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Bruised Totems: Poems Based on the Bareiss Family Collection of African Art

Kwame Dawes

As co-sponsors of the 2004 African Literature Association’s 30th annual conference, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries published a chapbook of African poetry.

Kwame Dawes’ Bruised Totems, an original poetry chapbook from the Parallel Press, an imprint of the UW-Madison Libraries, combines images of African artwork with the poet’s interpretation of each object. Totems and masks provide much of the inspiration for Dawes’ poetry, which discusses themes of roots and origins, maternity and femininity, and the preservation of culture and artwork.

Part of the Bareiss Family Collection of African Art, the source for the images in the Dawes book, is on loan at the Elvehjem Museum of Art.

Dawes, a native of Ghana who attended college in Jamaica, is an English professor at the University of South Carolina and heads the master of fine arts program in USC’s English department. Dawes, a Pushcart Prize winner, has written numerous plays, nonfiction and fiction books, and poetry collections with Caribbean and reggae themes.

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Excerpt from Bruised Totems

Gallery Art

Ripped from the rooted trunk,
your body stands, staunch,
in perpetual pout.

Oh sister, your knob navel
is a rough screw in your skin.

I come to witness the coy
of your body, now cleaned up
in the open gallery guarded
by a curator who warns
that my breath on you
may cause you to crumble,
your parts to fall away.

Oh sister, we are a long way
from home, you and I.