The Death of Black Poetry: A Poem By Benjamin Zephaniah

January 13, 2024
1 min read

By Benjamin Zephaniah
Friday, February 22, 2008.
Smart big awards and prize money Is killing off black poetry It’s not censors or dictators that are cutting up our art.The lure of meeting royaltyAnd touching high societyIs damping creativity and eating at our heart. The ancestors would turn in gravesThose poor black folk that once were slaves would wonderHow our souls were soldAnd check our strategies,The empire strikes back and wavesTamed warriors bow on parades When they have done what they’ve been toldThey get their OBE’s. Don’t take my word, go check the verseCause every laureate gets worseA family that you cannot fault as muse will mess your mind,And yeah, you may fatten your purseAnd surely they will check you first when subjects need to be amusedWith paid for prose and rhymes. Take your prize, now write more, Faster,Fuck the truthNow you’re an actor do not fault your benefactorWrite, publish and review,You look like a dreadlocks Rasta,You look like a ghetto blaster,But you can’t diss your paymasterAnd bite the hand that feeds you. What happened to the verse of fireCursing cool the empireWhat happened to the soul rebel that Marley had in mind,This bloodstained, stolen empire rewards you and you conspire,(Yes Marley said that time will tell)Now look they’ve gone and joined. We keep getting this beating It’s bad history repeatingIt reminds me of those capitalists that say’Look you have a choice,’It’s sick and self-defeating if our dispossessed keep weepingAnd we give these awards meaningBut we end up with no voice.
Benjamin Zephaniah is a critically-acclaimed British poet, playwright and author. He also has his own rap/reggae band.
There are rumours that Zephaniah is Nelson Mandela’s favourite poet, and is the only Rastafarian poet to be short-listed for the Chairs of Poetry for both Oxford and Cambridge University. A civil rights activist, his latest novel, Gangsta Rap, is available at all reputable bookshops.
Copyright of Benjamin Zephaniah. Please see his website at
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