Words of Life and Death: Poetry and Culture in Crisis – Martin Glynn

By Dr Beth Dodd

Dr Martin Glynn is a poet and criminologist, with over 35 years’ experience of working in criminal justice, public health and education. His numerous poetry books are now accompanied by a debut album, Article St (2019). His academic research follows his social activism, covering the areas of black masculinities and black men in the criminal justice system. His book Beyond The Wall: Black Art and the Criminological Imagination will be published in 2021.

First and foremost a community activist, Glynn’s poetic form focuses on accessibility, memorability and relevance for his audience. This concern also comes out in his academic work. Speaking Data and Telling Stories: Data Verbalization for Researchers, published by Routledge in 2019,  describes how research can be made accessible to the communities that it is produced about and for, through translation into music and spoken word – something that we have seen elsewhere in the work of George the Poet.

Glynn brings his experience in the various spheres of activism, social work, criminal justice and academia to bear in his poetry, but its form and content is highly lyrical. His poetry resonates with the voices of various identities: from the activist dub-poet of the 1980s to the prisons worker, to the husband and grandfather of later years. Amongst and between these voices emerge themes of personal angst, doubt and self-discovery, of concern for the youth of the community and for expressions of black masculinity. In all of this a political advocacy for freedom of speech and a commitment to bringing minority voices to prominence becomes inextricably intertwined with sometimes raw personal reflection and sincere self-expression. ‘Pacing’ and ‘I Need Space’, for example, simultaneously address experiences of incarceration, existential angst and a crisis of masculinity, which appear in these poems as almost interchangeable.

As Glynn describes it, lockdown was a particularly prolific and creative time for him as a poet, but the development of the debate around Black Lives Matter has also had the surprising consequence of bringing back into consciousness and relevance work originally produced 30-40 years ago. The reggae style of 1980s dub poetry was in Glynn’s words, ‘the language of my father’, but in reperformance it has found contemporary relevance. The ‘uncompromising’ performance style of dub, designed for declamations on street corners, has proved remarkably adaptable to the setting of the academic seminar. Glynn’s style may not have changed but age and context have perhaps lent his words a greater optimism about the human spirit and hope for the future. In this vein, ‘Love Dub’ is a playful and affectionate take on dub style that celebrates distinctive aspects of Jamaican culture and language while addressing universal themes of mutuality and human connectedness.

I Need Space

Pacing

Love Dub

Dr Beth Dodd is Director of Studies, Centre for Formation in Ministry, and Lecturer in Doctrine and Theology, Arts and Culture at Sarum College. She convened the Words of Life and Death: Poetry and Culture in Crisis series on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture (OCRC) and in association with Sarum College.

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