A Story I am in: Selected Poems
By: James Berry (author)Paperback
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"A Story I Am In" is not just James Berry's life in poetry but a book of all the lives he has witnessed or been part of - a story of life itself. He came to Britain in 1948, in the first postwar wave of Jamaican emigration, later becoming one of the first black writers in Britain to achieve wider recognition. Poetry mattered to Berry from an early age, exposed to two main languages: the standard English of Bible and prayerbook heard every Sunday at church, with all its rhythms and sounding patterns; and the tunes of everyday Jamaican language, with its sayings and proverbs, its special dialect words with their African connections, its expression of a roots culture. These experiences gave him that strong and particular Caribbean awareness of language which has nourished his poetry over many years. This major retrospective of his work covers five collections published over four decades, plus a selection from four books of poetry for children. Much of his poetry celebrates the divided world of a lifelong outsider. Growing up in Jamaica, Berry felt as much disturbed by his African background as by the European slave-trade and its aftermath.
His poetry shows how 'root agonies' made him view Africa as a thoughtless and neglectful mother, how his years in Britain - most of his adult life - left him worried by past, present and future. Now in his mid-80s, he has sought in his later work to give voice to all the people who came on the first ships from the Caribbean, whose journeys held strange echoes of earlier sea voyages from Africa to the slave plantations.
James Berry was born in 1924 and brought up in a tiny seaside village in Jamaica. He learnt to read before he was four years old, mostly from the Bible, which he often read aloud to his mother's friends. When he was 17, he went to work in America, but hated the way black people were treated there, and returned to Jamaica after four years. In 1948, he made his way to Britain, and took a job working for British Telecom. 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 numerous books include two seminal anthologies of Caribbean poetry, Bluefoot Traveller (1976) and News for Babylon (Chatto, 1984). His latest book, A Story I Am In: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), draws on six collections of poetry, including Fractured Circles (1979) and Lucy's Letters and Loving (1982) from New Beacon Books, Chain of Days (Oxford University Press, 1985), and Hot Earth Cold Earth (1995) and Windrush Songs (2007) from Bloodaxe. Windrush Songs was published to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. He has published several books of poetry and short stories for children (from Hamish Hamilton, Puffin and Walker Books), and won many literary prizes, including the Smarties Prize (1987), the Signal Poetry Award (1989) and a Cholmondeley Award (1991). He was awarded the OBE in 1990. He lives in London.
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