Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Sonny's Lettah (Anti-sus poem)" by Linton Kwesi Johnson

One of the "33 Revolutions" featured in the encyclopedic 33 Revolutions Per Minute:  A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day (2011) by Dorian Lynskey.  Although I know most of the songs featured by Lynskey, this reggae-inflected poem by Linton Kwesi Johnson, "Sonny's Lettah (Anti-sus poem)" was a new one; it was written in protest of the so-called Sus law, which allowed police to detain people suspected (hence, the "sus") of having "intent to commit an arrestable offence," in England.  The story of Sonny is a condensation of many experiences gathered by Johnson into this epistolary song, about a man who fights back, to defend a friend detained and beaten by police.  In our post-9/11, Occupy Wall Street moment, we are thrust back into the past, where it seems yet again that citizens are suspected of guilt by color or creed or association.

Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-sus poem) by Linton Kwesi Johnson

Brixton Prison
Jeb Avenue
London, South West 2

Dear Ma Maa,

Good Day
I hope that when these few lines reach you
they may find you in the best of health
Ma Maa I really don’ know how to tell yu dis
’cause, I did meck a solemn promise
to teck care a likkle Jim and try
mi best fi look out fi ‘im
ma Maa a really did try mi best
but none de less
mi sorry fi tell yu sey
poor likkle Jim get aress’
it was de middle a de rush ‘our
when everybody jus’ a hustle an a bustle
fi go ‘ome fi dem evenin’ shower

Me and Jim stand up waiting pon a bus
not causing no fuss
when all on a sudden a police man
pull up
out jump 3 police man
De ‘ole a dem carrying baton

Dem walk up to me and Jim
one a dem ‘ole on to Jim
sey ‘im teckin ‘im in
Jim tell him fi leggo a ‘im
fa ‘im no do nuttin
an ‘im naw tief, not even a button
Jim start to riggle
De police start to giggle

Ma Maa, meck a tell yu weh dem do to Jim
Ma Maa , meck a tell yu we dem do to him
Dem tump ‘im in ‘im belly
an’ it turn to jelly
Dem lick ‘im pon ‘im back
an ‘im rib get pop
Dem lick ‘im pon ‘im head
but it tuff like lead
Dem kick ‘im in ‘im seed
an it started to bleed

Ma Maa I just couldn’t just stan’ up
deh a no do nutten

So mi juck one ina ‘im eye
an ‘im started to cry
Mi tump one in ‘im mout
an ‘im started to shout
Mi kick one pon ‘im shin
an ‘im started to spin
Mi tump ‘im pon ‘im chin
an ‘im drop pon a bin
an crash an dead

Ma Maa more police man come down
an beat me to de ground

Dem charge Jim fi sus
Dem charge mi fi murder

Ma Ma! Don’t fret
don’t get depress an down ‘earted
be of good courage
Till I hear from yu
I remain your son


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