About James Berry

Music is an important part of Jamaican life, and James Berry’s poems celebrate what he calls ‘everyday’ music – bird calls, tropical storms, the chatter of family and friends, and traditional songs and stories. They bring you the sounds, sights and smells of James’s Jamaican childhood.

Some of his poems are written in the Jamaican dialect, which is also known as Creole, or Patois, or Jamaican nation talk. Some of his poems use standard English. Some use both. In ‘Bye Now’ and ‘Goodbye Now’, you can hear two versions of the same poem – one in each form of language. You can also hear the tenderness of his mother’s voice. James’s readings have a wide variety of character and expression, and in ‘Trick a Duppy’ you can hear another, very different mood. Listen to the recording to find out what a duppy is – and what you can do to trick one!

James’s poems sound very musical because of their strong rhythms. Some are almost like a songs, with repetition and refrain. Here you can find free verse, couplets, proverbs, rap, conversations between two different voices and haikus.

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James was born in Jamaica. He grew up in a farming family in small seaside village surrounded by fields and fruit trees. As a teenager he went to the United States to work for few years. He then moved to Britain, where he stayed for the rest of his life, mostly in London. As well as looking back to his childhood, his poetry tells of his experience as a black person in a large British city. He was one of the first black people in Britain to become famous for their writing, and later on he compiled anthologies of poetry by black writers. But he believed that that poetry could speak to any reader, whatever their skin colour.

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

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Selected Bibliography

Only One of Me: Selected Poems by James Berry, Macmillan, 2002

A Nest Full of Stars, Macmillan, 2004


1981 National Poetry Competition (winner)

1987 Smarties Grand Prix Award, A Thief in the Village

1989 Signal Poetry Award, When I Dance

1991 Cholmondeley Award

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