Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dub be good poetry.


Back in the early 1990’s I worked in a small town called St Georgen, in Southern Germany, and whilst working there I met this bloke called Dave, who became a really good mate. Mainly I believe because we were both single & had no reason to go home regularly so we used to go out on the town together & soon became friendly with the locals, attending their parties and becoming a part of their world. The other reason was that we had a shared love of reggae music, Dave who was nicknamed KitKat, because of four fingers on one hand, was the biggest fan of that genre of music that I had ever met; he adored it in all its forms - from lover’s rock to the most spaced out dub you could imagine, and was never happier than when it was sound tracking some part of his day, preferably some Gregory Isaacs or Barrington Levy forming some part of his courtship ritual as he danced with some girl he’d recently met. Although I also liked these artists, where KitKat and I really agreed (the rest being open to debate) was over the dub poets, people like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Michael Smith, Macka B and Benjamin Zephaniah. When one of us went home, we’d bring back our latest finds and annoy all whilst we played, analysed and just rocked out to the latest sound. It was only later that I realised that this was not just a musical format, but artists such as Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephaniah were “bona fide poets”, meaning that they published poetry in books!! Yeah I know! But back then I was under the perception that to be a successful poet, you had to be sandwiched between two chunks of cardboard, it was the like of artists such as these that taught me that it was the message that was important, not in what format it is delivered.

The Men From Jamaica Are Settling Down

From de land of wood an water
Came they to where de air waz cold,
They come to work wid bricks an mortar
They heard de streets were paved wid gold,
From de land of fish an ackee
To de land of fish an chips came they,
Touching on a new reality
Where de sky wz white an grey.

Came they to here wid countless dreams
Came they to here wid countless fears,
In dis drama of many themes
Each one of dem were pioneers,
Eacho one of dem a living witness
Each one of dem truly profound,
A newspaper said people hear dis
The men from Jamaica are settling down.

The men from Jamaica had come wid their music
The men from Jamaica had come wid their vibe
The men from Jamaica had come wid their prophets
To help keep their past an their future alive,
So to de great future they went dedicated
De great mother country waz begging for more,
De prophets had warned it may get complicated
They said dat there waz no equality law.

There waz no ackee an there waz no salt fish
There waz no star apple an no callaoo,
Soon there waz no time to dream, wonder or wish
There waz so much community building to do,
An back in Jamaica they waited for letters
Where there were no letters, rumours were abound,
But de newspaper said it was going to get better
The men from Jamaica are settling down.

They went to the foundries, they went to de factories
They went to de cities these true country folk.
An when they got down to de true nitty gritty
These true country lungs were soon covered wid smoke,
Some dreamt of Jamaica, some dreamt of their wives
Some dreamt of returning to bring something home,
Some prayed to de God, an they asked de God why
The men from Jamaica should struggle alone.

De struggle waz human, de struggle waz being
De struggle waz charting unchartered territory,
De struggle waz opening up an then seeing
De struggle ahead for de community,
De struggle waz knowing de here an de now
An what kind of struggles were now to be found,
Still nobody knew just exactly how
The men from Jamaica were settling down.

Officially four hundred an ninety two came
On June twenty one nineteen forty eight,
But officials were playing a false numbers game
Now it's up to de people to put records straight,
We now know there were more than eight stowaways
An now we know women amongst dem were found,
Still a newspaper said after just a few days
That the men from Jamaica were settling down.

We know that there were other lands represented
An de women survived just as well as de men,
An we know that our history will be re-invented
If we do not write truthfully wid de Black pen,
Consider de struggles that took place before us
Tune into de bygone an try to relate
To the brave folk that came on de Empire Windrush
On June twenty one nineteen forty-eight.

Soon there were more ships, an more ships an more ships
Peopled wid colourful Caribbean folk,
Men, women an children were making these trips
Each one of dem carrying ship loads of hope,
From all of de islands they came to dis island
De National Health Service waz so welcoming
An de movietone voice said that things were quite grand
As the men from Jamaica were settling in.

Dis waz de new world, dis waz de white world,
Dis waz de world they had been fighting for,
Dis they were told waz de righteous an free world
Dis waz de reason they had gone to war,
Dis waz de land of de hope an de glory
Dis waz de land of pleasant pastures green,
Dis waz de royal land, dis waz democracy
Where many Jamaicans were proud to be seen.

But it did not take long for de racists and fascists
To show ugly heads as de wicked will do,
Quite soon de arrivants had learnt to resist
An quite soon they were dealing wid subjects taboo,
Blacks in de unions, blacks in de dances
Whites wid black neighbours an black civil rights,
The men from Jamaica were taking no chances
The men from Jamaica were not turning white.

