Dread Poetry and Freedom

Dread Poetry and Freedom:
Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Unfinished Revolution

David Austin
with an introduction by Lewis Gordon

What is the relationship between poetry and social change?

Standing at the forefront of political poetry since the 1970s, Linton Kwesi Johnson has been fighting neo-fascism, police violence and promoting socialism while putting pen to paper to refute W.H. Auden’s claim that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’. For Johnson, only the second living poet to have been published in the Penguin Modern Classics series, writing has always been ‘a political act’ and poetry ‘a cultural weapon’.

In Dread Poetry and Freedom — the first book dedicated to the work of this ‘political poet par excellence’ – David Austin explores the themes of poetry, political consciousness and social transformation through the prism of Johnson’s work. Drawing from the Bible, reggae and Rastafari, and surrealism, socialism and feminism, and in dialogue with Aime Cesaire and Frantz Fanon, C.L.R. James and Walter Rodney, and W.E.B. Du Bois and the poetry of d’bi young anitafrika, Johnson’s work becomes a crucial point of reflection on the meaning of freedom in this masterful and rich study.

In the process, Austin demonstrates why art, and particularly poetry, is a vital part of our efforts to achieve genuine social change in times of dread.

David Austin is the author of the Casa de las Americas Prize-winning Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal, Moving Against the System: The 1968 Congress of Black Writers and the Making of Global Consciousness, and Dread Poetry and Freedom: Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Unfinished Revolution. He is also the editor of You Don’t Play with Revolution: The Montreal Lectures of C.L.R. James.

Lewis Gordon teaches in the United States and in South Africa, where he is the Nelson Mandela Visiting Professor of Politics and International Studies, and in Toulouse, France, where he holds the European Union Visiting Chair in philosophy. His recent book What Fanon Said has become a primary source on understanding the work of Fanon. He is known not only for his writings on Frantz Fanon, W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, Steve Bantu Biko, and many others, but also his work in philosophy, politics, and varieties of thought in the global south.

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Caribbean Literature: Breaking bonds before and after betrayed revolutions

10 Weeks beginning October 12 through December 21

A reading and discussion group with the Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group

During this term we will begin with Aimé Césaire’s cultural statement from the 30s, issued from the Caribbean to all those colonized by the capitalist powers, primarily of Europe. Following our discourse on his groundbreaking discourse we will consider three novels on the colonized Caribbean, long engaged in revolutionary struggle with just as long gains towards liberation and the centuries long experiences of counter-revolution, and the consequences of compromise and collaboration with former colonizers and the colossus US that treats the Caribbean like a backyard swimming pool and those of the islands, whether local agent of capital or exploited worker, as servants by that pool.

“I admit that it is a good thing to place different civilizations in contact with each other that it is an excellent thing to blend different worlds; that whatever its own particular genius may be, a civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies; that for civilizations, exchange is oxygen; that the great good fortune of Europe is to have been a crossroads, and that because it was the locus of all ideas, the receptacle of all philosophies, the meeting place of all sentiments, it was the best center for the redistribution of energy.
But then I ask the following question: has colonization really placed civilizations in contact? Or, if you prefer, of all the ways of establishing contact, was it the best?
“I answer no.
“And I say that between colonization and civilization there is an infinite distance; that out of all the colonial expeditions that have been undertaken, out of all the colonial statutes that have been drawn up, out of all the memoranda that have been dispatched by all the ministries, there could not come a single human value.”
` —Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism

Discourse on Colonialism
Aimé Fernand David Césaire
This classic work, first published in France in 1955, profoundly influenced the generation of scholars and activists at the forefront of liberation struggles in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Nearly twenty years later, when published for the first time in English, Discourse on Colonialism inspired a new generation engaged in the Civil Rights and Black Power and anti-war movements.

All Souls Rising
Madison Smartt Bell
1995
The slave uprising in Haiti was a momentous contribution to the tide of revolution that swept over the Western world at the end of the 1700s. A brutal rebellion that strove to overturn a vicious system of slavery, the uprising successfully transformed Haiti from a European colony to the world’s first Black republic. From the center of this horrific maelstrom, the heroic figure of Toussaint Louverture–a loyal, literate slave and both a devout Catholic and Vodouisant–emerges as the man who will take the merciless fires of violence and vengeance and forge a revolutionary war fueled by liberty and equality.

A Small Place
Jamaica Kincaid
Antigua, 2000
In A Small Place, Kincaid calls attention to the fact that in many ways, conditions in Antigua worsened with the achievement of independence; she communicates her frustration with her people and capitalism. In a nation free from colonialism, Antiguans “do to [themselves] the very things [colonists] used to do to [them]”. Through her critique of colonialism and the development of an exploitative tourist industry in A Small Place, Kincaid addresses several other major themes which include the influence of homeland on identity, culture, and the desire for independence.

A Brief History of Seven Killings
Marlon James
Jamaica, 2014
Winner of the Man Booker Prize
The first part of the novel is set in Kingston, Jamaica, in the build-up to the Smile Jamaica Concert, and describes politically motivated violence between gangs associated with the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP), especially in the West Kingston neighborhoods of Tivoli Gardens and Mathews Lane (renamed in the novel as Copenhagen City and Eight Lanes), including involvement of the CIA in the Jamaican politics of the time. As well as Marley (who is referred to as “the Singer” throughout), other real life characters depicted or fictionalized in the book include Kingston gangsters Winston “Burry Boy” Blake and George “Feathermop” Spence, Claude Massop and Lester Lloyd Coke (Jim Brown) of the JLP and Aston Thomson (Buckie Marshall) of the PNP.

The Indigenous Peoples’s Reading Group, which has grown from the enthusiastic call for the need of greater understanding of the long history of the peoples of North America and other continents of the world who were of those continents before and remain after the European colonists came to settle and bring this capitalist relations to every corner of the globe. Our group began following a stirring presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz September of 2014 where she introduced An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

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