20 Jun

The Politics of Poetry – Burns, Jamaica and the Scottish Slave Trade

19:00 — 20:00
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway

Part of the 2014 Commonwealth Culture Programme.

Set in the atmospheric surroundings of the Burns Museum, Linton Kwesi Jones and Kevin Williamson will read from their works and explore Burns own responses to the Scottish slave trade in Jamaica.

Linton Kwesi Johnson: Linton Kwesi Johnson (aka LKJ) is a UK-based dub poet. In 2002 he became the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series. Born in Chapelton, a small town in the rural parish of Clarendon, Jamaica in 1963 he moved to Brixton, London, joining his mother who had emigrated to Britain shortly before Jamaican independence in 1962.

At school he joined the British Black Panther Movement and helped to organise a poetry workshop within the movement, and developed his work with Rasta Love. During the early to mid-1970s he was employed as the first paid library Resources and Education Officer at the Keskidee Centre, where his poem Voices of the living and the dead was staged and produced by Jamaica novelist Lindsay Barrett, with music by the reggae group Rasta Love.

Most of Johnson’s poetry is political, dealing mainly with the experiences of being an African-Caribbean in Britain, he has also written about other issues, such as British foreign policy or the death of anti-racist marcher Blair Peach. His most celebrated poems were written during the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In 2012, he was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for a Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature.

Kevin Williamson: A writer, publisher, and activist from Caithness, Williamson is a Scottish socialist and republican and was an activist for the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). He was also the architect of their radical drug policy, which included the legalisation of cannabis and the provision under the National Health Service of free synthetic heroin to addicts under medical supervision.

In 1992 Williamson launched a literary magazine called Rebel Inc and through its pages was one of the first publishers of well known Scottish writers including Irvine Welsh, Laura Hird, Alan Warner, and Toni Davidson. Williamson joined forces with Edinburgh-based Canongate Books in 1996 to create the Rebel Inc imprint which published almost sixty titles, mixing Scottish fiction with the international counter-culture and the politics of dissent.

Williamson stood as an SSP candidate in the first ever elections to the Scottish Parliament in the Edinburgh Central constituency. In 2001, he stood again for the SSP in Edinburgh Central in the Westminster General Election. Williamson became the first person to be physically ejected by the police from the Scottish Parliament when he made an anti-war protest wearing a George Bush mask in 2003. He strong supporter of Scottish independence and Independence First.

In November 2007, Williamson signalled a clear break with party politics and his previous Marxian background in an article entitled Scotland’s Libertarian Left, which was originally published by Bella Caledonia – a free newspaper Williamson currently co-edits with Mike Small aimed at stimulating discussion around left libertarian and Scottish republican ideas. His regular weekly column in The Herald was controversially axed because of his outspoken views on Israel.

Part of the 2014 Commonwealth Culture Programme.

A series of free evening literature events by Scottish PEN which unites Commonwealth and Scottish writers along the route of the Queens Baton Relay across Scotland. Every event will examine a movement in Commonwealth history and allow the authors to discuss their relative works. This project is supported by the 2014 Commonwealth Games Culture funding from Creative Scotland.