Race riots in Notting Hill Gate said de headline
De cameras were there as de flames burnt about,
De fighters for race were establishing front lines
As de great British welcome just seemed to fall out,
Race riots in Nottingham City an Bristol
Race riots in Cardiff an sweet Camden Town,
De newspapers said it was dreadful and shameful
But the men from Jamaica were settling down.

The men from Jamaica would not die in silence
The men from Jamaica just got radical,
To counter de negative Teddy Boy violence
They created blues dances an carnival,
The men from Jamaica were steadfast and growing
Despite commonwealth immigration controls,
They learnt a few lessons an soon they were knowing
That there were no streets paved wid silver or gold.

A new generation rose up from these fighters
A new generation wid roots everywhere,
A new generation of buildings an writers
A new generation wid built in No Fear,
They too fought de Nazis, they too put out fires
They too want to broaden their vision an scope,
They too need fresh water for burning desires
The men from Jamaica are so full of hope.

De future is not made of ships anymore
De future is made up of what we can do,
We still haven't got all that freedom galore
An there's all those ambitions that we muss pursue,
De past is a place that is ours for all time
There are many discoveries there to be made,
An if you are happily towing de line
Be aware of de price your ancestors have paid.

Black pioneers came on de Empire Windrush
On June twenty one nineteen forty eight,
These souls were titanic, these minds were adventurous
They came from the sunshine to participate,
They are de leaders, they are de home makers
They have been upfront since their ship came aground,
But in-between lines you'll still read in de papers
The men from Jamaica are settling down.


This poem comes from a collection of poetry called “Too Black Too Strong” from Benjamin Zephaniah, which was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2001 and features poems written whilst he was the resident poet at Tooks Barrister’s chambers. This was an idea sponsored by The  Poetry Society and although it was officially sponsored to run for forty eight days, Benjamin Zephaniah became so involved with the idea that he followed, questioned and generally made use of their knowledge for about a year, the poetry written around this time forms the backbone of this collection.


‘The peace garden is opposite the War Memorial,’
Said the old soldier.

‘We had to fight to make peace
Back in the good old days.’

‘No the War Memorial is opposite the peace garden,’
Said the old pacifist.

‘You’ve had so many wars to end all wars,
Still millions are dying from the wars you left behind.’

‘Look,’ said the old soldier.
‘You chickens stuck your peace garden
In front of our War Memorial to cause non-violent trouble.
This War Memorial is necessary,
It reminds us that people have died for our country.’

‘Look,’ said the old pacifist,
‘In the beginning was peace
And the peace was with God
And the peace was God,
This peace garden is unnecessary but
It reminds us that people want to live for our country.’

Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah, was born 15 April 1958 in Birmingham, is an English writer, dub poet and Rastafarian. He writes that his poetry is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls "street politics". His first performance was in church when he was eleven, and by the age of fifteen, his poetry was already known among Handsworth's Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities. He received a criminal record with the police as a young man and served a prison sentence for burglary.

Tired of the limitations of being a black poet communicating with black people only, he decided to expand his audience, and headed to London at the age of twenty-two.


He has won the BBC Young Playwright's Award and been awarded honorary doctorates by the University of North London (1998), the University of Central England (1999), Staffordshire University(2001), London South Bank University (2003), the University of Exeter and the University of Westminster (2006). On 17 July 2008 Zephaniah received an honorary doctorate from the University of Birmingham. He was listed at 48 in The Times' list of 50 greatest post-war writers in 2008.


Brian Joseph said...

I was actually thinking the other day that the work of some musicians certainly deserves the accolades that we give to more conventional poets. Of course artists like Patti Smith and Bob Dylan are accepted as having transcended their art - form.

Thanks for posting this verse, I really like it. I am also very partial to Reggae.

Tom Cunliffe said...

Hi Parrish, You really keep your readers informed about trends and genres in poetry. Alas I seem to lack the "reflection time" which would enable me to really appreciate it.

Please forgive my neglect of your blog in recent months. I've been doing other things this year but hope to return to book reviewing next year. In the meantime I wish you a very happy Christmas.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi, Brian although these poets are also musicians, it was a means of getting their words out there, beyond their immediate locale. another example would be John Cooper Clarke, who was a performance poet, long before he got a deal to record them with musical backing.

Hi Tom, I know the feeling well, my alternate everyday existence has impacted on my blogging & commenting this year, my promotion has meant that I have less time for this blog & I also have a diploma in Leadership & management in health & social care, squeezing what little time I still have.
Thanks for the Christmas wishes & hope yours is a wonderful time.