Jamaican Poetry
Its History & Development

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Jamaican Poetry, contributed by Tracie Blake

The Jamaican Dialect of Patois (pronounced Patwa) is a colourful, expressive and dramatic language.

This native tongue is very passionate with variations between the British English and the American English. This has affected how the language of Patois is perceived in Jamaica and the rest of the world.

Poetry is an expressive, creative way of writing and when combined with Patois, it becomes positively explosive. In Jamaican Poetry, we have an opportunity to express ourselves comfortably in our native tongue evoking emotions freely and comfortably.

It was this yearning desire that lead Jamaica’s first poets, Claude Mckay and Thomas MacDermot to write and publish our own poetry in the early 1900s.

McKay and MacDermot were both well-educated and well-traveled but they found their niche in writing Jamaican Poetry.

They opened the door to bring forth the blossoming of Louise Bennett in the late 1900s.


She was also well-educated and well-traveled with most of her travels taking her to England where the Queen’s English was embedded in her.

She however, felt the need to come back to her roots and later argued and fought for Jamaican Patois to be accepted worldwide as a full language- in the same way as English.

She wanted Patois to be seen as a legitimate language- both in writing and performing literature.

This grew wings in the form of books, newspaper publications, festivals, stage shows and television broadcasts. Over the years, it has been taught in schools and has garnered more publicity by being infiltrated to the world via the worldwide web.

From these eras of poets also sprung poets such as James Berry, Joan Andrea Hutchinson, Geoffrey Philip, Langston Hughes, Ralph Thompson and Valerie Bloom.

Poetry in Jamaica has expanded into Dub Poetry. Dub Poetry is a form of musical poetic expression tied to Reggae Music. It is typically written and performed by Rastafarians with a distinct drumming as the background music. It emerged in the early 1970s when disc-jockeys started "rapping" poems and lyrics to the music they spun.

It soon became popular as a label in Jamaica and on the British scene. The Rastafarian religious beliefs are featured a lot in Dub Poetry and Dub Poets are largely of the Rastafarian Sect. This has been influential in embracing unity and peace amongst political activists in the island.

The first Dub Poets emerging were Mutabaruka, Oku Onuora and in Britain, Linton Kwesi Johnson.

Rastafarian religious beliefs are used a lot in dub poetry. Dub Poetry is mainly done through oral performances but has found itself in written forms over the years.


A Jamaica Gleaner photo

Other Dub Poets include Yasus Afari (Above), Malachi, Prince Far I, Michael Smith, Jean “Binta” Breeze, Levi "Tafari", Delroy and the most recent sensation, 'DYCR' Chandler.

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