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,...

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

Rough Sketch Beginning, USA, Harcourt Brace, 1996

Prizes

1981 National Poetry Competition (winner)

Prize website

1987 Smarties Grand Prix Award, A Thief in the Village

Prize website

1989 Signal Poetry Award, When I Dance

Prize website

1991 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

Recordings

James Berry

James Berry Downloads

1Folk Proverbs Found Poems

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2Rough Sketch Beginning

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3Just Being

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4Spirits of Movement

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5My Arrival

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6Night Comes Too Soon

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7Chain of Days

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8A Schooled Fatherhood

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9Early Days Thinking Is Only So Much

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10Defendant in a Jamaican Court

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11Villager's Independence: 2

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12Haiku Moments: 1

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13Flame and Water

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14Boolooloops

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15Ol Style Freedom

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16Words of a Jamaican Laas Moment Them

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17Words at My Mother's Funeral

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18Haiku Moments: 3

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19In God's Greatest Country, 1945

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20Old Man in New Country

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21In-a Brixtan Markit

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22Lucy's Letter

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23Thinkin Loud-Loud

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24It's Me Man

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25Starapple Time Starapple Trees

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26On an Afternoon Train from Purley to Victoria, 1955

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27New World Colonial Child

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28Benediction

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