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Poems which inspire us: Michael Henry on ‘Sonny’s Lettah’

This week in our series on poems which inspire the Communities Inc team, our Strategic Director, Michael Henry, shares Linton Kwesi Johnson’s anti-sus poem ‘Sonny’s Lettah’. Here he explains where he first discovered the poem and why he rushed out the next day to buy a copy.

‘Perhaps this poem led me to the work I do today – trying to break down barriers between agencies and marginalised communities.

The power of words

I first heard this poem on John Peel’s radio show back in the late 1970’s and it had such a profound effect on me that I went out the next day and bought the album on cassette. At the time I didn’t recognise it as poetry. I just liked the powerful words and the brilliant dub soundtrack behind it. 

Poems to inspire change

At that time I was aware of friends and relatives from the black community (mainly in London) who had been subjected to ‘Sus Law’ and who had been stopped, searched and in some cases abused. Mixing poetry and dub clearly worked as the poem become a huge hit, particularly amongst communities who felt oppressed. 

Perhaps this poem led me to the work I do today – trying to break down barriers between agencies like the police and marginalised communities. It’s sad that there is still a real need for this type of work 40 years later but I’m glad to be involved in projects dedicated to bringing about change.

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