Black Poesis: Linton Kwesi Johnson (UK) on poetry and reggae

Linton Kwesi Johnson is a leading figure in British, Caribbean and World literature--and a legendary reggae artist. How do these two combine in his writing? This event will give Norwegian audiences a special opportunity to hear Linton Kwesi Johnson read his poetry and discuss his unique perspective on the relationship between music and poetry. Organized by Louisa Olufsen Layne, Literature, Rights, and Imagined Communities. Funded by Fritt Ord and Anders Jahre Foundation.

This is the first event in the new Black Poesis series organized by Louisa Olufsen Layne in the Literature, Rights and Imagined Communities research group at ILOS-Dept. of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, University of Oslo. The live conversation will be hosted by Postdoctoral Research Fellow Louisa Olufsen Layne and Associate Professor Bruce Barnhart. Funded by: Fritt Ord and Anders Jahre Stiftelsen.

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Photo: Danny Da Costa

Johnson is one of only two contemporary poets included in the Penguin Modern Classics series. He writes poetry based on spoken Jamaican English, with strong influences from reggae music. He has invented the term “bass culture” to describe how reggae, and especially its distinct bass sound, represents an aesthetics that combines musical, historical, political and poetic elements.

Johnson has been awarded the Golden Pen Award, the Musgrave Medal for distinguished eminence in the field of poetry, the Order of Distinction from Jamaica, and numerous other awards. He has recorded over 15 albums and sold more than 2 million records.

Johnson was born in 1952 in Chapelton, Jamaica and moved to London at the age of 11. Johnson joined the Black Panthers’ youth section in 1970, and helped the movement organize poetry workshops with a group of musicians and poets called Rasta Love. He also studied for a sociology degree at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he became an Honorary fellow in 2004. In 1974, Johnson joined the collective Race Today, a political magazine established in 1969 by the Institute of Race Relations. The magazine was one of the most influential organs addressing black politics in Britain in the 1970s, and Johnson later became its arts editor.

His first volume of poems, Voices of the Living and the Dead, came out with the Race Today imprint in 1974. Johnson’s second volume, Dread Beat and Blood, came out in 1975, and was released as a record in 1978. The volume was published by Bogle-L’Ouverture, a small press focused on Caribbean and Black British writers. In 1977, Johnson became the writer-in-residence for the London borough of Lambeth and was awarded the C. Day Lewis Fellowship. His third volume of poetry, Inglan is a Bitch, was published in 1980 and became his commercial break-through. Tings an’ Times: Selected Poems was released by Bloodaxe in 1991, both as a book and as a record, and Johnson has remained active in performing his work all over the world, both as a poet and as a reggae artist.

In 2002, a selection of Johnson’s poetry called Mi Revalueshanary Fren (later renamed Selected Poems) was published in the Penguin Modern Classics series.

Johnson’s reggae albums include Dread Beat an’ Blood (1978), Forces of Victory (1979), Bass Culture (1980), LKJ in Dub (1980), Making History (1984), Tings an’ Times (1991), More Time (1999), and Live in Paris (2004).

Published Jan. 22, 2019 8:03 PM - Last modified Dec. 14, 2021 9:28 AM