One of the UK’s most loved poets.

“They weren’t lying when they said ‘sold out’” I mutter to the woman sitting next to me; the packed auditorium alive with the constant murmur of interest. It was this extreme demand for Zephaniah that ensured I had to sit towards the back despite my early arrival. A quick Google search before the show informs me that the Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah grew from a Jamaican born and raised in Birmingham, into one of the UK’s best loved poets. I had the feeling that the dolled-up Kings Hall (and Ilkley in general) were a far cry from the habitat of a man brought up on reggae and hip-hop. That said, Zephaniah demonstrated an exceptional understanding of his audience when he emerged to a round of applause, did a little jig and called out: “Hello Ilkley! Are you ready to rock?” Kings Hall’s first poetry event was set to walk hand in hand with absolute belly-laughs.
When posed the question of how many people had attended his event at the festival two years ago, less than ten people raised their hands. I definitely did not know what to expect, and the solitary keyboard in the middle of the stage confused me even more. It turned out that Zephaniah had recently met a choir named “Noteworthy Women” that had adapted one of his poems into a song. This loving rendition of “We Refugees” was an exceptional opening as it really reached out to the audience. The performance certainly touched Zephaniah, as he told the audience that when he first heard it he “really wanted to cry, but [he is] a macho man.”

The giddy, juvenile energy of Zephaniah really propelled the whole show. When he was not pacing passionately around the stage, Benjamin was compelling the audience to laugh at memorable phrases like “I rave like a lover, I love like a raver” and his schemes like the “‘Get Rich Slowly’ method.” The audience even broke into a unified “aww!” when they discovered one of his poems had not been broadcast because of it’s content. He cast a spell upon everyone, causing them to become so wrapped up in the poem “I love my mother and my mother loves me” that in the following silence he suddenly scowled and cried “clap!” Of course, we all met this demand with a roar of laughter.

At this point, the audience was completely hanging on his every word. This allowed Zephaniah to engage in a more serious talk about the current state of racism in Britain and the rest of the world. This quickly reverted back to a side-splitting rampage through his thoughts on ‘Bushisms’ and ending on his glorious hit “Talking Turkeys!” Throughout, he had engaged in hilarious discourse and casual flirting with the interpreter for the hearing impaired, who he shared the stage with. He offered golden chat-up lines like “I love the way you’re signing, baby” but finished his performance by, rather sheepishly, bobbing over with a giddy display of affection and pecking her on the cheek.

At the end of the event, I was genuinely delighted that it overran, despite it only being by a few minutes. Benjamin Zephaniah was a genuine joy to behold. Whether it was an annecdote about taking three weeks to come up with the title for his exceptional poem “Money” or the possibly deliberate slip-up from ‘elected’ to ‘errected’, I had an evening of utter heart-felt enjoyment. Zephaniah held me in awe of his work, and I would completely reccomend seeing him perform if you ever get the chance.

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