Review by Moira Richards

art on black
by d'bi.young

Women's Press, 180 Bloor St. West, Suite 801, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2V6; ISBN: 0-88961-458-X, 120 pp. $17.95

d'bi.young is a young and already prolific Jamaican Canadian poet, performer and playwright with some few spoken-word CDs to her name as well. I've never before read anything like her poetry--she calls herself a dub poet and she explains dub so: "dub is word. dub is sound. dub is powah. dub poetry is / performance/poetry/politrix /roots/reggae." (pg. 4)

The cover of art on black depicts the poet with shaven head, painted body and an arresting gaze. Evidently she is ready to perform her poetry and I open the book sure that I will encounter powerful words. And even though her unusual spelling and language usage take me a little while to read easily, I am not disappointed. A piece about sexual abuse, with a dedication for likkle debbie, narrates not only the story of a child survivor of rape by her uncle sam, but also
confronts some of the social circumstance that contributes to the perpetuation of such crime;

granny nevah mention/like in most nashuns
likkle girls are children of lesser gods
we suffer girls and boys to come on to him
likkle girls and boys become toys to him

granny speaking from a place of experience
couldn't circumvent di event
dependent on di economic presence of uncle sam
raping sons and dawtahs one by one
and all she feel is pain again and again
                   (children of a lesser god... - pg. 15/16)

If you wondered about the name of the criminally predatory uncle in that poem, well yes. After reading the one quoted below, one that invokes another George's animal farm, I realised that d'bi.young is nothing if not outspoken in her political critique. The poem's dedication is for george w bush & george h w bush and reads in part,

911 reminds me of


don't believe the shit you see on cnn
ameri-KKK-a television lies
                   (animal farm - pg. 97)

The lines above demonstrate some of the power of young's words, and for more even of a treat I visited her website ( and listened to a recording of the entire poem with its musical accompaniment. Wow.

young also slams racial and gender iniquities, and much of her writing is cleverly crafted with double entendre and with tellingly inventive deviations from standard spellings. As in these short excerpts from three different poems,

mi waan fi do some amerikkkan dreaming
pretend me living in di perfect system
where class and colour have no meaning
                   (untitled or butterfly - pg. 25)

teachah seh: welcome class to feminism 101
teachah seh: oomaan get di vote inna 1918
mi nuh really understand weh she mean
when you say oomaan/be more specific
if me remembah correct/1918 mi nevah did a vote yet
                   (ain't i a oomaan - pg. 18)

gendah bendah/yuh nah guh offend har
if yuh tell har seh she don't look like a wo-man

she being me/di queen a androgyny
a put a hole inna yuh whole philosophy
                   (gendah bendah - pg. 92)

art on black collects work that d'bi.young has written and performed successfully over the last decade or so, with some of her new poems and includes too, an interesting, introspective biographical piece that gives the reader some sense of the person behind the performance persona. To close, I've culled a few lines from a thoughtful/thought-provoking poem in which the narrator, a black woman, makes love for the first time with miss merl, another black woman. She discovers that,

and wid de absence of dat prick
di powah play was a trick
cuz dere was no powah play

and in some small
part a mi mine
mi wish mi could freeze
dat feeling in time
and tek it out when mi feel
dispossess and oppress

cause inna
dis ya powah structcha
di black oomaan deh
well, she deh
a di bottom a di laddah

and suh when mi kiss dat black girl

a di first time mi feel sexuality
wid some real equality
                   (kiss for natasha - pg. 47/48)


Moira Richards: "Google 'Moira Richards' to find links to my essays on Women Abuse, my reviews of woman-authored books as well as to other writing and editing work I do for various print and e-publications. I can often be found lounging about the staff rooms of, and - usually sipping tea, sometimes Jack Daniels."



Note: Reviews may not necessarily reflect the opinions of RATTLE's editors and staff.