October 12, 2011

Two the Hard Way: New Titles from Peepal Tree Press

In Wheels, Kwame Dawes brings the lyric poem face to face with the politics, natural disasters, social upheavals and ideological complexity of the world in the first part of this century. The poems do not pretend to have answers, and Dawes's core interest remains the power of language to explore and discover patterns of meaning in the world around him. So whether it is a poem about a near victim of the Lockerbie terrorist attack reflecting on the nature of grace, a sonnet sequence contemplating the significance of the election of Barack Obama, an Ethiopian emperor lamenting the death of a trusted servant in the middle of the twentieth century, a Rastafarian in Ethiopia defending his faith at the turn of the twenty-first century, a Haitian reflecting on the loss of everything familiar, these are poems seeking a way to understand the world.

One sequence is framed around the imagined wheels of the prophet Ezekiel's vision, mixing in images from Garcia Marquez's novels, passages from the Book of Ezekiel and the current overwhelming bombardment of wall-to-wall news; another reflects on Ethiopia and Rastafarian faith; and a third dialogues with the postmodernist South Carolinian landscape artist, Brian Rutenberg. At the heart of the collection is a book's worth of poems written in homage to the people of Haiti following repeated visits after the earthquake of 2010. The collection ends where Dawes' poetry began: on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica.

Somewhere between prophecy and meditation, this major and extensive new collection of Kwame Dawes' work illuminates our confusing world.

Since the publication of her first collection, The Water Between Us, Shara McCallum has steadily created a rich body of poems that have mined the rich deposit of emotional and intellectual capital found in her background of multiple migrations, culturally and geographically. The poems reflect her rooting in a Jamaican experience unique for her childhood in a Rastafarian home filled with reckless idealism, the potential for profound emotional pathology, and the grounding of old folk traditions. Her work has explored what it means to emerge from such a space and enter a new world of American landscapes and values.

The Face of Water collects some of McCallum's best poems, poems that establish her as a poet of deft craft (and craftiness), whose sense of music is caught in her mastery of syntax and her ear for the graceful line. She manages to enact the grand alchemy of the best poets--the art of transforming the most painful and sometimes mundane details of life into works of terrible and satisying beauty. The Face of Water is an excellent introduction to the poetry of Shara McCallum, a vital and exciting poet of pure elegance.

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