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Poetry Guide: Dub Poetry

Dub Poetry is a form of performance poetry consisting of spoken word over reggae rhythms, that originated in Jamaica in the 1970s. Unlike Dee Jaying (also known as Toasting or Chatting) which also features the use of the spoken word, the Dub Poet's performance is normally pre-prepared, rather than the extemporised chat of the Dancehall Dee Jay, and in many cases the Dub Poet will appear on stage with a band performing music specifically written to accompany their poems, rather than simply perform over the top of dub plates in the Dancehall fashion.

Dub poetry is mostly of an overtly political and social nature, 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 (and in this it does share much with Dancehall and 'Conscious' or 'Roots' [reggae] music).

Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ)'s album Dread, Beat an' Blood first appeared in 1977 then Oku Onuora's Reflection In Red in 1979 followed by Benjamin Zephaniah's Rasta, and many others in the early 1980s onwards. Although the genre had its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, many of the poets are still active today; many new poets are emerging, and even experimenting with the genre (i.e., the Jamaican dub style over hip-hop beats).

Toronto Canada has the second highest concentration of Dub Poets preceeded by Jamaica and followed by England. Poets such as Lillian Allen, Afua Cooper, and Ahdri Zhina Mandiela are among the founding mothers of the Canadian Dub Poetry legacy.

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

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

Many of the Dub Poets have published their work as volumes of written poetry as well as albums of poetry with music.

Notable Dub Poets

Lillian Allen
Jean "Binta" Breeze
Afua Cooper
Michael St.George
Linton Kwesi Johnson
ahdri zhina mandiela
Oku Onuora
Michael Smith
Benjamin Zephaniah
D'bi Young