Benjamin Zephaniah: Dub poetry’s James Brown

A longtime acquaintance who shared a “massive history” with the poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah has described a “humble man” with immense integrity.

According to Dr Martin Glynn, an academic at Birmingham City University, Zephaniah, who passed away at 65, they collaborated with him in the 1980s. Until a few weeks ago, they served as each other’s sounding boards.

Dr Glynn stated that the poet “discussed issues that were pertinent to black people” and “made them universal.”

However, family was intrinsic to his identity.

Eight weeks after being diagnosed with a brain malignancy, the author passed away on Thursday, according to an Instagram post.

Born and reared in Handsworth, Birmingham, Zephaniah is the progeny of a nurse from Jamaica and a postman from Barbados. At the age of 13, he discontinued his education due to dyslexia, which rendered him incapable of reading or writing.

His work is frequently characterised as dub poetry, performed to music that predominantly incorporates reggae rhythms.

Additionally, a poet and author, Dr Glynn, remarked, “He was the James Brown of dub poetry; he was its godfather.”

“While Linton Kwesi Johnson addressed the political elite, Benjamin Benjamin advocated for the humanities, popularised poetry, and cherished music.” A studio was under his ownership.

Just as John Cooper Clarke revolutionised poetry, he was instrumental in popularising it.

The scholar, who collaborated with Zephaniah for forty years and “was present when he declined his OBE,” described him as “extremely modest.”

Universal Themes in Poetry

Dr Glynn remarked, “The outrage that erupted when he declined it was enormous.” Therefore, my recollection of Benjamin is not only that of an artist and poet but also of a man of immense integrity.

I hope all those observing this interview realise that integrity is more important than reputation, status, vanity, and personality.

Zephaniah advocated for individuals with disabilities and was deeply concerned about environmental issues.

Dr Glynn stated that he was merely enthusiastic about the average person and desired that others share his passion for words in the same way that he did since he did not take the most straightforward path.

Additionally, Zephaniah supported Acorns Children’s Hospice in Walsall. In a tribute published on Friday, the hospice described how his visits brought happiness to families.

Legacy of Dub Poetry

He stated that he “completely comprehended” its ethos and that faces frequently “glowed” in his presence and throughout his performances.

“I was never an establishment person,” according to Dr. Glynn, but Zephaniah “went into spaces” where he felt he could be heard.

The scholar expressed his desire to be interviewed at the Birmingham library on Thursday, citing that “library spaces were the only places where black poets had a voice when we first began.”

“Just before I began [composing poetry], I recall seeing [Benjamin] on Channel 4, and I wrote to the Edinburgh Fringe to say ‘hi’; he responded.”

He told me via letter that we would be performing together in Birmingham and secured my very first engagement.

Dr Glynn recalled that whenever Zephaniah performed, he would call local poets and offer to “pick you up in the car.”

“We were both performing in Bedford.” It comes out that he arrived without a single item, not even a bag. I recall remarking, “Where are your belongings?”

He responded, “Oh, I don’t write anything down.”

Zephaniah became a monumental figure, but Benjamin’s family remained fundamental to his identity.

The academic declared, “Today, every individual with whom I’ve spoken has shed tears. There is this rugged individual who was unable to communicate when he answered the phone. He became distraught and wept.

“Benjamin was in incredible shape. He adhered to a vegan diet, and I assume that’s because we tend to believe that our icons will endure indefinitelyโ€ฆ “That was the social standing Benjamin occupied.”

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