Dub poetry

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Dub poetry is a form of performance poetry of Jamaican origin,[1] which evolved out of dub music in Kingston, Jamaica, in the 1970s,[2][3] as well as in London, England, and Toronto, Canada, cities which have large populations of Caribbean immigrants.[4] The term "Dub Poetry" was coined by Dub artist Linton Kwesi Johnson in 1976,[5][6] and further popularized by artist Oku Onoura, which consists of spoken word over reggae rhythms, originally found on the backing or "version" side of a 12 or 7 inch vinyl record.

Unlike deejaying (also known as toasting), which also features the use of the spoken word, the dub poet's performance is normally prepared, rather than the extemporized chat of the dancehall dee jay.[2] In musical setting, the dub poet usually appears on stage with a band performing music specifically written to accompany each poem, rather than simply performing over the top of dub plates, or riddims, in the dancehall fashion. Musicality is built into dub poems, yet dub poets generally perform without backing music, delivering chanted speech with pronounced rhythmic accentuation and dramatic stylization of gesture. Sometimes dub music effects such as echo and reverb are dubbed spontaneously by a poet into live versions of a poem. Many dub poets also employ call-and-response devices to engage audiences.

Political nature[edit]

Dub poetry has been a vehicle for political and social commentary,[7] with none of the braggadocio often associated with the dancehall. The odd love-song or elegy appears, but dub poetry is predominantly concerned with politics and social justice, commonly voiced through a commentary on current events (thus sharing these elements with dancehall and "conscious" or "roots" reggae music).

Notable albums[edit]

Dub poetry has established itself as a major form of black popular art and its breakthrough was made through Linton Kwesi Johnson's (LKJ)'s seminal album Dread Beat an' Blood,[8] which was released in the UK in 1978.[9][10] Oku Onuora's Reflection In Red in 1979 was the first Jamaican recording of a dub poem,[7] followed by Lillian Allen's Revolutionary Tea Party[11] and Benjamin Zephaniah's Rasta,[12] both produced in 1983, and many others from the early 1980s onwards such as Anti Social Workers 'Positive Style' produced by leading dub producer The Mad Professor on Ariwa Records..


Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has the second highest concentration of dub poets, preceded by Jamaica and followed by England.[13] Lillian Allen, Afua Cooper, and Ahdri Zhina Mandiela are among the founding mothers of the Canadian dub poetry legacy.[14][15] The Dub Poets Collective, established in Toronto in 2003, organized a total of five dub poetry festivals, three national and two international, between the years of 2004 and 2010.[15]

United Kingdom[edit]

LKJ still runs LKJ Records in the UK, a label that publishes both his own books and music, and that of other musicians and poets.

Benjamin Zephaniah continued to publish in the UK. He wrote novels as well as poetry. He was put forward for the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry in 1989 and British Poet Laureate in 1999, and in 2003 was also offered an OBE, which he declined.

Many dub poets have published their work as volumes of written poetry as well as albums of poetry with music.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chris Roberts, Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind Rhyme, Thorndike Press, 2006 (ISBN 0-7862-8517-6)
  2. ^ a b Dub Poetry Archived 2011-12-11 at the Wayback Machine, Allmusic last on-line access in 9/17/2012.
  3. ^ Dave Thompson, "History of Dub Poetry" Archived 2012-08-30 at the Wayback Machine in roots-archives.com, last on-line access in 9/17/2012.
  4. ^ Neigh, Janet (2017). Recalling Recitation in the Americas. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 130. ISBN 978-1487501839. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  5. ^ Morris, Mervyn (1997). "'Dub Poetry'?". Caribbean Quarterly. 43 (4): 1–10. doi:10.1080/00086495.1997.11671853. ISSN 0008-6495. JSTOR 40654004.
  6. ^ Doumerc, Eric. "Dub Poetry: From the Straightjacket of Reggae Rhythms to Performance Poetry". Unknown.
  7. ^ a b Habekos, Christian (1993). Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Poetry. Brill Rodopi. p. 21. ISBN 978-9051835496. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  8. ^ Collier, Gordon (1992). Us/them: Translation, Transcription and Identity in Post-colonial Literary Cultures. Rodopi. ISBN 9789051833942.
  9. ^ Zephaniah, Benjamin. "Dread Beat an' Blood". BBC. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  10. ^ Rawlinson, Nancy. "Linton Kwesi Johnson : Dread Beat An' Blood : Inglan Is A Bitch". Spike Magazine. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  11. ^ Brennan, Ali. "Sound, Rhythm, and Power: Legends of Dub Poetry". Debate Central. University of Vermont. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  12. ^ Hirsch, Edward (2014). A Poet's Glossary. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 185. ISBN 9780151011957. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  13. ^ Sfetcu, Nicolae. Poetry Kaleidoscope. Lulu.com. ISBN 978-1-312-78020-0.
  14. ^ Sakolsky, Ron (Summer 2004). "Summer Festivals 2004: International Dub Poetry Festival". The Beat (5): 36–37, 41 – via ProQuest.
  15. ^ a b Antwi, Phanuel (2015-12-02). "Dub Poetry as a Black Atlantic Body-Archive". Small Axe. 19 (3): 65–83. doi:10.1215/07990537-3341825. ISSN 1534-6714. S2CID 147304159.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mervyn Morris, "Dub Poetry?", in Is English We Speaking and Other Essays (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 1998).

External links[edit]