Jamaican poet LKJ wins Britain’s top literary ‘Pen Prize’

Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.

The literary community is all agog since Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson was named the 2020 winner of Britain’s Pen Pinter Prize.

Not since India’s Salman Rushdie won the coveted Booker Prize in 1981 has there been more attention afforded the annual announcement.

It is no small feat to champion the Prize but a bigger deal is that an immigrant from rural Chapelton, Clarendon Jamaica out-shined an impressive field of qualified wordsmiths throughout Europe to resonate with cause celebre on intellectuals and ordinary citizens.

Johnson also known as LKJ, copped the honor after consistently using his native verbiage and patois to document racism in Britain.

A relentless activist, human rights advocate and voice of the voiceless, the poet initially sought change in England by joining a chapter of the Black Panther Party there.

Throughout his membership in the revolutionary organization he also maximized his mission for change by contributing to the local presses as a reporter.

That after making numerous attempts at communicating the plight of an underserved community his efforts is now being rewarded with such prestigious honor could be regarded as poetic justice.

“It is always nice to be acknowledged,” Johnson said, “It is especially gratifying to receive an award that honors the memory of esteemed dramatist, Harold Pinter, free thinker, anti-imperialist and human rights champion.”

Reportedly, ‘the Pen Pinter Prize is named for playwright Harold Pinter and is given annually to a writer who displays “fierce intellectual determination …to define the real truth of our lives and our societies.”

“Linton Kwesi Johnson is a poet, reggae icon, academic, and campaigner whose impact on the cultural landscape over the last half century has been colossal and multi-generational,” Claire Armitstead, a trustee of English Pen said.

The intellectual and voting member added — “It took all of two seconds (for her and other judges) to agree that we had a clear and outstanding winner.”

LKJ migrated to England at the age of 11.

Eleven years later he published his first collection of poems he named “Voices of the Living Dead.”

That collection yielded more than a few distinguishable commentaries including “Dread Beat and Blood,” “Forces of Victory” and “LKJ in Dub.”

In addition to visual writings, his natty dress, and stylized delivery amplified and punctuated to a cadence executed through reggae beats from the Dennis Bovell Band, endeared Europeans to tune in to his lyrical music compositions.

Since that time he has toured the continent and the USA using the vernacular of Jamaican patois and standard punctuations to amplify dub poetry.

In 2002, his compilation of poetry yielded “Mi Revalueshanary Fren” which was published by the Penguin Modern Classis series.

With that endorsement LKJ became the only Black poet and second living poet to have his work published in the British series.

Also distinguished by his island birth-nation in 2014 he was awarded the Order of Distinction for his consistent attention to the plight of the common man.

Regaled with the fifth highest honor Jamaica’s foremost dub poet and his recitations about racism and police brutality in England became Britain’s radical, real and revolutionary expression to embrace.

As a matter of fact, back in the 80s it was LKJ who informed audiences here about SUS laws in England that akin to the recently abolished NYPD Stop and Frisk rules here disproportionately targeted minorities.

On regular visits to New York his poetry attracted sold out audiences on college campuses and venues that billed free-speech and un-orthodoxed acts of international notoriety.

His incisive writings delivered to audiences at Irving Plaza, Wetlands, Colombia University, St. Francis College in Brooklyn were received as news items taken straight from newspaper reports.

With precision and punctuations, the varied poetic recitations explored topical documentations titled “It Nuh Funny,” “Sonny’s Lettah” “Dread Beat and Blood,” “The Eagle and The Bear,” and his caustic description surrounding description and life in the United Kingdom he labeled “Inglan is a Bitch.”

Audiences here gave him a resounding welcome in 1984 when he imported “Making History.” a telling update detailing defiance from Asians and Blacks who in the face of danger from British police retaliated violently forcing uniformed officers to escape.

Long before a movement here united citizens under a banner declaring Black Lives Matter LKJ provided a rhythmic, repetitive and danceable chorus to restate the defiance and ignored rebellion of Blacks in Britain. That alone is deserving of a Pen Prize.

“Now tell mi something

Mistah govahment

Tell mi something

How long u really feel

You coulda keep wi undah heel

Wen di trute dun reveal

Bout how you grab and steal

Bout how you mek you crooked deal

Mek you crooked deal?

Eh?

Well doun in Soutall

Where Peach did get fall

Di Asians dem faam up a human wall

Gense di fashist an dem police shell

An dem show dat di Asians get plenty zeal

Get plenty zeal

Get plenty Zeal

It is noh mistri

Wi mekking histr

It is noh mistri

Wi winnin victri

Now tell mi something

Mistah police spokesman

Tell mi something

How Lang yu really tink

We would tek yu batn lick

Yu jackboot kick

Yu dutty bag a tricks

An yu racist pallyticks

Yu racist pally ticks

Eh?

Well doun in bristal

Dey ad noh pistol

But dem chase di babylan away

Man yu shoulda si yu babylan

How dem really run away

Yu shoulda si yu babylan dem dig-up dat dey

Dig up dat dey

Dig up dat dey

It is noh mistri

Wi mekkin histri

It is noh mistri

Wi mekkin histri

Now tell mi something

Mistah ritewing man

Tell mi something

How long yu really feel

Wi woulda grovel an squel

Wen soh much murda canceal

Wen wi woun cyan heal

Wen wi feel di way wi feel!

Eh?

Well dere woz Toxteth

An dere woz Moss Side

And a lat a addah places

Whey di police ad to hide

Well dere woz Brixtan

And dere was Chapeltown

And a lat a ddah place dat woz burnt to di groun

Burnt to di groun

Burnt to di groun

It is no mistri

Wi mekking histri

It is no mistri

Wi mekkin histri

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