It’s easy to get behind on reading, especially once warm and sunny spring weather turns every weekend into an excuse for day-long biking, hiking, or downtown shopping. Since stimulating your mind is just as important as energizing your body, try grabbing a book to dive into on your next outdoor outing-or to have on hand in case of April showers! At the VNHQ, we can’t get enough of a good vegan thing, and the prolific poetry of plant-based Benjamin Zephaniah is no exception. So, in honor of National Poetry Month, get to know this writer, spoken-word poet, and vegan activist a little bit better.
“I’m just a poet! I just write poems in my bedroom,” Benjamin Zephaniah modestly pleads. The British poet’s humble demeanor comes naturally, despite the laundry list of accomplishments the 52-year-old boasts. Performing poetry since the age of 11 (the same year he shunned meat from his plate), Zephaniah has since grown into one of Britain’s favorite poets, recently ranking number three on BBC’s poetry poll-behind only T.S. Eliot and John Donne.
Besides being the only black, vegan poet to make the list, Zephaniah is also the only living poet to be included in the top 10. His poem “Talking Turkeys” is one of the UK’s most beloved, staking its claim as the veg movement’s mantra, as well as provoking omnivores to think about their feathered brethren. “I got lots of friends who are turkeys/An all of dem fear christmas time/Dey wanna enjoy it, dey say humans destroyed it/An humans are out of dere mind,” writes Zephaniah. His language is approachable, digestible, and ultimately influential.
Practically illiterate until he was 21 (Zephaniah left school at 13), he overcame major race and class issues, traveled the world as an artist, spread spoken-word poetry to the masses, and advocated for all-inclusive social justice. “Those people who can attack people because of the color of their skin, or can deny people human rights, have to deny that these people have real emotions and feelings and feel pain. That’s exactly what a lot of people who abuse animals say. ‘It’s not real pain. They don’t have feelings in the way that we have feelings,’” says Zephaniah. The intersection of causes is evident in his work, complemented by his bourgeoning activism. A patron of Viva!, The Vegan Society, and the Dr. Hadwen Trust, Zephaniah has no problem supporting his artistic endeavors with daily action. The result includes more letters than he can count from children, teens, and adults giving veganism a go, thanks to his influence.
Currently working on a screenplay based on his novel Teacher’s Dead, he plans to take “a quiet year” touring his poetry around China, Egypt, and Lebanon. If one thing is clear, Zephaniah is more than “just a poet.” He’s a voice for those without, and a worldwide inspiration, living out his two core tenets: honesty and compassion.
Year went vegan: 1971
Favorite poet: Percy Bysshe Shelley
Favorite book: Book of Nonsense by Mervyn Peake
Personal heroes: Bob Marley, Maya Angelou, Noam Chomsky
Artistic philosophy: Be honest. Don’t just go with the crowd.
Check out VN’s January+February issue to learn about more vegan authors, comics, and essayists.