© Image by Caroline Forbes

James Berry

(b. 1924)

"Poems come from your more secret mind. A poem will want to ask deeper questions, higher questions, more puzzling questions, and often too, more satisfying questions than the everyday obvious questions..." - James Berry

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Bluefoot Traveller: poetry by Westindians in Britain (editor), London, Limestone Publications, 1976 - out of print
  • Fractured Circles, London, New Beacon Books, 1979 - out of print
  • Lucy's Letters and Loving, New Beacon Books, 1982
  • News for Babylon: the Chatto Book of Westindian-British Poetry (editor), London, Chatto & Windus, 1984 - out of print
  • Chain of Days, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985 - out of print
  • A Thief in the Village (stories for children), London, Hamish Hamilton, 1987
  • The Girls and Yanga Marshall: four stories (for children), London, Longman, 1987
  • When I Dance (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1988 - out of print
  • Anancy Spiderman (for children), London, Walker Books, 1988 - out of print
  • Isn't My Name Magical? (for children), Longman/BBC, 1990 - out of print
  • The Future-Telling Lady (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1991 - out of print
  • Ajeemah and His Son (for children), USA, Harper Collins, 1992
  • Celebration Song (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1994
  • Classic Poems to Read Aloud (editor), London, Kingfisher, 1995
  • Hot Earth Cold Earth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bloodaxe Books, 1995
  • Playing a Dazzler (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1996 - out of print
  • Don't Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird (for children), USA, Simon and Schuster, 1996
  • Rough Sketch Beginning, USA, Harcourt Brace, 1996
  • Everywhere Faces Everywhere (for children), Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • First Palm Trees (for children), Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • Around the World in 80 Poems (editor - for children), London, Macmillan, 2001
  • A Nest full of Stars (for children), Macmillan, 2002
  • Only One of Me (selected poems - for children), Macmillan, 2004
  • James Berry Reading from his poems, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2005
  • James Berry Reading from his Children's Poems, The Poetry Archive 2005
  • Windrush Songs, Bloodaxe 2007
  • In Person 30 Poets, Edited by Neil Astley / Films by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, Bloodaxe Books 2008
James Berry (b. 1924) spent his childhood in a village in Jamaica, before working in the United States, finally settling in Britain in 1948 where he has remained ever since. One of the first black writers in Britain to achieve wider recognition, Berry rose to prominence in 1981 when he won the National Poetry Competition. His five collections of poetry and his stories and poems for children have been widely acclaimed. As an editor of two influential anthologies, Berry has been at the forefront of championing Westindian/British writing and his role as an educator has had a significant impact in mediating that community's experience to the wider society. Berry was awarded an OBE in 1990.

Berry's use of both Westindian dialect and more standard English points to his position at the interface between two cultures, exemplified in his collection Lucy's Letters and Loving where the narrator of many of the poems is a Jamaican immigrant in London writing home and trying to describe her experience of life in the "dislocated" capital. There is an emotional duality in his work as well: on the one hand Berry's love of the sensual and imaginative richness of his Jamaican background informs his work, on the other hand, this inheritance is contaminated with the bitter oppressions of slavery. His anger at these injustices motivates some of his poems, particularly when writing about his father's ill treatment at the hands of his white employers. However, the overriding tone of Berry's poetry is one of celebration. Without denying the hurt of the colonial experience, he chooses to defy prejudice through an emphasis on unity, as in the gracious closing image of his poem 'Benediction': "Thanks to flowering of white moon/and spreading shawl of black night/holding villages and cities together."

This recording is a virtuoso performance as Berry effortlessly inhabits many different voices from his past and present, capturing the cadence of Westindian speech. The overall effect is of being welcomed into a community teeming with stories and incidents.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 4 March 2004 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.


1981 National Poetry Competition (winner)

1987 Smarties Grand Prix Award, A Thief in the Village

1989 Signal Poetry Award, When I Dance

1991 Cholmondeley Award

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