Kokumo. Just Pieces of a Man .APS Books, 2022.
Originally from Jamaica, Gerald Dixon, aka Kokumo, is a dub poet who has lived in Birmingham for many years and is well-known as an activist, workshop facilitator, poet, and storyteller. In 2006 Kokumo released a CD entitled Writing’s on the Wall, recorded in Birmingham with local musicians and in 2016 his debut collection of poems, Dub Truth, was published by APS Publications, a small publishing house then based in Stourbridge, in the West Midlands, but which is based in Yorkshire today.
Kokumo is committed to the dub poetry art form which he sees as “the voice of the downtrodden” (email communication) and as a medium “to inform and to invoke conscious responses to cultural and social norms”.
His latest collection, Just Pieces of a Man, was published in 2022 by APS Publications and is a collection of poems that were written “during a two-year period of lockdown during the pandemic”, a time when people were under unprecedented mental strain and when they needed something to hold on to. During that period, Kokumo remained active as a dub poet, and in spite of the many challenges to be faced (like the impossibility to perform in front of a live audience), he managed to write a large number of poems that extend his vision.
The title of the collection references a well-known song and album by Gil Scott-Heron (“Pieces of a Man”, 1971), the iconic blues poet and musician, but could also be taken to refer to Kokumo’s objective here : he is attempting to give us several “pieces” of himself, and to give us access to various aspects of his identity as a dub poet and as a human being.
“Jahmayka Gone” and “The Letter” deal with the current situation and the high crime rate in the poet’s home island; he simply cannot recognise the island he left so many years ago and blames corrupt politicians for the situation the country is in. Kokumo’s poems about Jamaica are tinged with a certain nostalgia for a certain time gone by, for lost innocence and youth.
But the poet does not dwell on the past only, and addresses current problems too, like the absence of reparations after the trauma of slavery (“Reparations Should’ve Come, At The ‘End’ Of The Whips”), the issue of cultural artefacts from Africa still held in European museums (“Raiders of the Ark”), the persistence of neo-colonialism (“The Commonwealth”), or the continuing presence of racism in Britain (“Dred Man walking”, “Britain’s Streets of Terror”).
Along the way Kokumo pays tribute to the poets and artists who inspired him, like Gil Scott-Heron (“Whitey Gone to Space”, based on Scott-Heron’s “Whitey On The Moon”), Jean “Binta” Breeze (“Aid Travel With a Vaccine”, based on Breeze’s “Aid Travel With a Bomb”), Cherry Natural, Mutabaruka and Oku Onuora (“Som’ Dub Poets”), and Michael Smith, who was murdered in Jamaica in 1983 (“Heckle Fe De Dub”).
Other themes addressed in this collection include the loss of revolutionary ideals in the wake of the commercialisation of reggae (“The One Love Rhetoric Had Stalled The Revolution”), and the ravages of mass tourism in the Caribbean (“Paradise in the Sun”).
Kokumo writes both in Standard English and in Jamaican Creole, and the poems in Creole bear the influence of the great dub poets he mentions in “Som’ Dub Poets”, but also of the late Edward Kamau Brahwaite. African-American music and poetry are another influence, with the figure of Gil-Scott Heron looking on benignly.
Overall this is an engaging collection which proves that the revolutionary thrust of dub poetry is alive and well in Britain.