A Story I Am In

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20150322

Hannah Lowe looks at the poetry of James Berry OBE, who came to the UK from Jamaica in 1948.

Berry started to write about his experiences and came to play a key role in bringing Caribbean voices into British poetry, editing two seminal anthologies, "Bluefoot Traveller" and "News for Babylon". Now just turned 90, he is slipping into the hidden depths of Alzheimer's Disease but, as A Story I Am In shows, he is aware of people and nature around him.

Next Generation poet and academic Hannah Lowe, herself of part-Jamaican origin, explores how James Berry's poems look to his childhood in rural Jamaica, and reflect on the shock of an England that didn't always know how to accept him. In 1981, he won the Poetry Society's National Poetry Competition for the best poem of the year.

Fellow poets John Agard, Grace Nichols and Linton Kwesi Johnson explain how Berry's work and the man himself came to have such a strong influence on them, while Hannah Lowe finds that the poems have helped her trace her own father's journey from Jamaica to London.

As James Berry developed ways to talk of his experiences both in Standard English and Jamaican Patois, the poets discuss how these ways of writing express different feelings and outlooks.

Using archive of Berry reading his own poems and talking about how he came to write poetry, Hannah Lowe seeks out the man and poet. What shines through is a man of great mental strength - genial, kind and acutely aware of the flash points between people.

Producer: Emma-Louise Williams

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.