Who is Louise Bennett?

Updated: Jun 18

If you haven’t already seen the video interview with authors Mandy Walker and Richard Stevens where have you been? Mandy Walker and Richard Stevens where have you been? Please stop what you are doing and go take a look now! If you have seen the video, well then lucky you as you will recall a real nugget of information when Mandy told us about one of her literary sheros Miss Louise Bennett (also known as Miss Lou). Mandy discovered Jamaican Poet Miss Lou as a young child growing up in a predominantly white area in the West Midlands. Loving to read, Mandy came across Louise Bennett’s poems written using Jamaican Patois. Forbidden to use Patois at home, Mandy became fascinated by Miss Lou and her use of the Jamaican language.


The late Louise Bennett was born in 1919, in Kingston, Jamaica. Although passing away in 2006 Louise Bennett remains a household name in Jamaica and is considered a living legend and cultural icon. Described as the “only poet who has really hit the truth about her society through its own language”, Miss Lou was an important contributor to her country “reflecting the way Jamaicans think and feel and live”. Through her poems in Jamaican patois, she raised the dialect of the Jamaican folk to an art level.


Given the high regard Miss Lou is held in, it was fascinating to learn that Mandy was forbidden to speak Patois particularly as many will associate it with the Jamaican language. It seems that there were, and still are, some ashamed of Patois because of its association with slavery. There is an ongoing debate in Jamaica about whether patois is a cultural shame or national pride. For Team national pride it is a definitive cultural emblem and a common vernacular unifying the Jamaican people. Its survival despite opposition and efforts to denigrate it is a testament to the spirit, boldness, and tenacity of the Jamaican people from colonial rule all the way through to Jamaica asserting its independence in 1962. Miss Lou captured this spirit in one of her poems called Colonization In Reverse when in one of the stanzas she wrote


“An week by week dem shippin off Dem countryman like fire, Fe immigrate an populate De seat a de Empire”


Clearly, Miss Lou wrote creatively and expressively using Patois and she was able to capture all the spontaneity and expression of Jamaican life. And indeed, it was this capturing of the Jamaican experience that drew Mandy to Miss Lou’s poems. “I love her poetry”, Mandy said, “because it is so funny and it really chimed with me, because my family come from a rural community in Jamaica. And a lot of the things that she used to speak about in her book, the imagery I could visualize what she was talking about”.


Mandy said that Miss Lou inspired her so much “that at a talent night at the school, I recited one of her poems called Dry-foot bwoy about this boy from a rural community in Jamaica coming to England”. Mandy was able through Miss Lou to share and give expression to her Jamaican heritage in a place and time where it would have been hardly represented. This shows the importance of having access to writing and literature where you can see yourself. Mandy went on to say that “this poem really brought a smile to my face. The thing I love about Louise Bennett is that her poems are comical, they touch on rural life in Jamaica, and they carry with them a pride of the patois language. So, I hope Miss Louise’s legacy is something that continues forever in Jamaica.”


We at MindBody Publishing heartily agree and were pleased to find out that Miss Lou’s contribution to Jamaican cultural life was such that she was honoured with the M.B.E. She received many awards over the course of her life and also lectured extensively in the United States and the United Kingdom on Jamaican folklore and music.


One of the pleasures of interviewing our authors is finding out about people as interesting as Miss Lou. We hope you are inspired to go and do some more reading of your own about her. Why not come back and tell us which one of her poems made you laugh the most!


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'Inna di morrows'

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