Benjamin Zephaniah f'Malta

Workshops ta' Kitba Kreattiva u Qari fil-Pubbliku

Bejn is-26 ta' Ottubru u l-1 ta' Novembru, 2003

 

English Version - Links - About Benjamin Zephaniah

Talking to Benjamin Zephaniah (Maria Grech Ganado and Adrian Grima)

A Life for a Poet. Charles Mifsud meets Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah: The Street Poetry of a School Dropout (Adrian Grima)

Rasta poet publicly rejects his OBE (The Guardian)

'OBE me? Up yours, I thought' (The Guardian)

(Benjamin Zephaniah explains why he has rejected an OBE from the Queen)
 


 

Bejn is-26 ta' Ottubru u l-1 ta' Novembru, 2003, Inizjamed u The British Council, bil-kollaborazzjoni taċ-Ċentru gћall-Kreattività tal-Kavallier ta' San Ġakbu. se jilqgћu f'Malta lill-kittieb magћruf Ingliż ta' dixxendenza Ġamajkana Benjamin Zephaniah.

 

Fost l-attivitajiet li se jiġu organizzati hemm laqghat ma' l-awturi, ma' l-istudenti u mal-pubbliku in ġenerali, u lejliet li fihom Zephaniah se jirreċta l-poeżiji tiegћu fil-Kavallier ta' San Ġakbu.

 

Jekk trid tibbukkja post ghal-laqgha li se jaghmel ma' l-awturi, ikteb lil

inizjamed@maltaforum.org jew ċempel fuq 2137 6941 jew 7946 7952. Il-prezz huwa ta' Lm3.

[Fir-ritratt jidher Benjamin Zephaniah waqt il-preżentazzjoni tal-poeżiji tiegħu fit-Teatru tal-Kavallier ta’ San Ġakbu nhar il-Ħamis, 30 ta’ Ottubru, 2003.]

 


 

Leading Rap Poet Benjamin Zephaniah in Malta

Workshops and Public Performances

26 October - 1 November, 2003

 

The popular British rap poet Benjamin Zephaniah arrives in Malta on Sunday to perform his poetry and to meet writers and students in various schools. He will be performing his poetry to the general public at the St. James Cavalier Theatre on Thursday 30 and Friday 31 October, at 7.30pm. And on Wednesday 29 October at 7.30pm he will be leading an interactive session with local writers at St. James Cavalier.

 

On Tuesday, 28th October, at 10am, at St James Cavalier, Benjamin Zephaniah and the Minister of Culture, the Hon. Jesmond Mugliett, will be taking part in the official launching of the Klandestini project for emerging writers in five Mediterranean countries which is being coordinated by Inizjamed and the British Council in collaboration with the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity. Ronnie Micallef, director of the British Council in Malta, Michael Fenech, chairman of the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, Adrian Grima, coordinator of Inizjamed, and Karsten Xuereb, the project coordinator of Klandestini, will also be addressing the press conference.

 

Benjamin Zephaniah, renowned poet, who was declared 'Poet of the Year' by London magazine 'City Limits' in 1983 and 1985 and was short-listed for Oxford Professor of Poetry. Zephaniah has recently acted on BBC TV and radio plays, performed much poetry at gigs and festivals and charity events. Zephaniah appears increasingly on radio and television as performer and cultural commentator.

 

His literary work includes poetry and prose for adults, teenagers and children. He is well known both as a versatile performer who can make the most of rhythm in literature and also as a sensitive poet who deals with issues that affect people’s everyday lives, like bullies, guns, racism and war. As a passionate vegan and animal lover, Benjamin Zephaniah writes a lot about animals, both those that have lost their habitat or are waiting to be slaughtered and those who are enjoying themselves. Many of his poems for adults and children are available on audio cassette or CD.

 

Zephaniah first made a name for himself as a performance poet. He has managed to popularise poetry by reaching people who do not read books and by challenging the dead image that academia and the establishment have given poetry. In this way he has injected new life into the British poetry scene.

