Poet Benjamin Zephaniah on Windrush scandal, anarchism and more

This British TV video says about itself:

Benjamin Zephaniah on Windrush, anarchism and his time in North Korea

2 May 2018

Poet, writer and activist Benjamin Zephaniah talks to Krishnan Guru-Murthy about the Windrush scandal, how the political system should be torn down and why he spends so much time in China.

The Tories’ ‘hostile environment’ sees at least 1,000 skilled migrants wrongly facing deportation: here.

British police forces ‘handing crime victims to Home Office as immigration suspects’: here.

63 wrongful deportations being investigated, Home Office admits. Windrush scandal grows as activist Zita Holbourne says the number could be far higher: here.

Benjamin Zephaniah, other poetry in England

This 2007 video says about itself:

Benjamin Zephaniah Talking Turkeys

Benjamin at Hay book festival.

By Peter Mason in Britain:

Friday, May 4, 2018

Book Review: Poetic licence to thrill

Benjamin Zephaniah‘s excellent autobiography allows him time and space to take stock of a hugely engaging life, says PETER MASON

The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah

(Simon & Schuster, £20)

POET, playwright, novel writer, children’s author — now we can add autobiographical skills to Benjamin Zephaniah‘s list of writing attributes.

This is a beautifully penned and highly entertaining account of an intriguing life, opening us up not just to Zephaniah‘s story but to a wide range of topics arising out of it, from death and racism to co-operativism and male infertility.

All are tackled with down-to-earth honesty and insight, not to mention an element of gentle humour and self-effacement, intermingled with a certain amount of justifiable pride at a life characterised not just by radical intent but by radical action too.

As you might expect from someone whose first love is poetry, the words are carefully wrought. Almost imperceptibly, the language changes from the childlike phrasing used to describe Zephaniah’s tough early years in Birmingham where he ran, with his mum, from a physically abusive father through to a more confident voice as he shows how he switched from the world of crime into a new and more productive world of dub poetry.

There is politics aplenty, for Zephaniah is a political man to his bones. But nothing is rammed down the reader’s throat and two of the most important touchstones of his life — veganism and rastafarianism — are mentioned almost in passing and never in any preachy kind of fashion.

On the other hand, it’s not difficult to discern where Zephaniah is coming from. Though a man of peace, he is rarely squeamish about the need to meet force with force or to take action to show the authorities that enough is enough, as he hints that he did in the context of the Brixton riots of the 1980s.

Still an angry man with a punk sensibility, identifying, he says, most easily with anarchism, he observes that, “when I see what people have to put up with from their governments, I’m surprised they don’t rise up more often.”

As with the best of autobiographies, however, the emphasis is on good storytelling and the political messages are rarely overpowering. Instead they filter through as Zephaniah tells his tales.

From his early days in Brum to the more relaxed rural existence in Lincolnshire of his later years, he has much to reflect upon and much to tell and there are a number of moving moments in this book, one especially in relation to the despair he felt after divorce.

In his introduction, Zephaniah says: “I hate autobiographies, they’re so fake.” If true, then with this one he has done something to break the mould.

This 2016 video is called The pleasure of poetic pattern – David Silverstein.

By Mike Quille in England:

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Poetry Review: Collective visions of a better world

MIKE QUILLE reports on an inspiring Teesside International Poetry Festival

Middlesbrough-born James Cook set sail 250 years ago on one of history’s iconic imperialist journeys, a voyage which extended scientific, geographical and cultural knowledge of other peoples.

It also facilitated the violent economic exploitation of the globe, the political domination of those people and massive cultural theft and appropriation by Britain’s ruling class.

Working men and women in Middlesbrough, which has the most ethnically diverse population in the north east, never benefited very much from Britain’s imperialist project. It is now one of the most economically and socially deprived places in the region.

In this environment of deindustrialisation, poverty and dispossession, the Teesside International Poetry Festival which ran in venues across Middlesbrough, showcased a phenomenal variety of examples of artistic, social and political engagement from countries around the world as well as from communities in the north east.

The sheer internationalism of the event was astounding. Poets came to read and perform their poetry from Iraq, Finland, Iceland, Nigeria, Botswana, Poland, Russia, India and elsewhere.

Lev Rubinstein

And the variety of work on offer was equally astonishing, from the Russian conceptual poetry of Lev Rubinstein (pictured), with its roots in the wonderful flowering of conceptual arts in the revolutionary Soviet Union of the 1920s, to Peter Adegbie’s and Eric Motswasale’s gloriously entertaining praise-poetry from Nigeria and Botswana, interrogating the rapacious and ongoing effects of European colonialism on language and people.

