Dub Wise: Rhythm Of Life

June 2011

 Geoffrey Philp, Dub Wise (Leeds, UK: Peepal Tree, 2010); 72 pages; ISBN 978-1845231712 (paper)

In his recent collection of poetry, Dub Wise, Geoffrey Philp explores themes of Caribbean identity in a postcolonial framework and the effect of these internal conflicts on communities and family relationships. The work speaks of modern-day environmental, spiritual, and political concerns, and Philp incorporates dimensions of reggae and the Rastafari movement to express stories of history, place, and the human condition.

In an interview with Caribbean Literary Salon, Philp reflects on growing up in Jamaica in the post-independence movement and how the creativity of this period inspired him as a fledgling writer:

I grew up at a time when there was widespread disillusionment with the promises of Independence and at a time of growing social unrest that saw the movement of Rastafari from the ghettos into the middle class. . . . The concept of InI that is at the heart of Rastafari and reggae has influenced my life and my art in so many ways.1

Having first experienced the “grumble of this subversive music” (71) flowing from his mother’s turntables as a boy, Philp’s love of rocksteady, reggae, and dub wise shaped his collection of work, each poem beginning with the germ of an idea and growing with his love of the music, inspired and shaped by its beats and political and spiritual messages of self-reliance and cultural pride.  Philp’s role in his day-to-day life as teacher and mentor resonate throughout his work and his poetry, suggesting a moral obligation to seek, and to guide others to seek, a self-assured place, a place he has certainly found as a writer.

Like Bob Marley, who preached the same tenets of self-reliance and determination, and whom Philp reveres as a fellow artist, spiritual icon, and revolutionary, Philp seeks to recreate the rhythms of life through his craft. He adopts Jamaican patois in the poems “Ode To Brother Joe” and “Mule Train: Version” to tell the story of disenfranchised Jamaicans in their own “voice.” Other poems in the collection read like lyrics from a song, as if written to the beat of a drum, embodying the very essence of “dub wise,” as Philp describes it: “the pared down essentials of drum and bass after which there is only the silence from which it emerged.”

“For Brother Bob” is indeed a tribute to Bob Marley, and Philp reflects on the simple strength of the words that have given him courage in his own personal journey. In this similarly simple yet effective poem of just two verses, each verse begins and ends with these lines:

Again and again, I heard your voice,
Whispering through the noise, “Don’t cry. Just sing.” (41)

Rhythmic movement is a constant throughout Philp’s work, and he deftly molds its ebb and flow to the subject matter at hand. In “All Suicides,” Philp uses rhythm to remind us of the perpetuity of life and its cyclic renewal:  

All suicides are cowards, little sister, for they’ve lost faith in this rhythm that sustains through drought and storm . . . —that remind us, this earth, in time, will right herself. (23)

Philp repeatedly addresses his “little sister,” imploring her to return to the roots of her deeper spirit and nature, and he uses repetition to emphasize his compassionate concern:

Pull back, little sister, leave the image
of the girl in the shattered mirror, and follow
the woman by the door beckoning you to go deeper
into the wilderness where you are,
and where we are made whole again. (23)

Movement also manifests as symbolic of hope and resilience, representing celebration of the spirit and life, such as in the “Bacharata” and in references to Mardi Gras. Philp incorporates sounds and rhythms that pulse in the hearts and souls of Caribbean people, making his poems accessible and giving them authenticity. In his popular online blog, Philp states authenticity as a fundamental quality crucial to his success as a storyteller:

Jamaica has a particular sound, a particular rhythm, a particular world view that is expressed through the people. . . . A storyteller must be true to the accents, the particular way that stories are told within her culture. Without that consideration, the work loses its integrity.2

Philp strives for a collective Caribbean “voice” and identity, yet his poems are rich and vivid in their cultural smorgasbord of references to historical and contemporary events, Western and Caribbean literature, indigenous history and scenic and urban imagery of Jamaica and Miami, his adopted home and itself a melting pot of South American, Caribbean, and Western cultures. While his writing is heavily influenced by his homeland’s spiritual and historical legacies, his view is an entirely “global” one, and he distinguishes himself as a truly international writer, transcending clichés and exploring concepts of community and race within a broader spectrum of spirituality and myth. Philp references Vodou icons Erzulie and the divine twins, Marassa Jumeaux, who embody the strength, compassion, and frustrations interwoven in his characters’ journeys to piece together their Caribbean identity.

Philp tackles some of the most devastating natural and manmade disasters in contemporary history: hurricanes, oil spills, and, in “Bodhissatavas,” the heroism of firefighters on 9/11. In doing so, he emphasizes compassion over and above denomination, harnessing our humanity and revealing his deep concern for community. Philp shows us the futility of harboring bitterness and regret, and celebrates the human condition at its deepest and most fundamental, in suffering and in joy. Above all, he applauds the survival of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

Regardless of the subject matter, music remains the thread connecting his poems stylistically and literally with references to the “rumble of reggae” (33) in “Summer Love” and the “sizzle of the high hat, thump of the backbeat” (31) in “Dub Wise.” In other poems, music and “voice” are symbolic of the duality of survival, encompassing both human pleasure and pain. In “Poetry Woman” Philp tells of a voice and spirit as old as time itself, enduring in suffering—“From the back of her throat to the perfect O / of her mouth, she traces a lineage / to the first cry in the hold”—and rejoicing in celebration:

          fresh from the lips of God, like chants
of those sisters cascading from the rafters

on Sundays, to their moans on the dancehall
floor on Saturdays—and can still laugh
from the sweetness, the sweetness of it all. (37)

Just as Marley preached “One Love,” inspiring the hearts of many, Philp soulfully combines his passion for music and his gift for the written word to encourage every person to find his inner voice and speak to what burns with passion in the depths of his soul. In encouraging us to honor this voice and conquer the ghosts of the past, Philp inspires us all to celebrate the rhythm of life.


Jennifer Marshall is a freelance writer and author living in Grand Cayman. She writes non-fiction and short fictional works in the Indian and Caribbean diasporas and is currently working on her first novel.


Geoffrey Philp, “An Interview with Geoffrey Philp,” Caribbean Literary Salon, 2 March 2010; http://caribbeanliterarysalon.ning.com/profiles/blogs/interview-with-geoffrey-philp.

Geoffrey Philp, “The Top Five Reasons Why I Blog,” Geoffrey Philp Blogspot, 9 July 2008; http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/2008/07/top-5-reasons-why-i-blog.html.


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