 

Benjamin Zephaniah’s visit to Malta is being organized by Inizjamed and the British Council in collaboration with the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity.

 

Tickets for his performances cost Lm3 and are available from St. James Cavalier (open everyday between 8.30am and 10.00pm, tel. 2122 3200). For more information about all events visit the Inizjamed website at http://www.maltaforum.org or http://inizjamed.cjb.net or write to inizjamed@maltaforum.org. Those who would like to book for the interactive session with local writers (which also costs Lm3) can phone on 2122 3200.

 

Adrian Grima

22 October 2003

 


 

About

BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH

 

(updated 2001)

  

Dr Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah was born and raised in Birmingham. He cannot remember a time when he was not creating poetry but this had nothing to do with school where poetry meant very little to him, in fact he had finished full time education at the age of 13. His poetry is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls ‘street politics’. His first real public performance was in church when he was 10 years old, by the time he was 15 he had developed a strong following in his home town of Handsworth where he had gained a reputation as a young poet who was capable of speaking on local and international issues.  

 

He loved Handsworth, in the Seventies it was the Jamaican capital of Europe but although his work had become popular within the African-Caribbean and Asian community he thought the town was too small, he was not satisfied with preaching about the sufferings of Black people to Black people, so he sought a wider mainstream audience. At the age of 22 he headed south to London where his first book PEN RHYTHM was published by Page One Books.

 

Page One Books was a small, East London based publishing co-operative which published Zephaniah when others failed to tune into the new poetry that was about to emerge. The book sold well going into 3 editions but it was in performance that the Dub (Reggae) Poet would cause a revolution, a revolution that injected new life into the British poetry scene and attracted the interest of many mainstream publishers, some of whom had sent refusal letters to him only 12 months earlier.

 

In the early Eighties when Punks and Rastafarians were on the streets protesting about the SUS Laws, high unemployment, homelessness and the National Front, Zephaniah’s poetry could be heard on demonstrations, at youth gatherings, outside police stations and on the dance floor, because of his ability to perform, it was once said of him that he was Britain’s most filmed and identifiable poet. The mission was to take poetry everywhere, he hated the dead image that academia and the establishment had given poetry and proclaimed that he was out to popularise poetry by reaching people who did not read books, and those that were keen on books could now witness a book coming to life on stage. This poetry was musical, radical, relevant and on TV.

 

In the Nineties his book publications, record releases and television appearances have increased in Britain, although he has concentrated on performing outside Europe. He feels at home anywhere the oral tradition is still strong and he lists South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Pakistan & Colombia as some of his most memorable tours. Life has been one long tour but this is the only way the oral tradition can live, over a 22-day period in 1991 he performed on every continent of this planet.

 

Periodically The Benjamin Zephaniah Band takes to the road, the nature of the music business means records get to places around the globe a little quicker than the poet, so many people around the world are more familiar with the poets music than his performances, plays or books. His only official fan club developed in Malawi in Central Africa, in the former Yugoslavia ‘Rasta’ LP was released on the Helidon label. He was the first person to record with The Wailers after the death of Bob Marley in a musical tribute to Nelson Mandela, it was recorded at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston, Jamaica. Mandela heard the tribute whilst in prison on Robben Island and soon after his release he requested an introductory meeting with Zephaniah, they have now built a relationship which has led to Zephaniah working with children in South African townships and hosting the President’s Two Nations Concert at The Royal Albert Hall in July 1996. Other musical collaborations include the Bomb The Bass album Clear produced by Tim Simenon, where the track called Empire sees the poet working with Sinead O’Connor.

