Linton Kwesi Johnson

Johnson is a British-based dub poet (for details of future events visit:

1 Does art make a difference?

The creative imagination is a defining characteristic of what it means to be human. Art offers us a vision of how we could be. Art is also a means of personal and social catharsis. And it is a crucial factor in the formation of identities. Art as a commodity provides people with jobs. Art is central to our spiritual well-being, too. So, yes, art does make a difference.

2 Should politics and art mix?

People have long given artistic expression to their struggle against oppression and injustice. Revolutionary movements for change have been complemented by cultural movements. This is particularly true of anti-colonial struggles. Art has often been the only means for ordinary people to voice their suffering, hopes and aspirations and their vision of change.

3 Is your work for the many or for the few?

I suspect that many poets would answer “myself”. That would be only partially true for me. Yes, I write for myself insofar as I am trying to make sense of and give voice to my experience. But my experience is a shared one, both socially and historically.

4 If you were world leader, what would be your first law?

Playing God was never one of my ambitions, but if I did have the power, I would change the terms of trade between the developed nations and the undeveloped ones.

5 Who would be your top advisers?

I don’t know – maybe my mother!

6 What, if anything, would you censor?

Lies and disinformation in the media.

7 If you had to banish one public figure, who would it be?

I wouldn’t want to banish anyone, but I do find sanctimonious bigots who hide behind a facade of left-of-centre liberalism very annoying.

8 What are the rules that you live by?

Have good manners and dignity in poverty; be kind, considerate, compassionate and respectful and live good with your neighbours.

9 Do you love your country?

I do not consider myself a scoundrel, so I won’t hoist the Union Jack. However, I’ve come to terms with my Britishness – sort of, anyway.

10 Are we all doomed?

For the late John La Rose, a comrade of C L R James, self-activity and hope are what sustain the “dream to change the world”.

This article first appeared in the 17 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: the war that changed us