Bloodaxe, £12, 192pp. £10.80 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Third World Girl, By Jean "Binta" Breeze

Jamaican poet Jean "Binta" Breeze migrated to Britain in the mid-1980s and quickly earned a reputation as the godmother of the dub poetry scene here, a female counterpart to Linton Kwesi Johnson. Dub poetry first emerged in Jamaica in the 1970s as a grassroots form of protest poetry rooted in the rhythms and vernacular of reggae. Here at last was a Caribbean aesthetic that was completely its own.

This Selected Poems, accompanied by a DVD of live readings, tracks Breeze's development from Riddym Ravings (1988) through to new, hitherto unpublished work. Although she soon expanded her repertoire beyond dub, approximately half the collection is written in patois. These poems range from the rootsy, even folksy charm of simple tings: "ah hoe mi corn/ an de backache gone/ plant mi peas/ arthritis ease" to the more strident "caribbean women": "oh, man,/ oh, man,/ de Caribbean woman/ she doan fraid a de marchin beat/ she doan care how he timin sweet/ she doan care if she kill a man/ just doan mash up she plan".

Breeze writes with passion and empathy about ordinary working women, assuming multiple personae, often in celebration or lamentation. Her landscape is primarily the rural Caribbean, drawing on pastoral images of mountains and rivers, valleys and rainbows. She dips into world affairs and history, especially with her most recent poems, which do not necessarily outshine her earlier oeuvre.

She is most successful when writing concise, perfectly-pitched poems in patois, through which the voice of the narrator is insistently heard. Some of the poems in standard English, like song lyrics exposed on the page, reveal predictable rhymes and hackneyed phrases, although there are exceptions. Her "natural high" is a lovely, supple, clever paean to a mother: "my mother is a/ red/ woman/ she/ gets high/ on clean children/ grows/ common sense/ injects/ tales/ with heroines/ fumes/ over dirty habits".

The book also contains love and relationship poems, although usually barbed with betrayal, loss or poverty, as in "lovin wasn easy": "lovin wasn easy/ wen de food run out/ an de two pap chow jus cut/ de evenings of bwoil rice/ widdout salt/ an de neighbour a cuss/ bout we bedspring noise".

Any discussion of Breeze's poetry must be contextualised by its performance and original audience. Although some might take an anthropological interest and delight in the "exotic" otherness of the voice of a poet raised by peasant-farmer grandparents in rural Jamaica, one senses she has never abandoned her community. And she is part of a deeper poetic tradition that stretches back, not to Wordsworth, Auden, Eliot and Plath but to Louise Bennett (Miss Lou), Jamaica's "national poet", who began to publish "dialect verses" in the 1940s. Like her forebear, Breeze's poetry does not concern itself with adhering to traditional Western forms or wilful obfuscation. Hers is a poetry for the people written in the voice of the people. The project: to make of their lives and language an art form. In "Red Rebel Song", she declares: "is lang time/ i waan sing dis song/ sing it loud/ sing it long/ no apology/ no pun/ jus a raw fire madness/ a clinging to de green/ a sargasso sea".

Breeze has a warmth, humour and charisma in performance that stands unrivalled. The accompanying DVD needs to be watched, because her poems are transformed by a delivery that is rhapsodic, incantatory, hypnotic and always entertaining.

Bernardine Evaristo's 'Blonde Roots' is published by Penguin

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power