 

His first book of poetry for children called TALKING TURKEYS had to go into an emergency reprint after just 6 weeks, no one could foresee how popular the book would be, it went to the top of the children’s book list and stayed there for months. At first he was not keen on publishing a book for children believing that there was just poetry, not children’s poetry or adults poetry, but he was soon convinced that young people did appreciate having their own books and that they also knew what they liked. Judging by the response of children to the work it seemed that they appreciated the fact that he is not afraid to write about the real world where there are bullies, guns, racism and war. Being a passionate vegan he writes a lot about animals but these animals are not all smiley, happy creatures, some may just be waiting for slaughter or losing their habitat and of course some may be having fun.

 

Young writers have said that the accessibility of his work has inspired them to take up writing, many record sleeves bare witness to the fact that he has inspired many of the new generation of rappers, and of all the performance poets that emerged in the late seventies/early eighties he is one of the few that is still going strong. In 1998 the University of North London awarded him an honorary doctorate in recognition of his work. Zephaniah believes that working with human rights groups, animal rights groups and other political organisations means that he will never lack subject matter, working in Asia, South America and Africa has given his poetry an international outlook which in turn has made him understand his role as a poet and the nature of the cultural glue that binds us all together.

 

http://www.benjaminzephaniah.com


 

LIST OF WORKS

 

BOOK PUBLICATIONS           

that are available

 

Poetry

 

City psalms.  Newcastle, Bloodaxe, 1995.

Propa Propaganda.  Newcastle, Bloodaxe, 1996.

Too Black, Too Strong.  Newcastle, Bloodaxe, 2001.

 

Talking Turkeys.  London, Puffin/Penguin, 1994. (children’s).

Funky Chickens.  London, Puffin/Penguin, 1996. (children’s).

Wicked World. London, Puffin/Penguin, 2000. (children’s)

This is Britain.  London, Francis Lincoln, 2001.   (children’s)

 

 

Novels

that are available

 

Face.  London, Bloomsbury, 1999. (teenagers).

Refugee Boy. London, Bloomsbury, 2001, (teenagers).

 

 

Musical Recordings

that are available

 

Rasta. (LP) Upright Records, 1983.

Back to Roots.  (LP) Acid Jazz, 1995.

Belly of de Beast. (LP) Ariwa, 1996.

Dancing Tribes (with Back to Base).  (Single) MP Records, 1999.

 


 

Talking to Benjamin Zephaniah

An Interview held on 27 August, 2003

Questions by Maria Grech Ganado and Adrian Grima for Inizjamed

 

In Great Britain you are well known as a ‘performance poet’.  Could you explain the difference between an orthodox poet (who might even read his work out) and one like yourself?  Is the essential nature of your poetry altered by being read rather than performed?

 

A: I think an orthodox poet writes the poem down and thinks of it as an exercise on the page, with a reader reading the poem to themselves. When I create a poem, I think about how a poem relates to an audience, a crowd of people, and to the individual in the audience. I think of myself performing it, I think of the sound of the words, not just how they rest on the page or how they creep quietly into the mind. I think that’s made a difference. Many performance poets perform for years and then are asked by a publisher to write them down and some do and some don’t. Some seem to find it very hard, because what works in performance might not work on the page. On the other hand some people who write poetry just for the page, now and then get asked to perform it. Some are very shy and won’t perform it, or don’t have the personality to perform it, or don’t have the nerve to perform it.

 

I must say I don’t think one is better than the other. I just think they have different functions. There’s been a lot of debate in Britain, not so much now but a few years ago it was very heated, about whether performance poetry is second-rate poetry. I don’t really have none of that.

 

In the mid-80s when I [Maria Grech Ganado] returned to teaching 5th formers, I was struck by the fact that though there was a literary market for children and for adults, there was a sore need for one which addressed adolescents today. I believe it is only through education that the malaise of society (esp. drugs and alcohol) can be addressed effectively, and yet schools were not providing any literature adolescents could relate to. How far do you consider yourself an educator, who, through elements like rap, beat, jargon and the ‘cool’ image, can actually communicate where it is most important today?

