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What Is Dub Poetry?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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Dub poetry is a specific kind of poetry or verse where built-in rhythm adds to the appeal of the performance or reading. This sort of poetry is most often associated with types of reggae music such as dancehall, but specifically associated with “dub music”, which is a bit different than the dancehall variety. Many times, dub poetry can be adapted to be performed along with music, which is usually reggae or something with a similar rhythm.

In terms of its content, dub poetry stands out from other types of performance art. This type of spoken word most frequently focuses on issues of social justice, or other political issues. It may also include many elements and references to Rastafarianism, a local religion, as is the case in the general reggae genre.

Many attribute the origin of dub style poetry to Jamaica, and the art form is said to have a West Indian origin. Its close connection with reggae reveals this origin in some ways. An international audience might confuse this kind of poetry with reggae, especially when music is added to back the spoken word album.

An essential element of dub poetry is rhythm, which is written and pronounced as “riddim” inside the industry related to this type of poetry and music. Cultural scholars examine the ways that rhythm connects to the spoken word as they observe how dub style poetry and music influence the wider genre. Researchers can also contrast dub poetry with other parts of the reggae genre to understand its particular appeal.

Some culture historians connect dub poetry with specific performers, such as Oku Onuara, a prominent poet in the 1970s. Others identify it more broadly as poetry that has an innate rhythm, that can be spoken in rhythm without backing music, and that can be understood to be influenced by reggae. Apart from being the province of a certain school of poets, dub style poetry is also commonly understood to be connected with deejays or disc jockeys.

In examining the role of dub poetry, some of the performers who use it have described it as having a limited appeal or timeline. In talking about the constraints of this specific type of verse, performers have pointed out that the ability to fix spoken word in a more abstract meter may have substantial benefits. For this and other reasons, this kind of poetry may not be as popular today as it once was.

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