Linton Kwesi Johnson

Hi everybody! Today we’re introducing a Jamaican poet in preparation of the lecture THE EMPIRE RHYMES BACK held by Giovanni Gorgoni on April 12th. I said “We” because this lesson has been devised by my colleague Cristian Ziraldo & myself. “Two heads work better che one 🙂 “ SESSION ONE:

1) Listen to this song:

  • What kind of music is it?
  • Do you know other musicians of this music genre?
  • Do you know the meaning of the word _________?
  • What are its main features & where does it come from?

It’s a genre  of music  first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. While sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music.

R_______ is based on a rhythmic style characterized by accents on the off-beat, known as the  SKUNK. It usually accents the second and fourth beat in each bar, with the rhythm guitar also either emphasising the third beat or holding the chord on the second beat until the fourth is played. It is mainly this “third beat”, its speed and the use of complex bass lines that differentiated it from rocksteady (slow tempo), although later styles incorporated these innovations separately.(Wikipedia)

  1. Now have a look at this text:

I woodah write a poem

soh beautiful dat it simple

like a plain girl

wid good brains

an nice ways

wid a sexy dispozishan

an plenty compahshan

wid a sweet smile

an a suttle style

  • What kind of language is this?

• How does it depart from standard English? (e.g. d ?)

3. Now we are going to LISTEN  to a poem by a Carribean poet now based in London but before doing that we need to consider the reasons why we don’t speak of “Standard English” any longer but of ENGLISHES. For the same reason we don’t speak of English Literature but Literatures in English.

4. Here’s a short biography of our poet:

Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in 1952 in Jamaica. He came to London in 1963, went to Tulse Hill secondary school and studied Sociology at Goldsmiths’ College. He was a member of the Black Panthers. In 1977 he was awarded a C Day Lewis Fellowship, becoming the writer-in-residence (a writer holding a temporary residential post in an academic establishment, in order to share their professional insights) for Lambeth. He then worked at the Keskidee Centre, the first home of Black theatre and art. His first collection of poetry, Voices of the Living and the Dead, came out in 1974. He has had four more books published and in 2002 became only the second living poet and the first black poet to have his work included in Penguin’s Modern Classics series, under the title Mi Revalueshanary Fren: Selected Poems. Johnson’s first album, Dread Beat An Blood was released in 1978, and he has released 14 more albums, including LKJ Live in Paris in 2004, a CD and DVD celebrating his 25th anniversary as a reggae recording artist. He has been running his own record label, LKJ Records, since 1981. He has worked in journalism and still tours around the world with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band (a style of popular music originating from the remixing of recorded music (esp. reggae), typically with the removal of some vocals and instruments and the exaggeration of bass guitar. ).

See also:


  1. Listen to the song & watch video:

As you can see there are a lot of Intertextual references, typical of POSTCOLONIAL LITERATURE.

Intertextuality has become a very important element, since Post-colonial  writers might interact with the traditional colonial discourse by attempting to modify or subvert it through the process of “writing back”, “re-writing”, and “re-reading”.

T.S.Eliot is mentioned because of its musicality. Here standard English is set against this “new” language (PIDGIN =a grammatically simplified form of a language, used for communication between people not sharing a common language. Pidgins have a limited vocabulary, some elements of which are taken from local languages, and are not native languages, but arise out of language contact between speakers of other languages ) thus eroding & undermining the idea of a Top notch poet.

Dub Poetry or reggae poetry :“the hurricane does not roar in pentameters” !!!


1. Today we’re going to read the poem: Inglan is a bitch. 

• Why would a poet claim that England is a bitch?

• Do you find it contradictory? Why?


The Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury on 22 June 1948, carrying 492 passengers from Jamaica wishing to start a new life in the United Kingdom. The passengers were the first large group of West Indian immigrants to the UK after the Second World War.

It’s the beginning of the community called by the writer Chris Mullard (1973) BLACK BRITAIN.

Have you ever heard talking about RACIAL RIOTS?

1976 Notting Hill

1979 Southhall

1981 Brixton NEW CROSS FIRE

1985 Brixton

  1. Now listen to the poem by L. K. Johnson.

  •  Imagine: what was life like for a Carribean immigrant in the 60’s?
  •  What kind of job would he be allowed to get?

This is obviously  a political poem, that is a poem of protest

  • What’s his protest addressed against?
  • Can you decode the text and rewrite it in Standard English?  Work in pairs.


Now it’s time to use your fantasy and imagination.

Write a poem choosing from :

a) “( name of a country/ place)is a bitch.”

Or b) “A Top Notch ( job/profession/ artist/ athlete/dancer/singer)”

Give reasons for your choice.

We can end up our introductory sessions to L.K.Johnson waiting for the lecture of April 12 by listening to a song GUNS OF BRIXTON by the British group The Clash (we’re sure most of you know them!), that was inspired right by the above mentioned Racial Riots.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our introductory sessions and we now leave you with some songs by our poet. Thanks for your attention 🙂

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