"THIS is cool," said poet Benjamin Zephaniah as he looked forward to his next gig. "I've always wanted to work with Keats, and now my time has come."
Well, not literally because John Keats died of tuberculosis back in 1820, but the renowned British-Jamaican Rastafarian is to work with the dead poet in the literary sense, since he'll be taking on the role of Poet in Residence at Keats House later this year.
Zephaniah will work at the house from May and he will help to launch the Keats Festival that takes place from 28 May to 5 June, supported by the Keats Foundation. The organisation is a charity formed in November last year to raise funds to support educational work at the house.
This is the first residency Zephaniah has accepted for 10 years; a measure of the regard he has for the 19th Century poet.
"I don't do residencies, but Keats is different," he said. "He's a one-off, and has always been one of my favourite poets. My mission has always been to bring poetry to the people, and I want to use this residency to continue to do that, and to bring Keats to the people."
|John Keats by William Hilton|
"We are delighted to have Benjamin Zephaniah as the new Poet in Residence at Keats House," said Michael Wellbank, chairman of the House Management Committee at the Corporation. "He is one of the greatest writers of modern times and his energy and enthusiasm are infectious. I am sure his time at the house will inspire him and all those who come to meet him."
During the course of the residency, Zephaniah will work with visitors, writing and talking with them, as well as hosting a range of events. Among these, he'll be showing his film about Shelley, Keats and Byron – 'Dread Poets' Society' followed by a discussion. There will be school visits, and open poetry sessions for others to share their work.
Zephaniah became interested "street politics" at an early age. He moved to London from Birmingham when he was 22 and shortly afterwards he had his first collection 'Pen Rhythm' published. It wasn't long before he gained a significant following as a Dub (Reggae) poet, speaking in person at political events.
Throughout the 1990s, his book publications, record releases, and TV appearances increased in Britain, although his focus has been on performing outside Europe. He now spends much time in China, although he continues working throughout Asia, South America and Africa.
He has had numerous collections of poetry published, including one for children called 'Talking Turkeys'. In 1999 he wrote his first novel 'Face' for teenagers. Since then he has had four further novels published as well as a series of plays and albums recorded. In 2008 he was listed in The Times Top 50 post-war writers.
"In times like these we need more poetry in our lives, so my plan is to connect with people, young and old, from near and far, and I want them to use this wonderful house," Zephaniah said. "I find inspiration here, and I want many other people to."