In these ‘shrines of remembrance’ for the millions of the victims of transatlantic slavery, Kwame Dawes constructs a sequence which laments, rages, mourns, but also celebrates survival. Focusing on individual moments in this holocaust which lasted nearly four hundred years, these poems both cauterize a lingering infection and offer the oil of healing. In these taut lyric pieces, Dawes achieves what might seem impossible: saying something fresh about a subject which, despite attempts at historical amnesia, will not go away. He does it by eschewing sentimentality, rant or playing to the audience, black or white. His poems go to the heart of the historical experience and its contemporary reverberations.
This sequence was inspired by the award-winning book, The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo by the American artist Tom Feelings.
“The gloom conveyed to the reader by the the anodic 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.'” Owu Omoyele,