Susan Rigg loved language and poetry as a child and was amazed when she first heard poetry by Louise Bennett in the vernacular, it took her to another level. Hearing poetry spoken in Caribbean dialect that created an atmosphere and feeling that was unique. Scottish and Irish poets have been doing this for eons but there was a a certain snobbery about Caribbean accents, epitomised by shabby comedians of the day (this was the late seventies, early eighties) so for me, er Susan Rigg, hearing the Caribbean dialect as spoken word poetry gave value and cultural relevance to an accent I had been previously been ashamed of.
As a teenager, when I ‘upscaled’ my name to Suzy, the poetry I learned and recited at school was classical in tone and delivery. When dub-poets like Linton Kwesi-Johnson, Micheal Smith & Mutabaruka came on the scene, they set my brain alight with the possibility of Jamaican dialect, humour and folklore as a tore de force for my literary enjoyment. There is a rich oral tradition in African culture but the cross-over took a little while to permeate. As Louise said herself:
“I have been set apart by other creative writers a long time ago because of the language I speak and work in. From the beginning nobody ever recognised me as a writer. ‘Well, she is “doing” dialect;’ it wasn’t even writing you know. Up to now a lot of people don’t even think I write. They say “Oh, you just stand up and say these things!” LOUISE BENNETT
Everything moves on, Poetry, in particular spoken word poetry, has moved a long way in the last few decades. Married now and going by the Rowland surname, I can reflect on how inspiring it is to see so many black and mixed ethnicity poets, weave their culture, class, dialect into their work and make it their own. The likes of George the Poet @GeorgeThePoet @akalamusic and Yrsa Daley-Ward firmly underline the universal impact of poetry to tell stories in a rich diversity of styles, and dialects.
© Suzy Rowland