TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- LINTON KWESI JOHNSON!!!!

Hello everyone! Today’s blog post is all about the Jamaican-British, Reggae-poet genius of the one and only LINTON KWESI JOHNSON, dub and rhyme master of the verse!!!!! 

Before reading his poetry, I knew Johnson was the only living poet to have the honour of their work being published by Penguin Classics, normally reserved for deceased writers of greatness only. So he is a pretty big fucking deal to be a LITERAL living classic. To give a brief summary of him before I talk more about his poetry: Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in Jamaica, but moved to Tulse Hill to join his mother again in 1963. He was involved in the British Black Panthers during the the 70s and 80s, and now has poetry accolades and awards coming out of his ears! His engagement with combining music and poetry has led to the creation of an almost spoken-word reggae poetics on music albums, and is majorly interesting! If you don’t like reading poetry, just listen to his songs instead!

His poetry deals with the visceral ups and downs of life for Caribbean immigrants in London, the potentials for joy and violence in the instability of transitioning from one life to another in a hostile country. They celebrate brotherhood and youth culture, exploring the city and new language forming from the mixing of Creole and patois with standard English. A big fuck you to colonial logic, separatism and binaries, and the hierarchies of language alongside race. The poems spit in the face of authority: Johnson writes of police brutality with a fast paced anger, and whilst his poetry does not expand on imagery or soft lyricism, the guttural iterations of his reggae rhythms pack all the descriptive punch you need to grasp the systemic violence he sees. Sadly, its not just the police who instigate strife: Johnson also writes of the violence amongst immigrants at that time fighting with each other. It isn’t hard to work out how Johnson’s themes- immigration, law and order, racism, community and class- make his poetry timeless even today. What with Brexit, Windrush, the refugee crisis and general global disdain for immigrants and travellers of all kinds- Johnson’s poetry brings forth a marginalised displacement I am certain many still live through now, and that everybody must respect and pay witness to.   

For better or for worse- depending on your preferred style- the only way to truly appreciate the sonic mastery and rhythmic precision of these poems is to read them aloud. I know! It does seem silly to read aloud sometimes, and especially if- like myself- you are a somewhat nerdy white girl who really has no idea how to pronounce some of the words and have no intention of being a culture vulture/ putting on a blaccent. BUT I STILL INSIST! Much of the language is more phonetic anyways, so even if you cant understand what a word is on the page odds are as soon as you say it aloud the meaning will reveal itself. And once you grasp the pattern of a verse, and feel the pauses in your breath- the reggae powers do the rest. I can attest from first hand experience, as me and my lover read some of these poems together aloud, and even though we did have a bit of a laugh at each other, hearing the words spoken really is captivating. We also decided the poetry was best enjoyed the most authentic way- with a fat zoot…

These are poems not to be dithered about, and so I will stop waffling here. These poems are for crowds- to read in the park, the pub or political rally- to hear rhythm and feel emotional truths, not silently in loneliness piking metaphor apart. They are bodacious in character and precious in history, with a distinct vernacular and vocabulary that still manages to talk to us in this moment, about problems which should have been solved a long time ago… I shall leave you with an extract from a poem both Elvis and I loved: INGLAN IS A BITCH. And it truly is. England is a fucking bitch, we have to do better. XOXOXOXOXO


Inglan Is A Bitch


well mi dhu day wok an mi dhu nite work
mi dhu clean wok an mi dhu dutty wok
dem seh dat black man is very lazy
but if yu si how mi wok yu woodah seh mi crazy

Inglan is a bitch
dere’s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
yu bettah face up to it

GRUMPY OLD WOMEN

If you know me (and if you do- aren’t you blessed!?!) then you’ll know there is one occupation of mine that takes up a rather large chunk of the limited amount of sunlight we get in this United Kingdom of Shitheads: I rant. A lot. Yet, my country (England) is known for being very, painstakingly polite… whilst decimating cultures and livelihoods across the globe. As you may sense, this political cultivation of elegance and grace has not caught on in the skull of M.G.B. I do not understand why we find farting in public so horrifying (remember the doctrine- ‘wherever you may be let your winds blow free’), yet for around 400 years we found the public degradation of a whole continent perfectly respectable?Why- Lord Nelson was so polite and patriotic in his support of slavery that we have given him a fucking 50ft. column to celebrate his militaristic racism! Long live that good old sense of propriety!

We like to believe that Britishness is all cricket whites on a summer green playing tiddlywinks with Annabelle, sipping on Pims for the glory of  ‘democracy’ whilst training our beloved pet dogs to curtsy. In reality, all we have is sun-burnt football hooligans with union jack scarves tied on-top of bald patches whilst they spittle their pints all over the place, belching about THOSE FUCKING (*insert racist/ misogynistic ect… intolerant stereotyping of a group here*). Basically: England and it’s history of (white) people haven’t got a fucking clue. I know I haven’t got a fucking clue either- but at least I don’t pretend to know with a silver spoon up my bottom; and if I do sound cocky in my announcement of ignorance, so be it.

I know that ranting doesn’t change the world (let us see the Suffragette wisdom- ‘deeds not words’), but it’s at least a bloody place to start isn’t it? It strikes me that the white patriarch in his tweed can rant and rave all he wants in the golf club man-cave about whatever new minority is causing his stocks to collapse; or, on the flip side of Britishness, the tired everyman in Wetherspoons who will happily drink German beer, but when faced with the prospect of multiculturalism and difference wants a Tardis trip back to D-Day so he can once again defend our precious cliffs.

It annoys me that people rant about the wrong things, because ranting for a good purpose can be a very cathartic and inspiring action. I begin my tirades, and I see a look of quizzical glee in their eyes: ohhh haha doesn’t she get her knickers in a twist?!? Or even worse, the dead-eyes that say: you’re wasting your breath. You are a small fish in a big pond, give up and join the rest of us in our day-time TV acquiescence towards the suffering of others.

WHY ARE MEN ALLOWED TO COMPLAIN AND NOT BE TOLD THEY ARE NAGGING? WHY AM I MADE TO FEEL SO FUTILE AND POWERLESS WHEN TRYING TO DISCUSS PROBLEMS THAT NEED TO BE CHANGED? WHY IS INJUSTICE ALLOWED TO BE SILENTLY ACCEPTED BY LITERALLY EVERY FACET OF SOCIETY, BUT WHEN SOMEBODY SPEAKS UP- IT IS THEM WHO IS IN THE WRONG?!?!

However, there is one person who saturates themselves with as much verbal ammunition to rain upon the barminess of the world as myself. My grandma. Okay- whilst her specialties include the woes of road potholes and carpet stains, rather than my métier consisting of the structural oppressions and aggressions of our white, abelist, heterosexual, phallogocentric, imperial, fatphobic, nationalistic patriarchy in the west (i’m getting riled up, can you tell?). Together we are the grumpy women of breakfast. Presiding over the Guardian and bowls porridge tutting away and adding our own commentary to the morning news. We listen to each other, and I think that’s the point. Yes, the world incessantly depresses us all as we collectively melt the ice caps and let migrants die with not one government actually giving a damn; but at least being able to say so without fear of being ostracized or labelled the family communist next Christmas dinner makes it all feel a little more manageable.

I don’t wanna be the grim reaper of news when I walk into a room and depress people with my rants, but I do find apathy, or even outright poo-pooing from others is a whole lot less depressing than biting my tongue the whole time and hoping it will all go away. I just hope these words don’t stay words, but that one day they will be a part of the plan for us all to help one another a bit more; without yawning half-way through some-ones dissection of whatever thing it is they’re trying to wrestle with for the better.