“Here is a poet who won’t stay silent”. Discuss and compare three key poems written by Benjamin Zephaniah. Explore the cultural influences on his poetry, the message and the techniques he uses to impact upon his audience.
Benjamin Zephaniah is a Rastafarian dub poet who was born in Birmingham in the Handsworth area in 1958. His full name, Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah, is Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Benjamin considers himself to be a citizen of “England and the world”. Benjamin left school at the age of 13. His first book was published when he was 22, it was called pen rhythm.
First of all I will look at his poem, I Have a Scheme. This is a parody of Martin Luther Kings speech sometimes referred to as I have a dream. The first obvious similarity to MLKs speech is the title I have a Scheme which is similar to I Have a Dream. The tone in Benjamin’s poem is more rhetorical and has a musical flow to it, whereas Martin Luther kings is more serious.
I think Benjamin did this as he believes that nothing has changed since this speech, and he wants to show this. I think his message is that even though we have moved on since this speech we our still socially segregated between races in the UK, and things need to change which is a good point. I think he used good poetic techniques very effectively. His performance made this poem even better.
The next poem I will be looking at is the “Stephen Lawrence Poem”; he was inspired to right this by the family, as they approached him and asked him to. I think his ideas came from the fact that the murder was racist, also I think as the investigation was flawed this caused a public outcry, which Benjamin felt very strongly about. My last point on his motivation is his past experiences with the police have been rather negative, as he discussed in his performance, such as when he was arrested, and also his cousin, Michael Powel, died in police custody. The contrast between this poem and “I Have a Scheme”, is quite different as in “I Have a Scheme” this is a parody and is not based on just one subject, whereas “Stephen Lawrence” is, it is based on the event of the death of Stephen and the fact that that this country still suffers from seriously bad institutional racism. The message in this poem is more serious than that of, “I Have a Scheme” which is more light humored and sarcastic, whereas Stephen Lawrence is much more serious and doesn’t really have any humorous stanzas. The message of “Stephen Lawrence” is of institutional racism in the police force which is causing serious miscarriage to the justice establishment this country has set up.
The tone of “Stephen Lawrence” is more serious than many of his other poems throughout. This can be proven by his performance were he recited the poem with a quite expressionless face and did not use as many gestures as he did in poems like “Talking Turkeys”. There is points in this poem which come across quite bitter and sardonic, such as in the 4th stanza were he says
“The academics and the super cops
struggling to define institutionalised racism…”
by saying this he shows the audience that these people pretend to know what they’re talking about but they don’t. In the 5th stanza he says
“We are not talking about war or revenge
We are not talking about hypothetic or possibilities
We are talking about where we are now
We are talking about how we live now”
This is using repetition to get his point across and is effective as the audience get the point from the repetition and take it in better.