Sound Systems and Other Systems: The Policing of Urban Aesthetic Spaces in the Poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson

  • Louisa Olufsen LayneEmail author


The chapter discusses how Linton Kwesi Johnson’s poetry explores the relationship between the sound systems in London and the Metropolitan police in the 1970s and 1980s. Johnson’s poems often document the shutting down of a sound system event, the subcultural space of the Caribbean party, by the police. In this sense, the sound system is a ‘relatively’ closed-off or autonomous aesthetic space within the city that is, nevertheless, constantly invaded by a wider political context. Johnson thus portrays the everyday infrastructures such as SUS laws that targeted spaces for black cultural production and hindered access to the aesthetic experience of black art forms. The reading proposes that Johnson’s portrayal of the sound system is a suitable metaphor for what Kobena Mercer describes as the black artist’s ‘burden of representation’. Johnson has suggested that he felt unable to create art for art’s sake when he started writing poetry. This ‘burden’ plays out in his poetry, and particularly his sound system poems, to illustrate how the politicisation and polemical mode of black art is often not primarily a result of the artist’s own formal choices, such as the choice between representation and abstraction. Rather, it is often determined by an overpowering and invasive state infrastructure that polices it and forces it into a defensive mode regardless of its own aesthetic features.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OsloOsloNorway

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