Kwame Dawes: Capturing the moment

By Greg Nicolson 14 October 2011

The charming Kwame Dawes didn’t go to Jamaica and Haiti to write poems about HIV, but it’s hard to stop the author of over 30 books. By GREG NICOLSON

The Ghanaian-born writer interviewed over 70 people on all dimensions of the virus to write articles and blogs. “But as a poet I cannot not see things. Images get locked up in my brain and I have to find a way to work through those emotionally,” said the author. To this day, his most moving experience came when he showed those irrepressible poems to a group of journalists. Dawes showed his work in a training room in sun-swept Port-au-Prince and the locals were brought to tears by his interpretation of their hardship.

The work won an Emmy for its innovative delivery. “We were taking that confluence of art, of photography, of poetry and of music and putting it in the public sphere as a kind of journalistic articulation. And it was trying to say that while journalism can tell a part of the story, there’s another part of the story that journalism is not able to reach and poetry is far better able to reach that. We had the opportunity to do that because of the web,” said Dawes. “There’re some truths I cannot tell in poetry, or facts that I can’t express in poetry but there are things I can do in a poem that an article can’t do.”

This was apparent when Dawes read to a Johannesburg audience, “Your smile is like the first hit of a chronic addiction.” But what is truth? “That’s a tough one,” paused the poet. “I think truth is being able to capture that emotional moment in a way that allows it to resonate with somebody else. You find truth when somebody says to you, ‘I understand. I get it. I am moved by this.’” DM

Kwame Dawes will be performing with Poetry Africa in Cape Town and Durban.

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