“Remarkable, brave, funny, and a force” – warm tributes to Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze

Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze. Photo by Tehron Royes, courtesy of Bloodaxe Books.

Warm tributes have been paid to Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze who died in Jamaica on 4 August, after a long illness. Jean’s many friends and colleagues took to social media to share stories and memories.

“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. […] 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.” – Renaissance One

“We are all shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the death of the much loved Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, magnificent poet, performer, riddym woman and force of nature.” – Bloodaxe Books

“She was a one off – a tour de force. I remember hearing her read Riddym Ravings back in 1989 at a Caribbean Writers Conf, it changed my life – go well sweet sister into the dark and the light.” – Jackie Kay

“Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze was remarkable, brave, funny, and a force. She lives on in her body of work. Rest in Power.” – Cassava Republic

“I looked up to Jean, she led the way, showed us all how it’s done. Rest in power, rest in peace.” –Salena Godden

“A brave and brilliant poet.” – Calabash Festival

Bloodaxe published five of Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze’s books: On the Edge of an Island (1997), The Arrival of Brighteye (2000), The Fifth Figure (2006), Third World Girl: Selected Poems (2011, with DVD) and The Verandah Poems (2016), the last three of which remain in print. In his online tribute, Neil Astley recalls her early life: “She began to write poetry in the 1970s, becoming the first woman to write and perform as a dub poet – then a predominantly male genre – performing and recording first in Kingston and then in London. After studying at the Jamaican School of Drama with Michael Smith and Oku Onuora, she worked as a director and scriptwriter for theatre, television and film, and as a dancer and choreographer.“ You can read the article in full on the Bloodaxe website.

Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze’s collections won high praise in The Poetry Review. Reviewing her Selected Poems in 2011, David Morley described her as “one of our finest communicators in the spoken word as an art form, her dub techniques both craft and vehicle. One might argue that the current renaissance we are enjoying in spoken word would not have happened had she and Linton Kwesi Johnson not broken ground for us all.” (The Poetry Review, winter 2011)

Kwame Dawes, reviewing her collection The Arrival of Brighteye (Bloodaxe, 2000), wrote: “Breeze, often seen as a performance poet is precisely that: a poet committed to all the implications of performance. She shows that the truest performer is one who understands the medium she is using and the demands of the space in which she is performing.” (The Poetry Review, autumn 2000)

Kei Miller paid a moving tribute to Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze in a Facebook post. “In England, Jean wasn’t just a friend. She became my family. I was a little sad when she decided that ill health would no longer allow her to travel the way she had been used to travelling. She never wanted to be stuck in England, so it was back to Jamaica for her. Visiting her in Hanover became a ritual for me on my trips back home. It was just a house, and the verandah that she occupied and from which she wrote her last book, Verandah Poems. On the other side of the road was the Caribbean sea. It didn’t seem like much to me, but Jean loved it and insisted it wasn’t just enough – it was everything. … Travel Light. Travel well. You were the realest thing. I will miss her more than I could ever write here.”

13 August 2021