Dead Poets of 2021: Jean Breeze

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.


earth cries

by Jean Breeze


earth cries

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.






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