of the biennial Calabash International Literary Festival, which takes place in Jamaica. A regular contributor for the Poetry Foundation, his blogs can be read at

He is the author of seventeen collections of poetry. The most recent titles include Duppy Conqueror (Copper Canyon, 2013); Wheels (2011); Back of Mount Peace (2009); Hope’s Hospice (2009); Impossible Flying (2007), and Gomer’s Song (2007). Progeny of Air (1994) was the winner of the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. In 2001, Dawes was a winner of a Pushcart Prize for his long poem, ‘Inheritance’. He is the editor of many anthologies, including Wheel and Come Again: An Anthology of Reggae Poems, and Red: Contemporary Black Poetry, and he is also the Associate Poetry Editor of Peepal Tree Books, where he edits their impressive Caribbean Poetry list. Dawes received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012.

In 2009, Dawes won an Emmy Award in the category of New Approaches to News and Documentary Programming – his project documented HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, interspersed with his poetry, photography by Andre Lambertson, and music by Kevin Simmonds. The website is the culmination of this project.

In these recordings made specially for the Poetry Archive, Dawes’ command of a range of tones and styles of delivery is demonstrated – from the powerful social commentary of ‘Yap’, a brutal account of homophobic violence made all the more disconcerting from the voice’s impersonal reportage, to the melodious, rhythmical lament of ‘Trickster’, where the explorations of language become a path, ‘a way to tell how I would be met on the road.’ ‘Sketch’ is a tender portrait of illness that draws on and then questions the power of words to heal and console, revealing the impermanence of a wish, however keenly felt, to ‘clean a grey line where your brows were…these markings of what you have suffered’. ‘Wheels’, meanwhile, alertly and humorously catalogues the doubts of a ‘gangly televangelist’, and ‘Rituals Before the Poem’ gently satirises the reverence around poetry’s typical subjects, striking a tone of playful instruction – paralleled in Dawes’ ‘Memos to poets’ (viewable on his website): over 100 short pieces originally broadcast on Twitter, that include everything from acidic witticisms on writing, to memorable, aphoristic adages that challenge and appeal to the wisdom of poetry reader or writer.

This recording was made and produced by John Green at ID Audio in London on 4 October 2012.

Poems by Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Books by Kwame Dawes



Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection)

Prize website

Individual Artist Fellowship

Prize website

Poetry Business Prize

Prize website

Hollis Summers Poetry Prize

Prize website

Pushcart Prize for Poetry (US)

Prize website

Commonwealth Writers Prize (Caribbean and Canada Region, Best First Book)

Prize website

Emmy Award in the category of New Approaches to News and Documentary Programming

Prize website

John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship

Prize website

Windham–Campbell Literature Prize in Poetry

Prize website