Jamaica's Jean 'Binta' Breeze dies aged 65
The Jamaican poet Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, who was awarded an MBE in 2012, has died at the age of 65 after a period of ill-health. She was represented by Renaissance One Writers and Event who said that she died in Jamaica on 4 August. The UK-based group of producers and curators said: "Her body of writing and orality, and the warmth and connection she generated through her art, touched the hearts and minds of audiences around the world. We are in a state of shock and sadness, and we will be mourning her loss for some time."
She was born and raised in rural Jamaica, growing up in the small village of Patty Hill. She moved to Kingston in 1978 to study at the Jamaican School of Drama, and first visited London in 1985, at the invitation of Linton Kwesi Johnson, to make her debut UK performance at the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books. She was regarded as one of the pioneers of ‘dub’ poetry.
Her publisher, Neil Astley of Bloodaxe, said: "Her poems are Caribbean songs of innocence and experience, of love and conflict. They use personal stories and historical narratives to explore social injustice and the psychological dimensions of black women’s experience. Striking evocations of childhood in the hills of Jamaica give way to explorations of the perils and delights of growth and change – through sex, emigration, motherhood and age."
Her first book of poetry, Ryddim Ravings, was published in 1988 by the Race Today Collective. She went on to write the screenplay for Hallelujah Anyhow, a co-production of the British Film Institute and Channel 4, and also released several albums. She published seven poetry books, and made several records and CDs. Her poetry was also used in the Poems on the Underground series in London.
She performed throughout the world, including the Caribbean, North America, Europe, South East Asia and Africa, and has been described as a "one-woman festival". In her later years she lived between Leicester in the UK, and Jamaica. She continued to write, perform and teach until a collapsed lung resulted in early retirement to Jamaica.
Appearing at the Royal Festival Hall on National Poetry Day in 2014, she referred to the theme of ‘Remember,’ saying: “So much of what I write is memory.” She performed a long poem about being called as a little girl by her mother to join her in England, and thinking in vain that she had spotted her on the quay on arrival at Southampton; and concluded with a passionate lament for Africa, and its never-ending troubles.
The poet Adam Horovitz said on Facebook he was “deeply saddened” by her death. “She was a magnificent poet and performer, and a kind and lovely woman. I met her in 1986, when my father brought her to Stroud to read at Mills Café, a year or so after she arrived in Britain, and was blown away by the beauty of her voice and words. I loved every encounter I had with her, intermittent though they were, over the last 35 years. Here’s to her memory, and the lasting power of her words.”
She was awarded an MBE in 2012 for services to literature.
PHOTOGRAPH: GREG FREEMAN / WRITE OUT LOUD