Linton Johnson’s New Crass Massakah


The following poem was written by Johnson as a memorial for a 1981 London house fire that took the lives of 13 young people at a party in New Cross, London. There was an outcry because of suspicions of race motivated arson, white indifference, and a police cover up.

New Crass Massakah
by Linton Kwesi Johnson

first di comin
an di goin
in an out af di pawty

di dubbin
an di rubbin
and di rackin to di riddim

di dancin
and di scankin
an di pawty really swingin

den di crash
an di bang
an di flames staat fit rang

di heat
an di smoke
an di people staat fi choke

di screamin
and di cryin
and di diein in di fyah…

The author here, Linton Kwesi Johnson, is a Jamaican born poet and Reggae/Dub musician. He moved to London around the age of 11 and developed a strong political consciousness as a black youth and immigrant from a former colony. In his verse he brings significant boldness to race issues. Even as a boy he joined the British Black Panthers, and organized a poetry workshop in its ranks. Over the decades he has attained success in England, Europe, and Jamaica, for his writing and recordings.

This poem is remarkable for its even-handedness, skillful change of tone, its gravity, musicality, the immediacy of description, and its tonal and syllabic control. It is like a dub track in reducing the entire experience to a few elements in the palette. Johnson brings effects to mind through smooth and artful cycles. He foregoes attempting to create a full symphony by an arrangement of small aural effects, but does create big effects inside the reader’s mind while remaining technically small. And that is a dub choice. After all, Mozart or Albert King could create a really big dramatic sound with a few notes, but dub riddims keep the modest sound and still make a big impact.

I wrote a poem recently inspired by a dub toast, which is a spoken rap over a dub beat. The speaker though is not a DJ, but a sound engineer, like King Tubby, (pictured above,) or Scientist. This poem I have written is nothing compared to Johnson’s serious work of actual craftsmanship, I include it though hoping it is not worse than nothing at all. Click on this link to read Spinning Chester.  Admittedly, the poem does not reflect Jamaican speech patterns, patois or standard, in the street or on the mic. The diction reflects my own sense of song lyric, my own writing style, but it is embroidered on the theme of the dub toast.
(Linton Johnson pictured below.)

Linton Johnson