Image by Caroline Forbes

James Berry

b. 1924


Poems come from your more secret mind. A poem will want to ask deeper questions, higher questions, more puzzling questions, and often too, more satisfying questions than the everyday obvious questions... - James Berry

In-a Brixtan Markit

James Berry

Words of a Jamaican Laas Moment Them

James Berry

Early Days Thinking Is Only So Much

James Berry

Rough Sketch Beginning

James Berry

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About James Berry

James Berry (b. 1924) spent his childhood in a village in Jamaica, before working in the United States, finally settling in Britain in 1948 where he has remained ever since. One of the first black writers in Britain to achieve wider recognition, Berry rose to prominence in 1981 when he won the National Poetry Competition. His five collections of poetry and his stories and poems for children have been widely acclaimed. As an editor of two influential anthologies, Berry has been at the forefront of championing Westindian/British writing and his role as an educator has had a significant impact in mediating that community's experience to the wider society. Berry was awarded an OBE in 1990.

Berry's use of both Westindian dialect and more standard English points to his position at the interface between two cultures, exemplified in his collection Lucy's Letters and Loving where the narrator of many of the poems is a Jamaican immigrant in London writing home and trying to describe her experience of life in the "dislocated" capital. There is an emotional duality in his work as well: on the one hand Berry's love of the sensual and imaginative richness of his Jamaican background informs his work, on the other hand, this inheritance is contaminated with the bitter oppressions of slavery. His anger at these injustices motivates some of his poems, particularly when writing about his father's ill treatment at the hands of his white employers. However, the overriding tone of Berry's poetry is one of celebration. Without denying the hurt of the colonial experience, he chooses to defy prejudice through an emphasis on unity, as in the gracious closing image of his poem 'Benediction': "Thanks to flowering of white moon/and spreading shawl of black night/holding villages and cities together."

This recording is a virtuoso performance as Berry effortlessly inhabits many different voices from his past and present, capturing the cadence of Westindian speech. The overall effect is of being welcomed into a community teeming with stories and incidents.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 4 March 2004 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Selected bibliography

Windrush Songs, Bloodaxe 2007

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The Girls and Yanga Marshall: four stories (for children...

A Thief in the Village (stories for children), London,...

Only One of Me (selected poems - for children),...

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A Nest full of Stars (for children), Macmillan, 2002

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Around the World in 80 Poems (editor - for children),...

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First Palm Trees (for children), Simon and Schuster, 1997

Everywhere Faces Everywhere (for children), Simon and...

Rough Sketch Beginning, USA, Harcourt Brace, 1996

Don't Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird (for...

Playing a Dazzler (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1996...

Hot Earth Cold Earth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bloodaxe...

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Classic Poems to Read Aloud (editor), London, Kingfisher...

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Celebration Song (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1994

Ajeemah and His Son (for children), USA, Harper Collins...

The Future-Telling Lady (for children), Hamish Hamilton...

Isn't My Name Magical? (for children), Longman/BBC, 1990...

Anancy Spiderman (for children), London, Walker Books,...

When I Dance (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1988 - out...

Chain of Days, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985 -...

News for Babylon: the Chatto Book of Westindian-British...

Lucy's Letters and Loving, New Beacon Books, 1982

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Fractured Circles, London, New Beacon Books, 1979 - out...

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Bluefoot Traveller: poetry by Westindians in Britain (...

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