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Dub Poetry

Dub poetry is a form of performance poetry common to Caribbean immigrants and the West Indian region. It refers to poetry that’s spoken above a reggae music backing. 

This form of poetry is often performed on stage in front of an audience and is appreciated for its musical qualities and rhythm. The music that the poem is read along with is pre-selected. The poem is also prepared beforehand, differing this form from other forms of performance poetry. The music often follows along with each section of the poem, emphasizing and enhancing the listeners’ experience. Musicians can use various techniques, like reverberation, in order to enhance the effect the poet’s words have. 

The name “Dub poetry” was coined in 1976 by Linton Kwesi Johnson and later popularized through reuse. 

Dub Poetry

Definition of Dub Poetry

Dub poetry is a popular form of performance poetry that’s accompanied by pre-determined Reggae music and is delivered in front of a crowd. These poems are incredibly effective due to the way in which poets carefully select their accompaniment. The best Dub poems are thoughtfully composed alongside an original piece of music that’s been tailored to fit the poet’s words. The music will swell as the poet’s words reach their peak and work to enhance the audience’s experience. Sometimes, poets use audience engagement techniques like call-and-response to make the performance interactive and even more memorable. 

Dub poetry is also quite well-known for engaging with political and social issues. In fact, far more Dub poems are socially engaged than are about traditional poetic themes, like love, nature, and death. 

Examples of Dub Poetry

Dread Beat an’ Blood by Linton Kwesi Johnson 

This 1978 album was released in the UK and has since become synonymous will successful and impactful Dub poetry. The album cites “Poet and the Roots” as the creator. This references Johnson himself as well as Dennis Bovell, Lloyd “Jah Bunny” Donaldson, Winston Curniffe, Vivian Weathers, and several others who Johnson knew from his youth. One of the best-known pieces from this album, ‘All Wi Doin’ Is Defendin’,’ speaks on the 1981 Brixton riot, a famous clash between young Black men and women and the Metropolitan Police. Here are a few lines from the poem: 

war… war…

mi seh lissen

oppressin man

hear what I say if yu can

wi have

a grevious blow fi blow

The album was inspired by Johnson’s work as a journalist and is focused on the experiences of young Black men and women in the UK during the 70s and 80s. Other poems from this album include ‘Dread Beat an’ Blood,’ ‘Five Nights of Bleeding,’ and ‘Song of Blood.’ 

The Work of Benjamin Zephaniah 

Benjamin Zephaniah is a contemporary British/Jamaican writer and Dub poet. His collections include: 

  • The Dread Affair: Collected Poems (1985) 
  • Rasta Time in Palestine (1990)
  • Talking Turkeys (1994) 

His musical recordings include: 

  • Us and Dem (1990)
  • Belly of de Beast (1996)

Here are a few lines from his poem, ‘Dis Poetry:’ 

Dis poetry is like a riddim dat drops

De tongue fires a riddim dat shoots like shots

Dis poetry is designed fe rantin

Dance hall style, big mouth chanting,

Dis poetry nar put yu to sleep

Preaching follow me

Like yu is blind sheep,

Zephaniah is commonly cited as one of the most important post-war British writers. His work usually focuses on political and social themes, such as animal rights, the lives of Black men and women in the UK and around the world, and what he refers to as “street politics.” 

Read more poems by Benjamin Zephaniah


What is Dub poetry?

Dub poetry is a type of performance poetry that is spoken along with a specific, preselected musical backing. The music is usually inspired by Reggae rhythms, and the verse itself is almost always about social or political themes. 

What is an example of Dub poetry?

The work of Linton Kwesi Johnson is commonly cited as containing the most influential examples of Dub poetry. His work has inspired generations of authors and is still regarded as incredibly effective and groundbreaking. 

What is Dub poetry most associated with?

Dub poetry is associated with Jamaican culture, the lives of Black men and women around the world, Reggae music, politics, and social issues. Most Dub poetry speaks on important contemporary themes and is performed with Reggae or similar music in the background. 

Why is Dub poetry important?

Dub poetry is important because it contains unique, groundbreaking voices and speaks on critical themes in contemporary life. Authors working in this genre of poetry are usually inspired by injustice, a desire for change, or a love for their community. 

When was Dub poetry created?

Dub poetry was created in England and Jamaica during the 1970s. It is a contemporary genre of poetry that is influenced by Reggae music and is inspired by the struggles faced by Black men and women in the United States, the UK, Jamaica, and around the world. 

Related Literary Terms 

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