Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze: Poet
Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze was born in 1956 in Hanover, Jamaica. She studied at the Jamaican School of Drama before travelling to Britain in 1985, on the invitation of poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, a leading light in the dub poetry scene. Dub’s fusion of reggae rhythms and the spoken word, combined with political subject matter, found a responsive audience in the radicalised black community of Britain in the 1970s and early 1980s and Breeze is recognised (acclaimed) as the first woman performer in this traditionally male-dominated field. She has published eight books of poetry and stories, made several recordings of her work and written for stage and screen.
Jean has been involved with Black History Month events since the 1980s, such as the ‘Words Out’ Literature Festival and Black History Month joint event in 1998 as part of Windrush celebrations.
Highfields Library was packed out with 85-90 members of the public, plus staff. Support was provided by Chester Morrison from Timiti Arts who performed his poetry.
Jean Binta Breeze entertained with a mixture of stories and poems, in particular, a moving long poem concerning a girl Brighteye’ who had moved to England from Jamaica to join her mother and now as an adult faced the prospect of her mother’s return to Jamaica leaving her in England where she now had children and grandchildren herself. Not a dry eye in the house. Much of her work seemed to be exploring identity and place but was so human everyone in the audience whatever their background could find things in the work that they identified with. Jean’s final piece concerned cricket! She is a vital and moving performer and the buzz in the Library was incredible.
Jean came away on a real high from the event. “That Library was jumping”, she told them.
In her poem ‘The Garden Path’ Breeze writes: “I want to make words/music/move beyond language/into sound”. Breeze achieves this ambition, utilising powerful rhythms and refrains and singing or chanting many of the poems until they become a kind of alternative liturgy, as in her poem ‘Planted by the waters’ written for Maya Angelou’s 70th birthday. Elsewhere, she effortlessly inhabits the patois speech of an earlier generation like the granny in ‘The arrival of Brighteye’. Breeze’s work has a strong political dimension but it resists limitations, ranging over a wide variety of subject matter from childhood memories of Kingston to contemporary life in inner-city London. Breeze prefers to explore social injustice obliquely, using personal stories and historical narratives to concentrate on the psychological dimensions of black women’s experience, exemplified by the deeply moving ‘Arrival of Brighteye’ which records a life lost between two alternative homes. Freedom is an important theme, artistic and physical as well as political. However, Breeze’s poems are also full of delight in the world, as in her deliciously sensual description of longing in ‘Could it be’.
Breeze is represented by Renaissance One: www.renaissanceone.co.uk/artists