 

A:   It’s a very very good point. In Britain, there is this big gap in the market for literature for teenagers. I don’t really like to use the word ‘market’, but there is nothing for them. When I start writing for this group of people, again I have a very simple point of view. I was one of these children who felt that literature had nothing to do with my life, there was nothing I could identify with. I hated school, I thought of teachers as a form of oppression. I was very rebellious. But at the same time, when I was kicked out of school, I was nipping off to school to learn about Black and African history. It wasn’t that I didn’t like knowledge but there wasn’t anything for me in formal education and the bookshops in the High Street. There was nothing there for me. So the point of view I started off from is ‘if I were a teenager, what would I like to read?’.

 

Now I’ve got to be careful not to preach at the teenagers. But I’m also aware that in a time when we have just as many young black kids going through the prison system as they do through the communication system, one has to kind of take responsibility as a writer.

 

Now my next novel, not published yet, is called Gangsta Rap. And we have a big problem here with teenagers who have guns, who think that the whole gangsta rap image is really cool and they love the music and they don’t call women ‘girls’ or ‘women’. They call them ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’. I’m just listening to a rap tune at the moment where the guy says he doesn’t want to make love to a woman; he just says he wants to do all these other things to her!

 

Without preaching, I want to go into that world, and take it apart a little and explore why these kids are acting like this. I’m not the adult preaching to them. I’m going into a world I knew when I was a teenager, which has changed quite a bit now…but I want to get into that world…I’ve been asked this question before on panels, where I’m asked what message I have for the youth. But actually, I like to reverse it. I am with the youth in a way, and the message I have is for the adults.

 

This is very, very serious. If you think about gangsta rap, and you look at the videos, you’ve got these guys there with these big cars, and all the big girls with the big breasts and big asses and everything else. They’re all hired for the video by the record company, they’re all models. All the cars are hired in! Some of the rappers have a bit of money and stuff, but they don’t have real power.

 

Now, if  as a young teenager I say ‘I want to forget gangsta rap, and want to look at politicians to get an example of how to live’…I want to ask society what kind of example do we give them there. The politicians: they do a kind of gangsta rap! They look at things and instead of resolving disputes through talking, they go to war! They have real power! When I hear politicians say ‘We’re gonna get them, we’re gonna kill them!’, that’s gangsta rap! These people have real power. They don’t have guns. They have tanks, they have bombs, they have weapons of mass destruction! So when I have a sixteen year-old kid looking at me, and saying ‘What the fuck, what do you have to say, what is society telling me? It’s telling me to be peaceful, and you’re going there and bombing those people?!’ I have sympathy with that youth. Where does that kid go for his role-models?

 

That’s what we need to tell…I say ‘we’, I’m forty-five!..That is the frustration I see with the teenagers. They are saying ‘Where is the leadership? In the play-ground we’re being told we should not fight, and we should not solve our disputes this way. And when leave school we’re told not to do this or that…But yet when the people in power have a dispute, what do they do? They start shooting each other. And they send us to do it. They don’t do it themselves; they send us to do it.’

 

There’s a lot of hypocrisy in the world that I think really confuses young people. And it makes them angry.

 

It is said that you are one of Tony Blair’s favourite poets. This was said before the war and your taking a public stance against it. Do you think that remark still stands?

 

A: I’ve heard this before. I have met Tony Blair and he did not come up to me saying ‘You’re my favourite poet’. He did say ‘I’ve seen you on TV before and my wife likes you’! I don’t know where the reported commented came from. He must have said it in an interview. If he said it he probably doesn’t know he said it. Someone might have spun it for him…

 

The truth is I’ve been very open about this. I just want to reach people. If they happen to be politicians, fine. If you look at my work you’ll see a nervousness, I would even say to a certain extent a mistrust of politicians, and I say that knowing that I have friends who are politicians. I just watch them change when they get power. Sometimes it’s such a radical change. I think it’s so difficult to be an honest politician, to speak your mind and speak the truth. It’s so difficult for them. If you want to be a poet, you have to be honest. You have to be the complete opposite of a politician.

