Benjamin Zephaniah´s poetry

Who is Benjamin Zephaniah?

Poet, novelist and playwright Benjamin Zephaniah was born on 15 April 1958.

He grew up in Jamaica and the Handsworth district of Birmingham, England, leaving school at 14. He moved to London in 1979 and published his first poetry collection, Pen Rhythm, in 1980. He was Writer in Residence at the Africa Arts Collective in Liverpool, and was a candidate for the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.

In 1998, he was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education to advise on the place of music and art in the National Curriculum and in 1988 Ealing Hospital in London named a ward after him.

His second collection of poetry, The Dread Affair: Collected Poems (1985) contained a number of poems attacking the British legal system. Rasta Time in Palestine (1990), an account of a visit to the Palestinian occupied territories, contained poetry and travelogue. His other poetry collections include two books written for children: Talking Turkeys (1994) and Funky Chickens (1996). He has also written novels for teenagers: Face (1999), described by the author as a story of ‘facial discrimination’; Refugee Boy (2001), the story of a young boy, Alem, fleeing the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea; Gangsta Rap (2004); and Teacher’s Dead (2007).

In addition to his published writing, Benjamin Zephaniah has produced numerous music recordings and has also appeared as an actor in several television and film productions, recently in Peaky Blinders. His radio play Listen to Your Parents, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2000, won the Commission for Racial Equality Race in the Media Radio Drama Award and has been adapted for the stage, first performed by Roundabout, Nottingham Playhouse’s Theatre in Education Company, in September 2002.

Many of the poems in Too Black, Too Strong (2001) were inspired by his tenure as Poet in Residence at the chambers of London barrister Michael Mansfield QC and by his attendance at both the inquiry into the ‘Bloody Sunday’ shootings and the inquiry into the death of Ricky Reel, an Asian student found dead in the Thames. We Are Britain! (2002) is a collection of poems celebrating cultural diversity in Britain.

He has recently been awarded further honorary doctorates by London South Bank University, the University of Exeter and the University of Westminster. Recent books include an autobiography, Benjamin Zephaniah: My Story (2011), and further books for children, When I Grow Up (2011) and Terror Kid (2014).

Unexpectedly perhaps, for a poet associated with protest literature, many of Zephaniah’s poems are tempered by hope, humour and laughter.

Read and listen to this poem

Do some research. choose another poem by Benjamin Zephaniah and prepare a presentation for your classmates.

Include: themes/context/tone/literary devices/personal opinion

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