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

On an Afternoon Train from Purley to Victoria

James Berry

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In-a Brixtan Markit

James Berry

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Words of a Jamaican Laas Moment Them

James Berry

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Early Days Thinking Is Only So Much

James Berry

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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

James Berry Reading from his Children's Poems, The...

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,...

James Berry Reading from his poems, CD, The Poetry...

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,...

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 Reading from his poems

1Folk Proverbs Found Poems

2Rough Sketch Beginning

3Just Being

4Spirits of Movement

5My Arrival

6Night Comes Too Soon

7Chain of Days

8A Schooled Fatherhood

9Early Days Thinking Is Only So Much

10Defendant in a Jamaican Court

11Villager's Independence: 2

12Haiku Moments: 1

13Flame and Water

14Boolooloops

15Ol Style Freedom

16Words of a Jamaican Laas Moment Them

17Words at My Mother's Funeral

18Haiku Moments: 3

19In God's Greatest Country, 1945

20Old Man in New Country

21In-a Brixtan Markit

22Lucy's Letter

23Thinkin Loud-Loud

24It's Me Man

25Starapple Time Starapple Trees

26On an Afternoon Train from Purley to Victoria, 1955

27New World Colonial Child

28Benediction