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'Laaaaawd!' - Poets Resurrect Mikey Smith

Owen 'Blakka' Ellis remembers dub poet Mikey Smith

In every other way, it was an ordinary Tuesday evening. There was nothing unusually spectacular about the gathering of poets for the August edition of the Poetry Society of Jamaica. The audience was reasonable, neither notably small nor large, as poets came and bared their poems to the tender mercies of the audience with hope of useful critique or validation. Yet, on this very ordinary evening, 27 August, something a little extraordinary happened, as dub poet Mikey Smith was ‘resurrected’.

"No matter what we do tonight, it no really worthy,” said Tommy Ricketts. “It should be more. It should be better because a life like dat shouldn't really go so." Ricketts was creating the firmament for the rest of the evening and he was right.

Yet, what was particularly striking was the focus on the memory of Smith rather than his poetry, which allowed the man and his mission to come to the fore, and made the event more significant than its inconsequential appearance.

Tommy RickettsThe overall evening was hosted by Yashika Graham, and the focus on Smith was to have featured Mutabaruka, Blakka Ellis, M’Bala, Hilary Nicholson, Tommy Ricketts and Eugene Williams. Unfortunately, three of the six were not able to attend, so the night’s reflections came down to Ricketts, Ellis and M’Bala.

Ricketts pointed to the significance of Smith’s voice on the poetic landscape. He explained that much of the current space is owed to Smith, Mutabaruka, Jean Binta Breeze, and Oku Onuara, who, with the exception of Mutabaruka all attended the School of Drama (then Cultural Training Centre) at the same time.

"My memories of Mikey started at high school,” Ricketts said. "You're learning all of these things from these dead white men and then it gets introduced to you and you’re hearing something that sounds like the language around you," he said.

Both Ellis and M’Bala were at Drama school with Mikey Smith.

"It began here and it ended here and thanks to all of you it continues here," said Ellis, himself a poet, playwright, actor and comedian. He explained that Mikey Smith made an impression on him from his first day at drama school as the only senior who stood against the ragging of the new students.

Ellis spoke about the significance of debate about life as a part of student life, and pointed out that Smith's willingness to talk out against the status quo was what he lived and died by. With his usual combination of humour and salient points, he explained that most Jamaicans know to either play along or ignore political zealots, yet Mikey was not among those, and his defiance led to his death.

"And just like that..." Ellis said. "It was because him talk."

Ellis ended his delivery with his poem ‘Objectified’ followed by an impromptu performance of Smith's seminal poem 'Mi cyaa Believe It'.M'Bala fellow poet, friend entered drama school the same year as Smith

M’bala followed Ellis to the stage.

'Intense, that a di word fi describe Mikey and sometime him even get too insense," M’bala said, but he would soon admit that although there are many things he could day about the fallen dub poet, he would not say them on that occasion.

M’bala explained that he and Smith began drama school in the same year, when it was still in a little “shed” on the grounds of the Little Theatre. They were close, he revealed, sharing a friendship and their creative energies on an off the campus.

"It’s so ironic that I live in Stony Hill for so many years and almost every day I have to pass the place where dem kill Mikey," M’bala said.

M’bala also spoke to the change in the attitude of the students and the nation then and now.

"There was a sense of struggling to find a sense of self,” he said, “and there is still some of that now but it's kind of being eroded by the bleaching and all a that stuff."

He said, that he was aware that with the impact of Mikey Smith’s dub poetry, there are many who never knew him but miss him, however, he is particularly missed by those who did.

"The people who know him,” M’bala said, “we miss Mikey and him little drop short walk."

And though he hasn’t said it, the sadness of his words evoke Mikey’s inimitable wail, sending out a silent “Laaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwd!”