Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze (b. 1956) was brought up by her grandparents who were peasant farmers in rural Jamaica. She studied at the Jamaican School of Drama before travelling to Britain when she was thirty with the poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, a leading light in the emerging ‘dub’ poetry scene. Dub’s fusion of reggae rhythms and the spoken word, combined with political subject matter, had found a responsive audience in the radicalised black community of Britain in the 70s and early 80s and Breeze is recognised as the first woman performer in this traditionally male-dominated field. At the time of her recording for the Poetry Archive she had published four books of poetry, made several recordings of her work and written for stage and screen.

In her poem ‘The Garden Path’ Breeze wrote: “I want to make words/music/move beyond language/into sound”. Breeze achieved this ambition, utilising powerful rhythms and refrains and singing or chanting many of the poems until they become a kind of alternative liturgy, as in her poem ‘Planted by the waters’ written for Maya Angelou’s 70th birthday. Elsewhere she effortlessly inhabited the patois speech of an earlier generation like the granny in ‘The arrival of Brighteye’. Breeze’s work has a strong political dimension but it resists limitations, ranging over a wide variety of subject matter from childhood memories of Kingston to contemporary life in inner-city London. Breeze preferred to explore social injustice obliquely, using personal stories and historical narratives to concentrate on the psychological dimensions of black women’s experience, exemplified by the deeply moving ‘Arrival of Brighteye’ which records a life lost between two alternative homes. Freedom is an important theme, artistic and physical as well as political. However, Breeze’s poems are also full of delight in the world, as in her deliciously sensual description of longing in ‘Could it be’.

One of these pleasures is the human voice and although Breeze wrote beautifully for the page, it is in performance that its full power can be experienced, as expressed in her joyful image of Stevie Wonder in ‘Upstream’: “I heard a laughing river . . ./saw your head thrown back in song”.

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 21 September 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 21 September 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Jean Binta Breeze

Simple tings - Jean Binta Breeze
The arrival of Brighteye – an extract - Jean Binta Breeze
Could it be - Jean Binta Breeze
Upstream - Jean Binta Breeze
earth cries - Jean Binta Breeze

Books by Jean Binta Breeze



NESTA Fellowship

Prize website

Honorary Creative Writing Fellow at the School of English



Prize website

Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Leicester,

Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jamaican Poetry Festival

Silver Musgrave Medal

Prize website

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