The extraordinary life of Benjamin Zephaniah, poet, writer, musician and activist was an inspiration to many as his influence as “the people’s laureate” made him beloved across a wide audience. “Noisy, charismatic, provocative but ultimately thoughtful, Benjamin Zephaniah was not just a poet but a cultural force. As a black British writer, and as a performer at home on stage or TV, he cut a path for others to follow.”
He was born 15 April 1958 in Birmingham, the son of a Barbadian postman and a Jamaican nurse. He was dyslexic and left school aged 13, unable to read or write. A present of a typewriter encouraged him to become a writer. The poetry he wrote was influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he called “street politics”. His first performance was in church when he was 11 years old, and by the age of 15, his poetry was already known among Handsworth’s Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities. As a young man, he spent time in borstal and received a criminal record and served a prison sentence for burglary.
Zephaniah has said that his mission was to fight the dead image of poetry in academia, and to “take [it] everywhere” to people who do not read books, so he turned poetry readings into concert-like performances. In addition to poetry and novels he was also an actor, most notably playing “Jimmy” Jesus in Peaky Blinders between 2013 and 2022. Latterly he spent time in Beijing and studied Mandarin Chinese for over a decade.
In an interview recently he admitted having been violent to a former partner, confessing to having hit her and coming to regret it in later life.
He had an inspirational though bleak Fire Grand Trine of pro-active Aries Sun Mercury trine Pluto trine a thoughtful, knowledge-hungry Saturn in Sagittarius. That was formed into two talented Kites by Sun Mercury in an expansive, enthusiastic opposition to Jupiter in Libra and Neptune North Node in Scorpio giving him his irrepressibly upbeat streak. In complete contrast the other Kite was from Pluto opposition Mars and Chiron, stemming from his experiences growing up with prejudice frustrating and infuriating him. He also had a sensitive Pisces Moon and Venus as well as a determined and inventive Uranus square Neptune.
His creative, get-it-together 5th harmonic was strong, as well as his creative 7H. His victim/healer 12H was strained and notable, allowing him to channel his anger in productive ways. His leaving-a-legacy for posterity 17th harmonic was his strongest.
One of a kind.