Kwame Dawes: We Need the Poets Right Now More Than Ever
From the Quarantine Tapes Podcast with Paul Holdengraber
Hosted by Paul Holdengräber, The Quarantine Tapes chronicles shifting paradigms in the age of social distancing. Each day, Paul calls a guest for a brief discussion about how they are experiencing the global pandemic.
Paul Holdengräber is joined by author and educator Kwame Dawes on episode 037 of The Quarantine Tapes. They discuss the purpose of poetry and what it means to bear witness to life.
From the Interview:
Paul Holdengraber: People have said to me that maybe we are living now in what might be thought of as a philosophical moment, or to quote the great line of Zora Neale Hurston. She says there are years that ask questions and years that answer. We might be in one of those moments, and I’m wondering what do you think about what I just said? And also, perhaps we are too quick now in ascribing meaning to this moment and too quick in trying to find a reason or rationale for this moment.
Kwame Dawes: I think her idea is a lovely idea, although I think the world is so complex that I don’t think we can say there’s an era where there are questions. I think we can say that there are moments in each of our lives in which we are living and finding answers to questions and years when we are asking questions, I think human life is filled with that.
This moment has saddled us with a tremendous amount of questions, but it’s also a moment in which we are living, and people are having a lot to say about things in a very public way. It’s almost a ubiquitous presence because of Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. Everybody has something to say, and everybody is sort of jockeying to have a thing to say about this moment. I’m skeptical about this, but not in any sort of peculiar way. I think one of the great values of life is if we live long enough, we have moments of engagement, moments of urgency, and then moments of reflection. I think we must embrace them as they come along.
There’s an urgency now in this moment. There are real crises of what is happening and crises that begs the question, what are we doing about race in this country? What are we doing about the older people of this country? What is this logic of this? What can be dispensed with and what can’t be dispensed with? They are not questions of quiet reflection. I think they are questions that sometimes demands direct and urgent questioning and answering. We still have to have the poets and and those who are going to sit down and allow it to marinate so that we can ruminate and think it through so that we can find our way to some understanding.
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Kwame Dawes is the author of numerous books of poetry, fiction, criticism, and essays. He is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and teaches at the University of Nebraska and the Pacific MFA Program. Dawes is Director of the African Poetry Book Fund and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival.