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Dub Poetry

History of the Voice

nation language performed musical

a phrase coined by Black British poet Linton Kwesi Johnson to denote poems written to be performed with musical accompaniment. Dub Poetry is invariably more readily available on records than in books, a situation which evolved through the collaboration between poets and West Indian, or Black British, disc jockeys. Populist in appeal, Dub Poetry is often political, and performed in Creole, or what Edward Kamau Brathwaite has called Nation Language, in his important work History of the Voice (1984). Brathwaite argues that Nation Language stems from the oral tradition (chiefly African) and, when employed for poetry, displays musical rhythms, such as calypso and reggae, unlike the dominant iambic rhythms in much English poetry. Poems by dub poets such as Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephaniah reflect, as James Berry has observed, ‘a collective psyche laden with anguish and rage’. Michael Smith, a Jamaican Rastafarian, was the foremost dub poet in the West Indies, and the radicalism of his poetry, in both its ‘subversive’ political message and Nation Language style, was all too tragically confirmed, perhaps, when he was stoned to death during the Jamaican general election campaign of 1983. See also Jazz Poetry.

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