 

I had friends here in exile, who were members of the African National Congress when they were a revolutionary party. Now they’re back in South Africa and one of them phoned me one night in tears, wanting to write something about woman rights, but knowing he’ll upset some party members. And I said to him ‘You have to decide, are you a poet, or a party poet?’ It was a real dilemma with him, because the poet in him wanted to be a free spirit, and criticise left, right and centre. The politician in him had to toe the party line. I think these two things are opposed to each other.

 

Do you still think the war on Iraq was wrong?

 

A: Yes. I don’t want to sound smug, and I’m doing this on lots of radio stations in Britain. I’m saying ‘I told you so, I told you so, I told you so’. The looting that happened, the violence. Mr Bush saying the war’s over, as if the Saddam Hussein people, or any other people, because it’s not only Saddam Hussein people who are attacking soldiers, go ‘Oh it’s over’.

 

Let me tell you something. If Britain were occupied by whoever, I would probably fight to defend my country and my people. It doesn’t mean I’m a great fan of Tony Blair. I have friends in Iraq, and I hear them communicating, and what I hear is different from what we hear in the media. I’ve got to be realistic, and say that’s where we are now. But I do think we’ve got to recognise that this is an occupation. My country is involved in an occupation there. I think the way forward is to internationalise the presence there and the UN have to be given a central role. As long as the US and UK occupation remains, the Iraqi people are not going to accept it. And because people don’t accept it, I don’t think we should just jump to the conclusion that they’re die-hard supporters of Saddam Hussein or anything like this.

 

I think Saddam Hussein could have been gotten rid of in much more imaginative ways.

 

Parts of this interview were published in "The Rebel Poet" in The Sunday Circle of October, 2003

 


Benjamin Zephaniah

The Street Poetry of a School Dropout

 

Benjamin Zephaniah, one of the UK’s most popular rap poets, arrives in Malta on Sunday 26th October, for an exciting one-week visit. He will be performing his poetry at the St. James Cavalier Theatre on Thursday 30 and Friday 31 October, at 7.30pm. And on Wednesday 29 October at 7.30pm he will be leading an interactive session with local writers at St. James Cavalier. All three events are open for the general public.

 

On Tuesday, 28th October, at St James Cavalier, Benjamin Zephaniah and the Minister of Culture, the Hon. Jesmond Mugliett, will be taking part in the official launching of the Klandestini project for emerging writers in five Mediterranean countries which is being coordinated by Inizjamed and The British Council.

 

During his week-long visit, Zephaniah will also be visiting a number of State and private secondary schools to present his poetry to the students and discuss both writing in general and the themes that he himself deals with. He writes poetry and prose for adults, teenagers and children, and many of his poems are available on cassettes or CDs like Funky Turkeys and Reggae Head. His works deal with issues that affect people’s everyday lives, like bullies, guns, racism and war. Being a passionate vegan he writes a lot about animals, both those that have lost their habitat or are waiting to be slaughtered and those who are enjoying themselves.

 

Benjamin Zephaniah is particularly interested in young people: “I love the music they listen to. I find that in the clubs I go to I’m always the oldest person there! I am just turned on by the choice of music young people have now, and the way they can travel to it.”

 

In an interview with Karsten Xuereb held in preparation for his visit to Malta, he spoke positively about the opportunities that the world of the internet has opened up for both writers and readers: “I think things are very interesting now. When I talk to teenagers about what they read, there are kids who say they don’t read. But they’ll tell you they were on the internet, and they read a book on the internet. Now that’s interesting! I was speaking to a poet recently who said he’s given up publishing books in the real world. He just does it on the internet now. People go there, they read, and it reaches people who normally don’t read books. This whole new world has opened up for young people. If you really like wrapping yourself in this world it doesn’t feel like research.

