Stand Up and Spit takes over Late at Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives for a series of activities paying tribute to Jamaican poet Michael Smith, through readings, discussions and film screenings.
Michael ‘Mikey’ Smith was, along with Linton Kwesi Johnson and Mutabaruka, one of the best-known dub poets of the 1970s and ’80s. Working as a social worker representing prisoners in Gun Court in Jamaica, as well as writing and performing, he was known for his commentary on the “isms and schisms of ‘politricks”. Like LKJ, Smith was famed for rejecting conventional English to write in a phonetic style of Jamaican speech, a great example of which is his most famous poem and title of his only album, Mi Cyaan Believe It.
A popular figure in London, Smith had successful performances including at the 1982 International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books at the Camden Centre, run by New Beacon Books. He recorded a session for John Peel (hear it here), appeared on the BBC television series Ebony and was the subject of Anthony Wall’s film Upon Westminster Bridge (1982).
Always outspoken on matters of politics and society, Smith can be seen as aligned with the principles of Ranting. It was this that led to his death: after attending a rally of the right-wing Jamaica Labour Party and heckling the Minister for Culture on the 17 August 1983, he was confronted by party activists and died from a blow to the head.
Linton Kwesi Johnson said of him: “The late Jamaican poet, Michael Smith, was to my mind one of the most interesting and original poetic voices to emerge from the English-speaking Caribbean during the last quarter of the 20th century.”