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Jean Binta Breeze and Linton Kwesi Johnson Shower Poetry on Montego Bay

Linton Kwesi Johnson and Jean Binta Breeze

The sound of airplanes taxing as they landed and took off filled the Montego Bay evening, but it was poetry hat was to take flight. The Western Jamaica Campus of the University of the West Indies, Mona was momentarily transformed to a poetic oasis with performances from the inimitable Linton Kwesi Johnson and Jean Binta Breeze.

The evening was the fourth installation of the Poet Laureate presents, which has been circulating the island with poetic duets for the past few months. Other poets who have performed in the series include Professor Edward Baugh, Tanya Shirley who opened the series with performances in Portland.

Winsome Hudson, National Librarian at the National Library of Jamaica, which is responsible for the Poet Laureate’s programme falls, explained that the series was a part of the library’s heritage preservation mandate. Hudson, laughingly threw down the gauntlet explaining that the NLJ intends to be as easily recognizable a name as the Jamaica Library Service.

In his brief introduction to the proceedings, Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris pointed out that the events had been arranged through a happy accident. 

Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris“It was arranged by serendipity really,” Prof. Morris said, going on to describe Breeze and Johnson as “two of Jamaica’s finest poets”. He explained that Johnson, who lives in the United Kingdom was in St. James visiting his mother and had agreed to deliver a performance before he left this island to return to the colder one he now calls home. His visit coincided with the fact that Breeze, who has also lived in the UK for many years is currently based in Hanover. 

It was a happy accident that the eager audience was happy to exploit.

Breeze was the first to the podium and delivered a suite of her most popular works from her most recent publication Third World Girl, which is a selected works containing pieces that spanned her career. Jean Binta Breeze reads from Third World Girl

Breeze explained that she would read from the title poem of each of her previous collections, which were all included in Third World Girl.

She opened with ‘Riddim Ravings’ her seminal poem which outlines madness as a respite from the cruelty of the modern world. She also read the haunting ‘Ordinary Morning’ which is also from the Riddim Ravings collection, as well as the pieces ‘Spring Cleaning’, ‘The Arrival of Bright-Eye’ and culminated with ‘Third World Girl’. 

Linton Kwesi Johnson reads from his selected poemsJohnson opened his set with ‘Five Nights of Bleeding’ which interestingly meant that both he and Breeze opened with works dealing with madness, though from divergent directions. He explained that ‘Five Nights of Bleeding’ was the poem which first had people referring to him as a poet. 

It was also the poem that marked his meeting Prof Morris whom he said gave him advice that helped determine his direction and development as a poet. Interestingly, in many ways, Johnson’s delivery had rubbed out the dub from the poems, but they were left no less potent.

Johnson also read from ‘Sonny’s Letter’, ‘The Great Insurrection’, ‘Tings and Times’ as well as two elegies ‘Reggae Fi Dadda’ and ‘Reggae Fi Bernard’. He culminated with ‘Hurricane Blues’ which he admitted is not the kind of poem for which he is known, bringing the evening to a satisfying close.