 

Poetry, Music and ‘Street Politics’

 

Although he was born and raised in Birmingham, his poetry is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls ‘street politics’. In fact, it was as a performance poet that he first made a name for himself. Zephaniah, who dropped out of school at the ripe old age of 13, has managed to popularise poetry by reaching people who do not read books and by challenging the dead image that academia and the establishment have given poetry. In this sense he is credited with having injected new life into the British poetry scene and attracted the interest of many of the mainstream publishers who had initially rejected his manuscripts.

 

He was the first person to record with The Wailers after the death of Bob Marley in a musical tribute to Nelson Mandela, it was recorded at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston, Jamaica. Nelson Mandela (in picture, right) heard the tribute whilst in prison on Robben Island and soon after his release he requested an introductory meeting with Zephaniah. The two have now built a relationship which has led to Zephaniah working with children in South African townships and hosting Mandela’s Two Nations Concert at The Royal Albert Hall in July 1996.

 

Benjamin Zephaniah’s visit to Malta is being organized by Inizjamed and The British Council in collaboration with the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity.

 

Tickets for his performances cost Lm3 and are available from St. James Cavalier (open everyday between 8.30am and 10.00pm, tel. 2122 3200). For more information about all events visit the Inizjamed website at http://inizjamed.cjb.net or The British Council site at http://www.britishcouncil.org/malta or write to inizjamed@maltaforum.org. Those who would like to book for the interactive session with local writers can also phone on 2131 5562 or 7946 7952.

 

Adrian Grima

2 October 2003

Published in Tune In on 26.10.03 and distributed with The Sunday Times of Malta

 


 

Links Utli - Useful Links

Benjamin Zephaniah


December 7, 2003

 

A Life for a Poet

Benjamin’S voice was assured and penetrating, as it reached a crescendo. Reciting a few lines, he recounted the story of a black youngster who had been brutally beaten up by the police.

Benjamin noticed tears welling up in the eyes of an elderly woman among the audience in front of him. He whispered a few words in her ear. But he realised she could not understand him. She was deaf.

Benjamin Zephaniah, a leading rap poet born in Jamaica,* was delivering one of his performances of poetry recital in North East England. The woman, although deaf, was moved by the power of his words simply by reading his lips.

It is this unique way of capturing the audience’s heart in his performances that led him to twice being declared the United Kingdom’s poet of the year by City Limits London magazine.

In his performances Benjamin’s voice, loaded with emotion, follows  the rhythm of musical notes that one can only feel in the heart. His mind, body and soul merge into one as his poetry touches the raw human experiences of everyday life.

In fact, his poems dwell on topics such as racism, arms, wars, bullies and nature. “It is useless for me to write on the beauty of the English countryside when in reality I am denied access to it because of the colour of my skin,” Benjamin says.

He believes that although conveying a serious message poetry should be fun. He thinks most people ignore poetry because poetry ignores them. Reciting one of his lines, Benjamin exposes the resonance and beauty of simple everyday language.

“I used to think nurses were women and policemen were men, I used to think poetry was boring until I became one of them.”

Benjamin owes much of his love for poetry to his native Jamaica.* His mother used to rhyme her words even when dictating a recipe. In Jamaica poetic verses flow naturally in the course of a normal conversation.

Benjamin recalls his personal friend, the famous singer and composer Bob Marley: “Bob has put poetry into his music but the converse is also true poetry can be moulded around the rhythm of music.”

He explains that dub poetry is a branch of poetry which has it’s roots in Jamaica and is closely linked to reggae music. Sometimes poets perform solo and others in the presence of a band. These type of performances require a constant interaction with the audience.

“I always consider myself part of the audience during a performance; we are both participating in the show,” he explains.

Benjamin has fond memories of his first performances in Jamaica. But he also has other memories. He recalls when he had to spend time in prison for petty thefts in the mid-1970s.

Benjamin explains that this was the only way to survive the grinding poverty in his country at the time. In prison Benjamin was still illiterate. However, prison offered him the chance to think and come to terms with life around him.

“In prison I realised that not everybody who owns a car or a house is my enemy,” Benjamin says, that there were other ways to fight the system. Through poetry he could mobilise the common people to fight the corrupt political system.

