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Interview with Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah was interviewed by pupils from Crickhowell High School . He says: 'I love my dreadlocks (hair). It's my own personal garden. I just let it grow naturally and keep it very clean. It's been growing since I was 11 years old. A policeman tried to cut some off once but I managed to get away. My mom disliked it and thought I'd never get a job, my dad told me to go to hell but my girlfriend loved it. I would never dream of getting it cut. At the moment it reaches my bum!'

What is the favourite thing you have written and why?

My most favourite piece is only a small poem called 'Who's Who' and although it's short I find it really says a lot about the kind of person I used to be.

You said that you became a poet because you didn't like poetry. Do you like poetry now and if so why? Can you define poetry?

I'm really in love with poetry now because I understand much more about poets and the world they write in. The problem was before I didn't really identify with the poets and at one point I had a teacher teaching me poetry that did not even like poetry. I think there is now a greater range of poetry in schools, there's Rap poetry, Caribbean poetry, Street poetry and a lot more teachers are writing poetry themselves. I cannot define poetry. I have tried many times, but there are plenty of people who have a stronger definition which outshines mine.

What kind of poetry do you enjoy? and do you have a favourite poet?

I mostly enjoy performance poetry. I was never a great reader and learnt to read and write late, so I always liked to hear it, as opposed to reading it. Most of my favourite poets are unpublished and many want to stay that way. They are performance poets and many people would not know them unless they are familiar with the performance poetry scene.

What is the relationship between your poetry and your music?

Coming from a Jamaican background, music and poetry are partners. I make records which sell a lot in Africa, the Caribbean and Continental Europe. This is a mixture of Reggae and Dance music with spoken poetry, no singing. Even when I am putting together poems for my books I can hear the music.

Your poetry has particular views on many themes (vegetarianism, ecology, politics etc.) Has that made it more difficult for you to find publishing and advertising?

To be really honest, I haven't noticed. I don't know what goes on behind closed doors or in the corridors of power. The BBC have banned two of my records in the past, but that helps them to sell! I find that kids respect me because I say what I feel without worrying too much about my career.

Can you give any tips to young writers?

Obviously you should start writing from your own experience, what affects you (your surroundings, your interactions with people, etc.). It is important for a writer to see if there is something missing in the literature they read. If they see something missing they should not complain, but aim to fill that gap.

Thank-you very much Benjamin Zephaniah!

Read more interviews of leading authors by children.

YoungWriter was a magazine published from 1995 to 2003 by Kate Jones.
We here at Myst Ltd had the pleasure of producing the magazine for Kate.
Sadly, Kate passed away in 2010.