Writing was a political act and poetry was a cultural weapon.
—Linton Kwesi Johnson
As a senior English major at Davidson College, the vast majority of my studies have spanned the history of the Western European canon ranging from Augustine to Dante to Milton to many others. Not until recently in my academic career was I introduced to writers and artists that may be, to some, less known than Wordsworth or Eliot or the like.
I have created this website for Dr. Suzanne Churchill’s Modern Poetry class because I feel it is possible that there are others—like me until not too long ago—who have not yet been introduced to Linton Kwesi Johnson, one of the great poets and activists of our time. I am grateful that the second living poet and first black poet to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics Series is now in my literary arsenal, and I want to pass along that gift.
In the drop-down menu above titled “Annotated LKJ Poems” you will find three of his most influential poems with videos of his performances and annotations. The first poem is “Inglan Is a Bitch” and is a commentary on the discrimination against Caribbean-immigrant labor in England. The second poem is “Di Great Insohreckshan” about the 1981 riots that occurred in Brixton as a response to the discrimination and racism LKJ speaks out against. The final poem is “If I Woz a Tap-Natch Poet” in which LKJ speaks to his aspirations to be as heard, well known, and influential as T. S. Eliot or Nelson Mandela.
Clicking the highlighted first line of each stanza will activate a sidebar to appear with a translation from his Jamaican patois to English and commentary for the entire stanza. The commentary ranges from historical information to help the reader understand the context of the work to literary analysis of the poems themselves. There is also some text highlighted sporadically to offer any definition or clarification that could be helpful for the reader to fully understand the three works.
Please explore the site and, if you are not already, familiarize yourself with the contemporary activist and poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Ledgard, Bryan. “Linton Kwesi Johnson.” October 19, 2007. Creative Commons. Link to photo.