Russell Banks on Linton Kwesi Johnson

He is, of course, a top-notch poet, and his bittersweet poems can indeed make us weak, make us feel incomplete. In 2002 he became the second living and first black poet to have his selected poems published in England in the Penguin Classics series. He is Jamaican by birth, and though he has resided for most of his adult life in England, where he took a university degree in sociology, he writes in Jamaican Creole. Not a dialect, not strictly a ‘patois,’ either, and not a mere post-colonial version of Standard English, Jamaican Creole is a language created out of hard necessity by African slaves from 17th century British English and West African, mostly Ashanti, language groups, with a lexical admixture from the Caribe and Arawak natives of the island. It is a powerfully expressive, flexible, and, not surprisingly, musical vernacular, sustained and elaborated upon for over four hundred years by the descendants of those slaves, including those who, like LKJ, have migrated out of Jamaica in the second great diaspora for England, Canada, and the United States. Fortunately, its grammar and orthography like that of pre-18th century British English, have never been rigidly formalized or fixed by an academy of notables or any authoritative dictionary. It is, therefore, a living, organically evolving language intimately connected to the lived experience of its speakers.”

Excerpted from: Banks, Russell, “Introduction,” in Johnson, Linton Kwesi. Mi Revalueshenary Fren. Port Townshend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2006.

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