Cultural Traditions (1970s–2000s)
Chapter 3: Confrontation
“Me in Africa a Squatter
Me at home a Refugee”
Benjamin Zephaniah (b.1958-)
Benjamin Zephaniah is a poet “that confronts you in a strangely populist fashion” (Hectic 2006), a writer to whom Cooper (1992) might have referred when she diagnosed the maladies of reggae-based oral poetry: “The search for the exact word & rhythm is abandoned as the dubber [poet] settles for the automatic reflex of cliché” (199). Admittedly, his is poetry of mass participation as Zephaniah “will use any means to communicate” (King 2005:195). His flagship social commitment resulted in his being disapprovingly branded “a cutesy multiculturalist for soft-hearted weepies” (195). Likewise, the user-friendliness of his works generated “controversy over the value of Zephaniah’s poetry” (Doumerc 2005:195).
On the hand, however, using classic dub poetic templates as well as strategies of cultural negotation, Zephaniah has made his presence felt in the UK’s mainstream. Unlike LKJ, he is a writer fully integrated in the British literary scene who has, however, earned the hard way his artistic privilege of asking social “question[s] (…), mostly affordable for those who can stand apart and view the world with altruistic concern” (During 2003:464). The apparent clash, as construed by some commentators, such as King (1997) or Dawes (2002), between Zephaniah’s identities – unsparing poetic persona and amiable public/stage presence, may lead one to an act of untimely critical defusing of...
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