Benjamin Zephaniah is a British poet of Jamaican descent. For most of his childhood, he lived in Handsworth, a suburb of Birmingham with a heavy Afro-Caribbean and South Asian population that Zephaniah refers to as “the Jamaican capital of Europe” (Zephaniah 2017). He hated the study of poetry in school, finding it stiff, formal, and out of touch with modern life; however, the discovery of spoken word poetry changed his perspective. By the time he was a teenager, he had developed a reputation of heavy civically involved by frequently attending protests and rallies and speaking eloquently on local issues. These experiences impacted both his writing style and subject matter, and he weaves themes like identity and race into his spoken word poetry (Kay & Zephaniah 2012).
Zephaniah’s poems are both written and performed through spoken word. He has written seven collections of poetry, four novels, nine children’s books dealing with tolerance and accepting others, and eight plays. Zephaniah also sometimes sings in conjunction with his spoken word performances, and he has recorded four albums. In addition to his work as a writer, he is currently a professor of poetry and creative writing at Brunel University in Uxbridge, England. He uses his poetry and music as forms of activism, speaking out against homophobia in Jamaica as well as racism in British schools (Zephaniah 2017).
Zephaniah’s poetry is written in simple, layman’s terms, but he uses these uncomplicated words to communicate incredibly complex ideas. His poetry is a space for him to process how the history of systemic racism should contribute to how black Britons live in Britain. He has traveled throughout the British Commonwealth to perform his poetry and encourage civic action in young people, and has performed on all seven continents.
Selected works include:
“The Big Bang”
Kay, Jackie, and Benjamin Zephaniah. Out of bounds: British black et Asian poets. Tarset, Bloodaxe Books, 2012.
Zephaniah, Benjamin. “Biography.” Benjamin Zephaniah, 2017, benjaminzephaniah.com/biography/. Accessed 30 Apr. 2017.
Born in 1988 in London, Jay Bernard is one of the most prolific young black poets in Britain. Bernard’s grandmother immigrated to the UK in the 1960’s from Jamaica. Bernard has won prestigious awards such as for the Respect Slam in 2004, and the Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2005 at just seventeen years old. The Guardian named her one of the most inspirational 16-year-olds in 2004. Her first poetry collection, titled Your Sign is Cuckoo, Girl, was published in 2008. Your Sign is Cuckoo, Girl features poems that feature adolescence and the physical and emotional pains of growing up. It was awarded the Poetry Book Society’s pamphlet choice. Her most recent poetry collection is titled The Red and Yellow Nothing, published in 2016.
Bernard has read her poetry at Buckingham Palace, the Globe Theatre in London, as well as for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and on a number of television programs. Bernard’s poetry demands a visceral response from its readers. Her poetry contains an element of rawness that treats immigration issues as serious problems. Bernard’s surprising and emotional poetry does an excellent job drawing attention to the issues that need it the most. Bernard was the first international Resident Writer of The Arts House, Singapore, in 2012. In addition to being a poet, Bernard is also a graphic artist. She is still currently involved in many new poetry and graphic art projects that focus on queer and trans issues.
“Jay Bernard.” Jay Bernard (poet) – United Kingdom – Poetry International. N.p., 15 May 2011. Web. 26
Bernard, Jay. “Queer and Trans Writing, June 9th.” Jay Bernard. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.
Patience Agbabi, born to Nigerian parents in London in 1965, is a British self-proclaimed “poetical activist” and spoken word poet (Rosenfeld). She was adopted and raised in North Wales by a white family and studied English Literature at Pembroke College, Oxford. She earned her M.A. in Creative Writing at Sussex University (Evans-Bush). Agbabi became a prominent performer in the spoken word circuit in the late 1990s and has toured extensively through Britain and abroad, in places such as Namibia, the Czech Republic, Zimbabwe, Germany and Switzerland.
Published in 1995, her first book, R.A.W., won the 1997 Excelle literary award, and she has since authored three poetry collections amongst other works (Rosenfeld). Much of her spoken word work draws heavily on the forms, structures and canon of more traditional English poetry, and as a queer Black woman poet, she also tends to deal with a grand variety of topics, such as issues of gender, and ideas of sexual, racial, cultural and linguistic identity (Evans-Bush). Identifying as a bicultural and bisexual radical feminist, the majority of her poetry centers around these themes, and through her poetry Agbabi extends her voice in order to give one to those who might otherwise go unheard.
An overarching theme throughout much of Agbabi’s work is that of language itself. She concerns herself with how language works, who owns which words, and how forms and traditions can be made to intersect and work together.
She is also a former Poet Laureate of Canterbury for the year of 2009.
She has since performed her work worldwide on both projects sponsored by the British Council and independent engagements, and is currently on the Council of Management for the Arvon Foundation (Evans-Bush).
Some of her selected works include:
- The Wife of Baba
- Telling Tales
- Bloodshot Monochrome
- The Doll’s House
Rosenfeld, Anne. “Patience Agbabi.” Poetry Archive. The Poetry Archive, 8 Jan. 2015. Web. 18
Evans-Bush, Kate. “Patience Agbabi.” Poetry International Rotterdam. Antenna-Men, 11 Sept.
2013. Web. 9 Apr. 2017.
Saleem Haddad was born in 1983 in Kuwait. His most popular novel is called Guapa and it was released in March 2016. Saleem is an out gay man and this has inspired him to write about the different issues that the gay community faces. In his book, he writes about the story of Rasa who is going through a lot of trouble with his own identity and trying to figure out where he fits in within society.
Another interesting fact about Saleem is that he has worked with Doctors Without Borders and has contributed to a lot of different organizations that are set out to help people. He has a lot of interviews out talking about the struggles that he has faced being Arab and queer and how he has overcome the different labels. This transfers into a lot of his works where he has the main characters going through a lot of the same issues that he has faced within society. Saleem addresses a lot of current political and societal issues that are occurring around him in his books and that is what helps create the plotlines within his stories. Saleem meshes well with the other authors that we have researched because he has talked about. He currently resides in London with his partner.
“Being Arab and Queer: an Interview with Saleem Haddad.” Muftah. N.p., 07 Mar. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.
“Saleem Haddad.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.
Cain, Sian. “Saleem Haddad: ‘I put everything into this novel and it was a relief'” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 02 May 2017.