Entertainment

LKJ slowing down

By Richard Johnson
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 10, 2018

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For the past 40 years his writing and poetry have been the voice of the West Indian living in Britain.

With his trademark fedora ever at a jaunty keel, and his wired spectacles, Jamaican-born, UK-bred writer Linton Kwesi Johnson, the has, through his work, continuously provided a window on the experiences of his people using the rich and multi-layered culture of his native Jamaica, particularly patois and reggae rhythms as the substrate from which grows the biting social and political commentary which is at the heart of his work.

But after four decades LKJ, as he is commonly known, says he is slowing down.

The Jamaica Observer caught up with him at the 2018 staging of the Calabash Literary Festival, which closed its pages a week ago at Jakes in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, where he was among the raft of luminaries brought in by organisers Justine Henzell and Kwame Dawes for the biennial event.

“Right now I'm trying to have a quiet life and keep a low profile 'cause age a ketch up pon mi. I am more active on the poetry reading circuit, but in terms of performing with my band, The Dennis Bovell Dub Band, I'm not doing so much of that. It has to be something special. I've been on the road for 40 years... so it's time,” Johnson shared.

On the final day of Calabash, Johnson was part of a quartet which also comprised actor Alwyn Scott, retired national librarian Winsome Hudson, and university lecturer Isis Semaj Hall, who paid tribute to renowned Barbadian writer Kamau Brathwaite with readings from his 1973 work The Arrivants.

One appearance on the Calabash stage for the closing day was never going to be enough, and to close out the open mic segment he was invited to share a work. Originally he had planned to read from the work of fellow poet Michael Smith, but had to settle for one of his own as he had mislaid the text.

Johnson offered nothing but the highest commendations to to organisers of the festival, explaining to the Sunday Observer that ever since his first invitation to read at Calabash he has been hooked and keeps coming back.

“Wonderful festival. The first time I was invited, I can't remember how long ago it was. I was smitten and I keep coming ever since. It is so unique and the ambience — the fact that its a combination of the local, the national the regional and the international. There are writers from all over the world who would give their left hand just to be invited to Calabash, that's how wonderful it is. Just look at the ambience and your can feel the vibes, just how wonderful and relaxed it is,” he shared.

The recent Windrush Scandal in the United Kingdom — involving the immigration status of members of the Windrush generation who were wrongly being counted as illegal immigrants and some even threatened with deportation was undoubtedly of interest to Johnson. He was born in Chapleton, Clarendon, in 1952, and migrated to the UK as a 10-year-old back in 1963 to join his mother who had emigrated just before Jamaica gained its Independence from Britain in 1962.

Johnson noted that the scandal will undoubtedly have an effect and provide food for thought for young writers.

“For the younger generation, I think they will find something there to inspire them because it's a continuity of what we've been experiencing for the last 70 years. The hostile environment is not new; it was there from we went there and its still there,” he told the Sunday Observer.

He has been invested with a number of honours and awards including the Silver Musgrave Medal for the Institute of Jamaica; the Order of Distinction from the government and people of Jamaica for his contribution to literature. He has also been conferred the Honorary Doctorate of Literature by Rhodes University in South Africa.

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