These poems gives voice to the people who came on the first ships from the Caribbean, whose journeys held strange echoes of earlier sea voyages which had brought ancestors from Africa to the slave plantations. James Berry – from Jamaica – was one of these emigrants, settling in Britain in 1948. This late collection by Berry explores the different reasons he and his fellow travellers had for leaving the Caribbean when they rushed to get on the boat. This publication was linked with events marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.
The poems also look back on slavery and individual experiences of hardship and trying to make a living: ‘Mi one milkin cow just die! / Gone, gone – and leave me / Like hurricane disaster!’ Windrush Songs ranges from from lyrical pictures of Caribbean country life to poems in the voices of travellers with desires, fears, anxieties, hopes and ambitions. James Berry came to Britain on the next ship after the Windrush and shared many of the experiences that prompted this migration in search of change and a better life. Many of the poems from Windrush were included in James Berry's A Story I Am In: New & Selected Poems, but renewed interest in Windrush Songs has prompted its reissue.
‘Berry came to Britain from Jamaica in 1948. In the introduction to this collection of poems, he explains why he came to Britain and left a country he loved. "Beginning in a City, 1948" in particular gives a strong impression of what Caribbean arrivals experienced in their first hours and days. The emigrant experience is often littered with contradictions… and Berry’s poems illustrate this perfectly.’ – Louise Hare, The Guardian (choosing Windrush Songs as one of her top 10 books about the Windrush generation)
'When I think of James Berry’s poetry I think of celebration… celebration with an echo of despair, but his urge to find worth and joy in both the remembered life of his rural Jamaican childhood and in his sojourn as a "bluefoot traveller" in Britain through the last forty years, is the real motive force of his work… Berry has been at the forefront of the struggle to validate and honour the language people of West Indian origin in Britain actually speak’ – Stewart Brown
James Berry: Poet of the Windrush Generation
James Berry reads eight poems from A Story I Am In: Selected Poems. The first three poems are originally from his collection Hot Earth Cold Earth, which celebrated the divided world of a lifelong outsider, a poet of two tongues, ‘Hot Earth’ Creole and ‘Cold Earth’ English (‘Defendant in a Jamaican Court’, ‘Words of a Jamaican Laas Moment Them’, ‘Early Days Thinking Is Only So Much’). These are followed by five poems from Windrush Songs giving voice to the people who came on the first ships from the Caribbean, whose journeys held strange echoes of earlier sea voyages which had brought ancestors from Africa to the slave plantations (‘To Travel This Ship’, ‘Englan Voice’, ‘In the Land and Sea Culture-crossed’, ‘New Space’, ‘Wind-rush’). Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed him at home in Chiswick in June 2007 for Bloodaxe’s first DVD-anthology, In Person: 30 Poets (2008).