Poet Jean “Binta” Breeze was only 65 when she died this past August. I left her poem, “earth cries,” on a tree decorated by a sister elf from another mother.
by Jean Breeze
she doesn’t cry for water
she runs rivers deep
she doesn’t cry for food
she has suckled trees
she doesn’t cry for clothing
she weaves all that she wears
she doesn’t cry for shelter
she grows thatch everywhere
she doesn’t cry for children
she’s got more than she can bear
she doesn’t cry for heaven
she knows it’s everywhere
you don’t know why she’s crying
when she’s got everything
how could you know she’s crying
for just one humane being
I liked this poem when I read it but I loved it when I heard it. Jean Breeze was a performer as much as a poet, and you can’t appreciate her work fully without experiencing it come to life. Listen here.
It’s tight, it’s rich, it’s timeless. It could almost be lifted from a well-worn children’s book, one with words so exactly right and pleasurable to say that every word is imprinted on the brain and comes back years and years later, like memories of an old friend or the house you lived in once.
You can see below what a dynamic performer she was.
Jean Breeze was born in 1956 in Jamaica. Both her parents worked, her father as chief health inspector, her mother as a midwife. She was raised mostly by her grandparents who were farmers.
After high school she went to a drama school, but left to join a community of Rastafarians. While living with them she had her first schizophrenic episode. Her mother mortgaged the house to get proper care for her. Breeze would suffer breakdowns throughout her life, but carried on and bravely brought her mental health issues out into the open. You can listen, below, to her performing “Mad Woman’s Poem.”
Breeze became Jamaica’s first female dub poet. Dub poetry, which grew out of Caribbean reggae culture, is spoken poetry, usually performed with live or recorded music, and is concerned with social justice.
She published 8 books of poetry, recorded 5 albums, and was especially popular in England, drawing huge crowds. Queen Elizabeth II awarded her Order of the British Empire.
Breeze was also a screenwriter, choreographer, drama and creative writing teacher.
She had three children. She died of COPD.