But to what extent can poetry be used to drive a political idea? Benjamin explains how he won the appreciation of Nelson Mandela for his published writings against apartheid. But it was the common people’s singular feats that helped the revolution in South Africa pick up momentum in the Eighties.

He recalls the story of six white students who commandeered a helicopter and distributed leaflets with Benjamin’s poem Free Nelson Mandela. For their ‘illegal behavior’ they were jailed for six years.

Benjamin also gives his views on the political situation in Britain, the country to which he emigrated and now considers his own. Many politicians there, as in other parts of the world, are often detached from the realities of the people.

Some, though, do try to move closer to those in need in society. A case in point was the Conservative politician Michael Portillo, who recently opted to live the life of a single parent to gauge the realities of the situation.

But on other fronts he feels that racism is still rife. He referred to friends and relatives who were beaten up simply because of the colour of their skin. Benjamin believes that in view of the political shortcomings it is left up to the artist to shovel public opinion.

Benjamin’s message is conveyed loudly and boldly in his work. He often challenges the established perceptions of contemporary society. In the poem I have a dream his thundery, deep voice proclaims: “I have a dream… that one day we will see the tunnel at the end of the light…”as he clearly makes reference to the rights of the black community represented by the darkness of the tunnel.

Benjamin really believes that his dream can come true. He thinks that if our society grasps the true significance of love this will be possible. But is love not elusive?

Benjamin recounts that many people declare that they love him. But they often love him for what he represents on stage rather than what he really is.

He reveals that when he is alone in his room he often feels so unloved. His fear is that he will die living this way.

But Benjamin has dedicated his life to the “greater love” – that of serving the community. He unfolds the story of a refugee boy from Sri Lanka, who would not speak to anyone at school.

Benjamin subtly befriended the boy. He learned that he had witnessed the slaughtering of his parents by soldiers. With patience he managed to help the boy adapt to his new life.

In his book Refugee Boy (2001) he captures the true experiences of these children. A fictitious boy, Alem, is the son of an Ethiopian father and an Eritrean mother. After Ethiopia and Eritrea declared war the boy had to flee Ethiopia to start a new life in the UK.

Benjamin depicts with vivid realism the boy’s experiences in discovering a world so different from that of his homeland. And yet the reader is captivated by the simple, disarmingly sincere attitudes of the boy, who tries to come to terms with his new life.

Benjamin believes that if most people can identify themselves with the world of this little refugee boy they will be more sensitive to the views of diverse cultures. They will come to understand that endorsing such cultures is beneficial to society at large.

In his poem Independence he asserts that he is free and independent. As yet he recalls the need “to borrow a cloud” from someone and share the joys of this experience with us. For Benjamin this is the poetry of humanity.

He truly has found the significance of his life through his poetry. And poetry has reclaimed a new life for the poet.

 

*Note: Benjamin Zephaniah was in fact born and brought up in the UK.

 


Klandestini

 

Some weeks ago Benjamin and Culture Minister Jesmond Mugliett took part in the launching of the Klandestini project for emerging writers in five Mediterranean countries. The project is being co-ordinated by Inizjamed and the British Council in collaboration with the St James Cavalier Centre of Creativity.

(Left: Adrian Grima, Benjamin Zephaniah and Karsten Xuereb)

Inizjamed, founded in 1998, is a cultural non-governmental organisation that actively promotes the regeneration of Maltese artistic expression, and is establishing strong links with other cultures, especially in the Mediterranean, and running projects that involve people who do not normally get involved in innovative cultural projects.

In the project established writers based in the UK will lead a series of workshops in the various participating countries in which the emerging writers will write in the native language and have their poems or short stories translated into English. The emerging writers in the different countries will be linked together through a professionally designed Website created in the UK and administered by Inizjamed in Malta through Karsten Xuereb, project co-ordinator.

 


 

 

 

 

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