Jamaican dub poet Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze dies aged 65

The pioneering Jamaican dub poet Jean “Binta” Breeze has died aged 65, her agents have confirmed.

Breeze, considered one of the most important and influential contemporary poets, was a regular performer at literary festivals in both the UK and across the world.

She had trained at the Jamaican School of Drama and began writing poetry in the 1970s. Breeze went on to write 10 books of poems and stories, and released five albums of her work.

Her poetry was also used in the Poems on the Underground series in London, with Rising being reprinted in tube carriages for passengers to read.

She died on Wednesday after a period of ill-health, according to her agents, Renaissance One Writers and Events.

In a statement on Twitter, they said: “We are incredibly saddened to announce that our dear friend Jean “Binta” Breeze MBE – poet, artist, theatre director, choreographer, actor and teacher – has died in Jamaica, aged 65. Sending our deepest condolences to her family and friends during this terribly sad time.

“Jean was an especially important part of our literary community in the UK and the Caribbean and 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 we will be mourning her loss for some time.”

The poet Michael Rosen, who had shared a stage with Breeze, told the Guardian: “I performed alongside her at the Ledbury poetry festival. She took hold of the whole performance place, invoking scenes and people from her life in poem and song. It was as if she summoned her mother into the room and became her.

“Her poetry and performance was an announcement about womanhood, ethnicity, colour, nationhood and in particular Jamaica. I was riveted.

“She was also great company backstage, talking openly about her life and difficulties, and interrogating me about where I was at. She had a huge infectious laugh which came from all of her. I was thinking that one day, perhaps we would meet up again in a poetry setting. Very sad that it’s not going to happen.”

Breeze had arrived in the UK in the mid-1980s, at the invitation of Linton Kwesi Johnson, to perform at the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, better known as the Black Book Fair.

She stayed in the UK and continued to teach, write and perform while splitting her time between Leicester and Jamaica in her later years. She also worked as a director and scriptwriter for theatre, television and film.

Her work led her to be awarded an MBE in 2012 in the Queen’s birthday honours, for her services to literature.

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