Over the course of four days the festival shaped itself into a living collage of poetics, gradually building a conversational echo chamber of voices and languages that was stimulating and energising.

Diversity was expressed and celebrated through the wide range of events, including readings, cabarets, book launches and workshops. There was the launch of a book of poems by Teesside primary schoolchildren, an Urdu-Punjabi mushaira, poetic gathering, and poetry workshops in local colleges.

What binds this eclectic and multicultural festival together is its gentle, insistent and necessarily subversive internationalism, its celebration of poetry as a tool of resistance, protest and imagining alternatives to the violent night of imperialism, chauvinism and political and cultural oppression.

It’s a suggestive but quietly powerful demonstration of poetry as a fundamentally social art, which makes common cause between communities worldwide and enables a collective imagining of a better world.

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah on British general election

This video from Britain says about itself:

21 February 2009

Benjamin Zephaniah reads his poem ‘Money’ on the hoof in Newcastle city centre, back in 1991. Now even more topical, this poem is from his 1992 Bloodaxe collection CITY PSALMS.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Benjamin Zephaniah

Wednesday 1 April 2015

If I were Prime Minister: I’d order a review of all deaths in custody and dismantle the honours system

Our series in the run-up to the General Election – 100 days, 100 contributors, but no politicians – continues with the poet, writer and musician

I’m an anarchist. So maybe I shouldn’t be here. After seeing what politicians of all persuasions have done to our country (and our world), there was no other way to go for me. People need to understand just how much they can do for themselves, so if I were forced to do the job I’d abolish the post of Prime Minister.

Before I put myself out of a job I’d get rid of every bit of privatisation in the NHS and have a radical shake up of health services. I’d introduce a new 999 service – for emergency mental health issues. Between 20 to 30 per cent of all police call outs relate to people with mental health problems, problems that the police are not trained to deal with.

I’d introduce new health awareness programmes for things like prostate cancer and HIV. There’s a lot of ignorance and fear and that can mean people die needlessly. Most black men, for instance, have no idea that prostate cancer is racist! 1 in 4 of them will get prostate cancer, compared to 1 in 8 men overall. Prostate Cancer UK’s Men United campaign aims to tackle that injustice through research and making sure men know their risk, and are informed about their own health. I’ve already written a comedy about prostate cancer, so I’d back Men United in research and in getting its messages out to people through football, music, comedy – any way they can.

With HIV there’s been huge advances in research and treatment since the eighties and nineties, when it was considered a death sentence. But attitudes haven’t changed. Like prostate cancer it’s still a taboo subject for some. So I’d aim to get families and communities talking about these things, understanding risks, and learning that early diagnosis can save lives. I’m currently heading an awareness campaign in the West Midlands that I would roll out all over the country. HIV, three letters, not a sentence.

A lot of this comes down to education and I would turn all schools back into good old-fashioned schools for all pupils. Forget academies, free schools, foundation schools and all those other fancy names, I’m talking about good schools, with well paid, creative teachers. There’d be excellent universal education for every student, paid for by all of us, for all of us. Everyone would have the same opportunities, and education would be wide-ranging.

I would order a review of all deaths in custody. That’s in police stations, prisons, hospitals, the lot. And that would be part of a comprehensive prison reform. My new prison system would be based on preparing prisoners for life beyond their sentence. Rehabilitation would be the top priority.

I might end up pushing up the prison population though, because I’d make it a criminal offence for employers to pay women less than men. The Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970, but forty-five years later and men still earn 17% more than women on average per hour. I’d give mandatory prison sentences to bosses who discriminated against female staff.

I’d also put a value on the work done in the home. Housework and caring for family members would be factored into the Gross National Product. There are people working very long hours at home who get no recognition for their role in underpinning the economy – I’d have to change that.

I would stop sending young men and women to fight in foreign lands, and I would get them building hospitals and trains for a nationalised rail service instead.

I would abolish the House of Lords and make all them so called Baronesses and Lords apologise for thinking they were better than us, and then I would recognise the State of Palestine. I would also get all those police officers that beat me up in the seventies and eighties to apologise to my mother, and then stand in a truth and reconciliation commission to confess their sins.

