Jean Breeze Passes Away – Poetry News 1st September

Today we bring you an article about the death of the First Woman of Dub Poetry.

First Woman of Dub Poetry, Jean Breeze Dies Aged 65

A passionate Jamaican poet, Jean Breeze passed away on 4th August in Kingston, Jamaica, she was just 65. Her death was announced by the British agency that represents her.

She was well known for the passion that she brought to her performance, her use of the lyrical vernacular of Jamaica, and the raw honesty that she brought to the stories that she told.

It is widely acknowledged that Breeze, who was known as Binta, was the first woman to make a name for herself in the field of dub poetry, a rather male-dominated genre of the time. Dub originated in the 1970s in Kingston and is the name given to a term used in recording that refers to the process of removing or adding sounds. Dub poetry was popular in Toronto, London, and a number of other large cities where large populations of Caribbean individuals lived. Breeze found her fame in England.

It was the passion in her performances that set her apart and the poet Maya Angelou asked her to perform at her 79th Birthday event in the late 1990s. For the occasion, Breeze was accompanied by a gospel choir and her poetry was so moving that Angelou crossed the stage to embrace her.

Much of her work was a combination of English blended with Jamaican patois in order to create poetic rhythms and forms. Memories of her grandmother reading poetry to her each night shaped the way she performed her own poetry saying that it came not from a page but from a voice. This was why she was so passionate about the performance of each of her pieces.

Her influences were diverse and included the “melting pot” of locations that she lived in – London, rural Jamaica, and the city life of Kingston. She touched on such subjects as political oppression, the exploitation of women, and mental illness.  Diagnosed with schizophrenia during her early 20s Breeze often made references to what she referred to as madness in her poems. However, this wasn’t the only theme that was a recurring one in her work. There was also a lot of joyfulness as well. She published a number of books and was also responsible for several recordings including one which was made in collaboration with Sweet Honey in the Rock, an African American Cappella group.

Born Jean Lumsden the poet stumbled into the world of dub poetry by accident. She was a practising Rastafarian, and also taught the subject when she happened to hear Otis Redding singing “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” on the radio. This inspired her to sit on a pier and write a poem.  A chance meeting with a Rasta man gained her an invite to a party where Mutabaruka, a Jamaican dub poet heard her recitation and liked her work so much he asked to record it. Just a month later she was on the radio, billed as the first female dub poet.

In 2013, Breeze was made a Member of the British Empire for her services in the field of literature.

Jean Breeze is survived by her son Gareth Breese who is a prominent cricketer for the West Indies, and her two daughters, Caribe and Imega.


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