Sound Addictions curator Christopher Laursen interviewed Toronto-based, Jamaican-Canadian dub poet, writer, playwright and professor Lillian Allen who, in October, released her latest album Anxiety. With a career in dub poetry that spans back to the 1970s, Lillian brings a new tension that starkly contrasts the optimism of her 1980s albums, Revolutionary Tea Party (1986) and Conditions Critical (1988), using today’s recording technology to get into the depths of human consciousness in these anxious times.
The interview is interspersed with Lillian’s songs, videos, and images of her career – a photo essay that demonstrates how her dub poetry has addressed changed times over a stretch of decades. She was featured in Sound Addictions’ feature article “Shining Sounds from 2012” (where you can hear more songs from Anxiety). Freshly back from touring Europe last fall, be sure to follow her Facebook page for news on upcoming performances.
Christopher Laursen: What were your first encounters with dub poetry, and how did those experiences shape your own creative work?
Lillian Allen: Dub poetry is something I had evolved into quite naturally, but I didn’t call it dub poetry at the time. I loved poetry and recitation/elocution from when I was a little girl. We recited poetry in church, in school and at community happenings. I grew up in Spanish Town, Jamaica in the fifties and sixties. Poetry and storytelling were always very vibrant. Strictly speaking, I would say Louise Bennett would be my first encounter but what she did was not called dub poetry or maybe the sermons of the Baptists and Methodist preachers. I would say Louise Bennett is in fact the mother of dub poetry.
Lillian Allen with Jahbudah, “Dub Ellington,” performing live in Toronto in February 2013
In the seventies I was involved in creating and reading poetry in Toronto’s black community with folks like Clifton Joseph and Devon Haughton, ahdri zhina mandiela and Ishaka. In 1978, I met Jamaican dub poet Oku Onoura and I saw what he was doing and that he had named what he was doing dub poetry. I felt that in terms of our politics and aesthetics and political activism, we had many artistic approaches in common and that we were in fact part of a movement rooted in anti-colonial, resistance and coming to voice. So I decided to throw my hat in the ring, so to speak, and help build and bring attention to this new and exciting movement in poetry with its grassroots revolutionary zeal and black aesthetics.