I would get rid of that Trident nuclear war machine, tax banks appropriately, make sure that big companies don’t use loop holes and trickery to avoid paying their share of tax, stop wasting money paying for the monarchy and politicians’ privileges, and I would invest in the green economy. The green economy is the future no mater what anyone says, it really is just a matter of how long we delay it, and how many lives are lost before we wake up.

I would dismantle the honours system. That would include abolishing the post of Poet Laureate. Poets should be poets of the people and shouldn’t be paid to work for the monarchy, writing about living or dead tyrants, or for so called state occasions. Poets should be free spirits. They should spend their time seeking truth, beauty, and attending sex parties.

Benjamin Zephaniah is Professor of Creative writing at Brunel University. He latest novel for young adults is Terror Kid.

USA: Texas could cut $3 million from HIV prevention programs in favour of abstinence education: here.

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah interviewed

This video is called Benjamin Zephaniah – Genetics.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Worldly wise words

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Dan Glazebrook

Benjamin Zephaniah knows that remaining true to your principles cannot be an excuse for failing to engage the masses.

And he is deadly serious about ensuring that his message remains accessible to as large an audience as possible and does not drift off into a critically acclaimed but otherwise ignored, elitist hinterland.

He’s fond of quoting Adrian Mitchell‘s that “Most people ignore most poetry/Because/Most poetry ignores most people.”

Ignoring people and the injustices which befall them is not an accusation that could ever be levelled against Benjamin who recently has been heavily involved in the Justice For Mikey Powell campaign. Powell, Benjamin’s cousin, was run over and badly beaten by police in Birmingham before being thrown face down in the back of a police car where he died from asphyxiation.

A longstanding campaigner against police brutality – he recounts some hair-raising tales of his own experiences while under arrest – he has been working with the justice organisation Inquest, which monitors deaths in custody.

Despite a jury finding that Mikey died at the hands of the police, an earlier trial found the policemen concerned not guilty. So it looks like the police will escape justice again, as they have managed to do in all of the 1000 or so mostly black deaths in police custody in Britain over the past four decades – black people seem somehow to be “killed without killers,” as Benjamin wrote in a poem.

“The truth is that the political class and the police are a law unto themselves,” he says. “You see them committing crimes, murdering people and getting away with it. And you think: ‘How can that be? We’ve got the film, we’ve got everything! And they still get off!’ Sometimes it just blows me away. It’s like magic.”

The police are still up to their same old tricks, he asserts. In the past it was black people, now it’s Asians. “It’s pretty much the same but it’s not the sus laws now, it’s anti-terror legislation.”

And Barack Obama? “When he was elected for a couple of days I celebrated. But I remember Thatcher being elected and I don’t think that was a great triumph for feminism, and so I don’t celebrate for very long because Barack Obama is black.

“In his own small way, he’s doing some good things. But he’s still a politician and and he’s got blood on his hands. He shouldn’t be in Afghanistan and whatever they say they are still in Iraq. So he’s not good, but I think trying to get healthcare for poor people doesn’t make him a Stalinist, like some people are trying to make out.”

Globally, people should always be challenging capitalism, “even more now that we’ve seen it fail in such a big way,” he insists. But there has to be new ways of struggle because “the old interpretations of Marxism are not happening but there has to be something on an international level.”

He’d like a new party to be formed headed by the likes of Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky because he believes such figures would make explicit the extent of media control and “the way we can tell our own stories, the way we can take control of our own lives, about the way that the real criminals operate.”

We turn to geopolitics and the impressive development of unity in the developing world, challenging US political dominance and discriminatory trade policies, which has largely been spearheaded by China along with the new left movement emerging in Latin America.

Benjamin has lived in China for some years and a book about his travels in China is due to hit the bookshelves soon. He’s clear that US dominance is on the wane and that China is a rising star. “China is nuclear, it has more dollars almost than America itself – it’s certainly got the biggest reserves – and it’s moved more people out of poverty than in the history of mankind,” he declares.

But he says that China has to change “because if it has the power the US has and doesn’t change, doesn’t become more transparent, we will be really fucked!” His hope is that in the new world order China is more influenced by developments in Venezuela and Cuba.

“Chavez said a few years ago: ‘We’re not going to just have the army sit there waiting for a war, start making houses!’ And he got them to work, building roads and homes. These places aren’t heaven and in China there are so many people who write against China – it’s a very fashionable thing to do right now, how people suffered during the Cultural Revolution.

“But what the fuck happened before? The so-called state had absolute power. Look at Cuba, what was before Castro? Women were forced into prostitution, Americans didn’t even need a passport to go there, it was their playground for sex and gambling.

