On your Passing, Dr Jean `Binta` Breeze MBE

  • Tue, Aug 10, 2021

  • It is with the greatest sadness that we share the news that Dr Jean Binta Breeze MBE, our Patron at WORD! has passed away. Jean passed away last week in Jamaica, on Wednesday 4th August following a period of ill health. Many will have now seen the obituaries in the media, including in The Guardian newspaper, and here in Leicester, Jean's self proclaimed 'second home', on the front page and within The Leicester Mercury.

    Jean was the award winning author of ten books of poems and stories, and five albums. Over the course of her career she also worked as a director and scriptwriter for theatre, television and film, and as a choreographer, dancer, actor and teacher. She performed her work around the world, in the Caribbean, North America, Europe, South-East Asia and Africa, and has been referred to by the British Council as one of the most important and influential poets of contemporary times.

    Jean lived in Leicester for approximately 15 years, and over this time became a friend and inspiration to many, and ambassador for our city and region, celebrating our rich cultural life, diversity and of course poetry. From her performance as part of the 2012 Special Oympics, to her support of many people, causes and organisations, she went above and beyond to be a voice for the voiceless and force for good.

    In addition to her longstanding Patronage of WORD!, Jean was also the Patron of Soft Touch Arts in Leicester, and linked to WORD! - our co-producing NHS Arts in Health Service. As part of her support of this nationally unique NHS Service, she was furthermore the Patron of Showcase Smoothie, a pioneering project focused on young black men and attempting to tackle the statistical racial inequalities in the mental health system. WORD! was proud to share a number of Jean's 'Love Poems for the NHS' in collaboration with her agent, Renaissance One and as part of our first WORD! in the Garden Festival, in 2018.

    A pioneer and revolutionary - Jean was the first female dub poet in the world, and a powerful voice championing both the experiences of women, the Caribbean, and ordinary - often forgotten - people. She was the recipient of a NESTA Fellowship, and an honorary Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Leicester’s School of English. In 2012 she was awarded an M.B.E. for Services to Literature.

    There is so much to say about Jean, and about the love and inspiration she was, and remains. We look forward to sharing many memories as we move forward. We honour and give thanks for her remarkable life and the energy and creativity we and others have been so blessed to be part of.

    Thank you Jean, so much for everything - and for this beautiful poem, you wrote for us. All our Love, the WORD! Team

    Poem for WORD!

    And the word was made flesh
    As poet after poet
    Stepped onto the stage
    Breathed in deeply
    And uttered sound
    Sound with meaning
    Spoken as though dreaming
    Sound that chanted stories
    Told of our glories
    Words coloured always by truth

    And whether speaking or listening
    We dried our tears
    Laughed out loud
    Holding onto our silence

    A few introduced themselves
    As virgin speakers
    Most carried a late cross
    Up a mountain of rhymes
    And words flowed like rivers after rainfall
    Carving out ground
    Echoing sound

    As the flesh was made WORD!
    And dwelled among us

    Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze