Poetry of Jamaican-born dub artist joins the canon of modern classics  

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The Independent Culture

The dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson is to become only the second living poet to have his work immortalised in the modern classics series of one of Britain's biggest publishers.

Penguin has chosen Johnson, 49, to join its modern classics series, a canon that includes some of the greatest poets of the 20th century, including Allen Ginsberg and W B Yeats.

The volume of poems, entitled Mi Revalueshanary Fren, will be published on 2 May and includes a selection inspired by his experiences as a black man born in Jamaica and raised in Brixton, south London, from the age of 11.

The poems range from angry protests against racism and police brutality in Inglan is a Bitch and Di Great Insohreckshan about the Brixton riots to personal eulogies of family and friends.

Ellah Allfrey, the book's editor, said she had been a fan for a long time and the more she had spoken to people about his work, the more she realised how popular he was.

"It's quite hard to get everyone to agree on a modern classic. But because he's been writing since the 1970s, it gives enough time to assess whether he's a one-hit wonder or whether his work will continue to be important – it has continued to be important," she said.

"When you're choosing books to go into Modern Classics the baseline isn't always financial – some of it is personal as well. You hope that if you like it, then the readers will also respond in some way."

Linton Kwesi Johnson was raised by his grandmother on her small farm in Jamaica where the only book was the Bible. It is said he wanted to be a writer at a young age, after falling in love with the poetry of the Old Testament Psalms.

In 1963, he moved to Brixton to live with his mother and, while still at school, organised a poetry workshop within the Black Panthers radical black rights movement. He went on to study sociology at Goldsmith's College, London.

His work, performed both as reggae music and in readings, has become well-known for its distinctive Jamaican Creole and political radicalism and has been recognised with a number of awards including a C Day Lewis fellowship.

The only other poet to have made it onto the Penguin Modern Classics list while still living is the 90-year-old Polish Nobel laureate, Czeslaw Milosz.

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