“Now Cuba has 99.9 per cent literacy, it’s the only country in the world to have achieved that. When the New Orleans disaster happened, there were something like 500 Cuban doctors volunteered to go and they wouldn’t let them in at a time when they wouldn’t even get their own doctors there. But Bush didn’t care.”

And he’s got an interesting take on China’s moves towards a sustainable environment. “You get some of the most polluted cities in the world there, but there’s a complete carbon neutral city, and a couple of carbon neutral villages.

“They’re very efficient. One of the good things about having a one-party state is that if there’s something that needs to be done, it just gets done. The bad thing is that if there is a bad thing that’s being done there’s no one to oppose it”

Interview finished, I wonder where this inspirational figure finds the time to write highly succcessful novels aimed at teens – another “about kids taking over the world” is in the pipeline – and write such excellent film scripts. And poetry. And live as a “world citizen.”

But that’s for another interview.

Anti-war song of the week: “I’ve been listening to the wrong radio” by Benjamin Zephaniah: here.

Interviewing the great Indian writer Arundhati Roy on a rooftop in London: here and at event last night: here.

Benjamin Zephaniah’s albatross poem

From BirdLife:

Saving the Albatross with poetry

Acclaimed poet, novelist and playwright Benjamin Zephaniah has written a poem in support of BirdLife’s Save the Albatross campaign.

The poem goes as follows:

For some I am a symbol of life,
A link to a Jurassic past,
And other good things.
So why are some killing me?
For some I am the subject of their song,
A flight of their fancy,
Poetry in their poetry,
And when they talk memory talk,
And when they think of being free
They think of being me.
So why are some killing me?
And you
So what am I to you?
Can you save me?
Can you rise up and speak for me?
Give me
Poems that can save me
Songs for my liberation
Power to my wings.
Save me
And I will save you
For the Albatross
And the Glads Club

Midway albatross photos: here.

Tony Benn, Galloway, Zephaniah, Rovics, etc. on their favourite music

This music video is called Benjamin Zephaniah – Responsible.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Red Folk’s favourite lefties chat about their musical and political highlights of 2007 and ponder the prospects for the year to come.

THE new year is upon us, so this month’s column catches up with some top lefties to hear their thoughts on the music and politics of 2007 and their hopes for 2008.

Tony Benn is rightly recognised as one of the foremost politicians of his generation, but also for his performances with folk singer Roy Bailey.

When asked for his 2007 musical highlight, he not unsurprisingly chooses the Not In Our Name CD, which was reviewed recently in the Morning Star. …

Respect MP George Galloway also has a reputation as a lover of good music.

“I’m still getting out my Dylan CDs,” he confides.

“I’ve been particularly taken by the radio shows that he did, DJing for a satellite radio station.

“I don’t know if these are generally available, I know that some at least were broadcast on BBC, but they are magical, funny, insightful and revealing.

“I’m totally hooked on Bruce Springsteen‘s album Magic and I’ve been playing one of the tracks as a kind of signature on my shows on talkSPORT, it’s Radio Nowhere. …

People’s poet, songwriter, author, musician and peace campaigner Benjamin Zephaniah had his usually busy year in 2007 and took a well-earned break in socialist Cuba over the new year.

Zephaniah had his latest book Teachers Dead published in September and has already been approached by the BBC to write a screenplay to be made into a major programme in the future.

Musically, 2007 saw Zephaniah going back to his roots and listening to a lot of early reggae records by Burning Spear, the Mighty Diamonds and the legendary Lee Perry.

Always eclectic in his musical tastes, Council Estate of Mind by British rapper Skinnyman caught his ear, as well as The Dusty Foot on the Road, an album by Somalian-born rapper K’naan, who is now living in Canada.

With a possible new album in the offing, Zephaniah looks set for an equally busy 2008.

Top US political folk singer-songwriter David Rovics, who is often to be found touring Britain, has a new live album called The Commons, which has just had a British release.

Unusually perhaps for such an accomplished musician, Rovics does not listen to much recorded music. Being based more at home of late while he brings up his daughter Leila, his living room is often full up with friends practising Balkan, Irish and old-time music.

Politically, his highlight of 2007 was the G8 protests in Germany.

He says: “The low point was and is the ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity and the earth being committed daily by the Bush administration and the capitalist world in general.”

His message to Morning Star readers is typically forthright. “Capitalism is omnicidal, socialism is inevitable and failure is unthinkable.”