Poet focuses on human experience, response to art

Kwame Dawes

Passionae Nelson saw a reflection of her Jamaican roots in Kwame Dawes' poems.

As he read, the words created pictures in her mind.

"I'm Jamaican, so I can relate to everything," Nelson, 19, said. "Everything he said was true."

The University of Houston-Victoria student was among the full house at the Alcorn Auditorium, watching Dawes's presentation Thursday.

Dawes, a poet and professor of English at the University of Nebraska, was the 100th speaker in the university's American Book Review Reading Series.

His poetry can be described as tender-hearted, said Nadya Pittendrigh, director of composition and assistant professor of English, during the speaker's introduction.

Dawes is doing human work of listening to need and vulnerability, she said.

"Humans witnessing other humans: poetry that increases kindness," Pittendrigh said.

Dawes has published 21 books of poetry as well as several essays and books of fiction and nonfiction.

He read several poems, including poetry from his work "City of Bones: A Testament," his most recent collection of poems.

The poems are a conversation with August Wilson, the American playwright, he said.

He said he is fascinated by Wilson's plays because they depict the essence of the American experience with race issues.

"You heard what could sound like my life, but you don't know and are not sure," Dawes said during the reading. "It could be me or one of Wilson's characters."

Dawes writes his poetry in response to art, he said.

He does the same types of responses to music and fiction, Dawes said.

"I buy art books with lots of white space, and I write drafts of poems in those art books," he said. "The image is there; you just describe it. "It's just vocabulary at that point."

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Education reporter

Gabriella Canales graduated from the University of Houston-Victoria with a B.A. in English in 2016. Feel free to contact her with ideas because she is eager to tell stories.

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