Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Dubbing Chaucer and Beenie Man: Jean "Binta" Breeze's Re-Presentation of "Afrasporic" Women's Sexuality

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Dubbing Chaucer and Beenie Man: Jean "Binta" Breeze's Re-Presentation of "Afrasporic" Women's Sexuality

Article excerpt

In an early lyric, "Dreamer," Afra-Jamaican and Black British poet Jean "Binta" Breeze introduces readers to a woman who can be found recurrently in a setting evocative of her condition and engaged in envisioning a more empowered future:

      roun a rocky corner
   by de sea
   seat up
      pon a drif wood (1-4)

and gazing out across the water, stick in hand

   tryin to trace
      a future
   in de san (9-11)

"Dreamer" is certainly more than a prophetic, meta-poetic representation of the "womanist" (Walker xi) project that Breeze would unfold over six books of poems, five albums, and countless performances, but it does capture, in its symbolically suggestive details and evocatively ragged left-margined lines respectively, the chief goal of her cultural production and the often marginal, rocky situation of "Afrasporic" females--those of the Black diaspora--whom Breeze has from the outset placed at the centre of her work. Through writing and performance in and beyond the activist, reggae-born for(u)m of dub poetry, (1) Breeze has been passionately and enduringly engaged in addressing the physical violence, poverty, racism, and sexism that scar and constrict the lives of Afrasporic females. She has, however, been equally concerned to speak to their resiliencies, strengths, joys, and pleasures. As she asserts in "Can a Dub Poet Be a Woman?" the closest interests she shares are "obviously with women" (499), and her politics are also shaped by personal experiences "and those of the people round [her] in their day-to-day concerns" (499).

Through and in her art, then, Breeze models the need for and routes to Afrasporic female empowerment, and nowhere is her Jamaican womanism more evident than in her late career poems "The Wife of Bath Speaks in Brixton Market" and "Slam Poem." The latter makes clear the contemporary but historically rooted understanding and representation of Afrasporic women's sexuality so potently prejudicial to those women's well-being, but both poems script performances of an energetically counter-discursive kind. While appropriating from male control two distinctly different genres--literary dramatic monologue with a female persona and live and recorded performance in the popular culture for(u)m of Jamaican dancehall (2)--Breeze dubs the representation of women's sexuality in specific male pre-texts, working toward dispelling the ghosts of slavery that Jenny Sharpe has shown to haunt Afrasporic women's sexuality. The characteristically Jamaican transformative project of reclamation and celebration in these two poems means that she necessarily attends to both the historically and contemporaneously maligned and physically abused yet still vital bodies of Black women and their depreciated but resilient subjectivities.

Breeze as Dub Poet and the Jamaican Arts of Dubbing and Sound-Clashing

As fellow practitioner d'bi.young recounts, the highly political performance poetry known as dub "emerged from the psyche/life experience of conscious ghetto youth in jamaica and england in the late 1970s, early 1980s" (4). In a 1990 article "Can a Dub Poet Be a Woman?" Breeze declared herself "quite at home in the arena of dub poetry" because it "satisfied [her] personal political concerns about whom [she] was talking with" (498). That sense of fit springs from dub's being "primarily oral" (young 5) and from its use of the Jamaican vernacular, also known as patwa, Creole, and nation language. Dub thus enables Breeze to speak in a public forum with--not just to--economically disadvantaged Jamaicans, who are typically more comfortable with embodied oral communication than with writing. However, as a person as richly literate as iterate, (3) Breeze, like most other contemporary dub poets, publishes her poems in print as well as audio and audiovisual forms. Her skill at working in this variety of media allows her to have a powerful impact on diverse and widely dispersed audiences. …

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