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Interview with Benjamin Zephaniah - Talking Turkey Print E-mail

turkeyA: Getting back to your writing – do you think you have been influential in changing people's attitudes towards animals? Or do you write from a personal point of view and whether you change people's minds isn't as important to you?

BZ: The reason I write is to get people thinking – not to change their minds – it's not straightforward propaganda. About two weeks ago, Talking Turkey was voted by children the fifth-best children's poem of all time on the BBC's National Poetry Day.

benjaminI was in my house at the time, feeling fairly depressed and feeling low, because the person I love wasn't around me and I felt really lonely. Then this programme came out and there were these children – and I thought of all the poems in the World that they could choose! All the other poems were these all-time classics, and there was Talking Turkey. One of the things I think about the poem is that it has been taken up by the animal rights movement for children but also in the mainstream they love it so much – people still write to me all the time about it – I mean I did that poem ages ago. It's a vegan book, you know what I mean? So you can imagine, there I was feeling tearful and then there's all these children going "Yes, Benjamin!"

A: Do you have a lot of feedback from children regarding your work?

BZ: Women and children mostly. It's a strange thing – they say women are more emotional and children get the books in school. They don't care about being black or white and wonder why we are being so bad to the animals. It's very basic. They are not indoctrinated yet. I don't use a dictionary – if I am performing a poem in front of an audience, there is no point in using fancy words. It has to be everyday language – it's got to be immediate. I may use Jamaican-English words – a lot
of it comes from street talk. Nowadays, it's the teachers who have to go and learn that sort of speech – the kids know Jamaican-speak – they listen to Shaggy and rap and are in tune with that stuff. The kids understand how to read it.

A: So, do you think you have changed people's opinions?

BZ: I should say 'no' and shut my mouth now. The truth is I know I have because people have told me. When I started as a kid, I loved using language; I loved that words can have an effect on people. Sometimes when I do a poem, it may just be to express an emotion. Sometimes, there is some word-play. I have heard stories where I have changed people's opinions. I know I have – it's not a brag or anything – it's what people tell me.

Talking Turkeys!!
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas
Cos' turkeys just wanna hav fun
Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked
An every turkey has a Mum.
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas,
Don't eat it, keep it alive,
It could be yu mate, an not on your plate
Say, Yo! Turkey I'm on your side.
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,
Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys
Dey all hav a right to a life,
Not to be caged up an genetically made up
By any farmer an his wife.

Turkeys just wanna play reggae
Turkeys just wanna hip-hop
Can yu imagine a nice young turkey saying,
'I cannot wait for de chop',
Turkeys like getting presents, dey wanna watch christmas TV,
Turkeys hav brains an turkeys feel pain
In many ways like yu an me.

I once knew a turkey called...Turkey
He said "Benji explain to me please,
Who put de turkey in christmas
An what happens to christmas trees?",
I said "I am not too sure turkey
But it's nothing to do wid Christ Mass
Humans get greedy an waste more dan need be
An business men mek loadsa cash'.

Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
Invite dem indoors fe sum greens
Let dem eat cake an let dem partake
In a plate of organic grown beans,
Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
An spare dem de cut of de knife,
Join Turkeys United an dey'll be delighted
An yu will mek new friends 'FOR LIFE'.
From Benjamin Zephaniah's book of poetry 'Talking Turkeys'

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