Bernardine Evaristo reviews Jean “Binta” Breeze’s new book for London’s Independent.
Jamaican poet Jean “Binta” Breeze migrated to Britain in the mid-1980s and quickly earned a reputation as the godmother of the dub poetry scene here, a female counterpart to Linton Kwesi Johnson. Dub poetry first emerged in Jamaica in the 1970s as a grassroots form of protest poetry rooted in the rhythms and vernacular of reggae. Here at last was a Caribbean aesthetic that was completely its own.
This Selected Poems, accompanied by a DVD of live readings, tracks Breeze’s development from Riddym Ravings (1988) through to new, hitherto unpublished work. Although she soon expanded her repertoire beyond dub, approximately half the collection is written in patois. These poems range from the rootsy, even folksy charm of simple tings: “ah hoe mi corn/ an de backache gone/ plant mi peas/ arthritis ease” to the more strident “caribbean women”: “oh, man,/ oh, man,/ de Caribbean woman/ she doan fraid a de marchin beat/ she doan care how he timin sweet/ she doan care if she kill a man/ just doan mash up she plan”.
Breeze writes with passion and empathy about ordinary working women, assuming multiple personae, often in celebration or lamentation. Her landscape is primarily the rural Caribbean, drawing on pastoral images of mountains and rivers, valleys and rainbows. She dips into world affairs and history, especially with her most recent poems, which do not necessarily outshine her earlier oeuvre.
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