Linton Kwesi Johson: 'Sonny's Lettah' and 'Di Great Insohreckshan'

Linton Kwesi Johson
Linton Kwesi Johson needs no introduction. Much of his poetry is political, dealing primarily with the experiences of being an African-Caribbean in Britain. "Writing was a political act and poetry was a cultural weapon," he told an interviewer in 2008.

He has also written about issues such as British foreign policy, and the death of anti-racist marcher Blair Peach. His most striking and celebrated work was arguably produced in the 1980's, with Johnson’s spirit of anger and protest finding its ideal subject and opposite under Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. Poems such as 'Sonny's Lettah' and 'Di Great Insohreckshan' (both featured here) contain accounts of police brutality upon young black men, and capture the period’s unwritten attitude of resistance and antagonism in their empathic descriptions of rioting and imprisonment. Told via the uncompromising, yet generous and inventive use of unstandardised Jamaican patois, the poems are alive with Johnson’s relish of the tics and rhythms of spoken language.

Linton Kwesi Johnson was born on 24 August, 1952 in Chapelton, a small town in the rural parish of Clarendon, Jamaica. He came to London in 1963, attended Tulse Hill secondary school, and later studied Sociology at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London (graduating in 1973), which currently holds his personal papers in its archives. While still at school he joined the Black Panthers, helping to organise a poetry workshop within the movement. In 1977 he was awarded a C. Day Lewis Fellowship, and was the writer-in-residence for the London Borough of Lambeth for that year. He went on to work as the Library Resources and Education Officer at the Keskidee Centre, the first home of Black theatre and art.

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The poem 'Sonny's Lettah' is of course famous. So the video and the written poem.

The written poem: Sonny's Lettah

Video: Di Great Insohreckshan

The written poem: Di Great Insohreckshan