James Berry's poems take you back to the noises, sights and smells of his Jamaican childhood. James was born in 1924 in a small village surrounded by fields and fruit trees. Through his writing James shares his experience of this exciting world, where he ate "young jelly-coconut" ('Childhood Tracks') and where humble hens' eggs became "a mighty nest full of stars" ('A Nest Full of Stars). As he says in one poem "Isn't it all magic?" ('Isn't My Name Magical').

His poems also celebrate what he calls the 'Everyday Music' of village life - the sounds of birds and farmyard animals, the wind and rain of tropical storms, the laughter of family and friends and, above all, the songs and stories he heard all around him. This musical tradition is very important in Jamaican culture so it's not surprising that the sound of words is central to James's poems. Listen for the way he uses repeated lines like the chorus in a song, or the strong rhythms and rhymes that can help you learn his poems by heart. James also uses the Jamaican accent and dialect to bring his poems to life - find out what a "duppy" is and why you should be frightened of one, or what you're missing if you're a "No-Toot". When he reads, James can change his voice to become whoever or whatever is speaking the poem - his mother, a baby, a brother who's scared of his sister's muscles, even a guinea pig!

But James also speaks about difficult subjects, particularly the racism he's seen in Jamaica, the USA, and the UK where he's lived for many years now. In one touching poem he talks to Josie, a nine-year-old he taught in school who wrote to him about the bullying she was suffering. James comforts her, saying it's 'Okay, Brown Girl, Okay'. In the poem he imagines a world where everyone can "grow brightly" whatever their skin colour. Finally, James Berry's many books of poetry and stories, for both adults and children, focus on the joy of living; as he says in his poem 'When I Dance' "I celebrate all rhythms".

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 26 April 2004 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Extras

Interview with James
Distinguished poet, James Berry, often returns to his Jamaican childhood for the sound and subject matter of his poems. In this interview he describes these early influences and how he shapes them into finished pieces.
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James Berry - Children's Poems


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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive: View full track listing
Prizes