Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 4th 2014 Contents B3
MAY 4, 2014
author writes of
Jamaica-born, Britain-based Lin-
ton Kwesi Johnson is one of only
three living poets to have been pub-
lished in the Penguin Modern Clas-
sics series. He s performed with
rock legends Joe Strummer and
John Lydon (Johnny Rotten). He s
credited with helping popularise
the lyrical movement that led to
the creation of rap. His tough polit-
ical rhymes inspire poets and
activists all over the world.
In light of this, it was surprising
to hear Johnson, aka LKJ, heap high
praise on calypso icon the Mighty
"He s one of the greatest poets
the Caribbean has ever produced,"
Johnson was here to perform and
discuss his work at the NGC Bocas
Literary Festival. He s only visited
T&T twice before but seemed famil-
iar with social movements and cul-
tural figures from the country.
Before he said anything to an audi-
ence at the festival, he took time to
"big up" and extend "respect" to
individuals and organisations in T&T:
Pamberi Steel Orchestra leader
Nestor Sullivan, Renegades Steel
Orchestra, activist David Abdulah,
and author Earl Lovelace.
He gave "maximum respect" to
the Oilfields Workers Trade Union,
which brought him to T&T in the
1980s for a memorial for Grenadian
Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and
other members of his government
who were assassinated.
The first time he visited was a few
years before that, in the company
of British/Trinidadian activist Darcus
Howe. They played fancy sailor mas
with Renegades, said Johnson.
"We was standing outside Queen s
Park Savannah for about four hours,"
he recalled. "The next day all my
nose and my forehead was peeling
off. I didn t know that black people
could get sunburn like that."
Johnson, who in 2012 won the
prestigious Golden PEN Award for
"a lifetime s distinguished service to
literature," said he was influenced
by Trinidadians at critical points in
Althea Jones-Lecointe led the
British arm of the Black Panther
Movement when Johnson and other
young Caribbean people joined in
the 1960s. Howe was also a mem-
Johnson called Jones-Lecointe "the
most remarkable woman I ever met
barring my mother."
"She inspired us; she was pas-
sionate; she was articulate; she was
tough," said Johnson.
Capitalism and Slavery, by late
T&T Prime Minister Dr Eric
Williams, was among the books he
and his fellow Black Panthers stud-
ied, said Johnson. He and his cohorts
were "Jamesians," he said, who knew
"chapter and verse" of The Black
Jacobins by Trinidadian thinker CLR
Johnson had a close relationship
with James, who was Howe s great-
uncle, and helped care for him later
in his life. Johnson would "go and
get his drinks, take people upstairs
to meet him."
While in the Black Panthers, John-
son formed the Black Panther Lit-
erary Society. A Jamaican Anglican
priest advised him to visit New Bea-
con Books, a store in London run
by Trinidadian activist John La Rose.
La Rose became one of his men-
tors, Johnson said, introducing him
to Caribbean and African-American
writers who would have a big impact
"John La Rose was an erudite man
who could wax lyrical on any subject
you could mention, one of these
great what they call Renaissance
"I went to spend maybe a half
hour and buy a couple of books," he
said of first meeting La Rose. "I spent
an entire afternoon there listening
Johnson s political awakening and
the reading he did at this point in
his life led him to poetry as a way
to speak out against racial oppres-
He joined the influential Caribbean
Artist Movement, which operated
from 1966 to 1982 and was co-
founded by La Rose.
In the 70s, Johnson helped Howe
publish the political journal Race
Today, where his poems first
appeared in print.
Influenced by Jamaican DJs like
Big Youth and African-American
music-accompanied poetry like that
of the Last Poets, Johnson set his
poems, which were written in
Jamaican patois, to reggae. He s been
releasing albums since 1978. His
style, called dub poetry, is seen as
a precursor to rap.
Although he hasn t written a new
poem in more than a decade, he
occasionally has concerts based on
his old work.
"I don t have that sense of urgency
about it any more," said Johnson
about why he hasn t written new
"It doesn t bother me in the
slightest if I never write another
poem. I think I ve said what I needed
to say when I needed to say it.
"Some writers keep writing
towards the end of their life and they
begin to write inferior material," he
added. "And I don t want to write
anything which is not as good as
what has gone before."
Anthony Joseph, a British-based
Trinidadian poet who, like Johnson,
produces socially conscious poetry
set to music, interviewed the older
man before an audience at the book
festival last month. Joseph said John-
son set the stage for him and others.
"To poets in my generation, Linton
is like a big brother," said Joseph.
"He was the one that gave us per-
mission to confront the system. I
think without him we d still be a bit
From left: Uk-based poet Anthony Joseph, dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson
and writer Earl Lovelace at the recent Bocas NGC LitFest.
SAS front Linton Kwesi Johnson:
From left: T&T born UK-based poet
Anthony Joseph, interviewing
legendary Jamaican-born, UK-based
dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson at
the 2014 NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
PHOTOS COURTESY NGC BOCAS LIT
Celebrated poet discusses T&T ties
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