This video segment from Poetry Everywhere features the poet Kwame Dawes reading his poem “Tornado Child” at the Dodge Poetry Festival. This poem is from a book by Dawes called Wisteria, Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country, that is based on the lives and memories of elderly black people living in Sumter, South Carolina. “Tornado Child” is an example of the poems in this book that “unfold with the raw honesty of people who have waited for a long time to finally speak their mind.”
For a biography of the poet Kwame Dawes please visit the Poetry Foundation Web site.
The woman speaking in “Tornado Child” is like a force of nature—we see a young person moving forcefully through life and exposing everyone she meets to the strength of her emotions. She is an overpowering figure, yet she has her vulnerabilities: she “tremble[s] at the elements.” She revels in her hair, “by the crazy of our hair;/couldn't tame it if we tried.” The tornado could come from either inside her or be caused by outside forces. All in all, the narrator seems a victim of her birth, singled out to be a tornado child, as much as she celebrates her powerful nature.
Dawes’ poem at once celebrates the power and life of a tornado child, while revealing the price it exacts from those around her, and even from the tornado child herself. But if you are a tornado child, there is no option to do or to be anything else; you must “hurtle into the vacuum,” but at least you will have your “many songs.”
Read a biography of the poet Kwame Dawes at the Poetry Foundation Web site.
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