Benjamin Zephaniah just ruled himself out as the next poet laureate in the most spectacular way

Benjamin Zephaniah
Glen Black

Arts Industry Magazine named Benjamin Zephaniah as a possible front-runner for the soon to be vacant post of poet laureate. But the anarchist writer and musician ruled himself out on Twitter in the most spectacular way possible.

“They oppress me, they upset me, and they are not worthy”

Until 1999, the post of poet laureate was a lifetime appointment. Beginning with Andrew Motion, though, it became a fixed ten-year term. Carol Ann Duffy was the first woman to take up the role in 2009. Now, nearly ten years on, the hunt for the nation’s next poet laureate is on.

As a result, Arts Industry Magazine put forward a number of possibilities:

But within hours, Zephaniah rebutted the suggestion that he might take up the state appointment:

As poet laureate, a person is expected – but not obliged – to write poems on significant national events. Carol Ann Duffy, for example, marked Kate and William’s wedding and the Queen’s diamond jubilee. She also wrote of Britain’s last two surviving First World War soldiers, Henry Allingham and Harry Patch.

It’s not so surprising, then, that Zephaniah would baulk at the idea of becoming poet laureate. As an outspoken anarchist, the role of writing verse for government and royalty would be a contradiction.

Crowd reaction

Many people applauded Zephaniah’s statement. Former diplomat and ‘accidental anarchist‘ Carne Ross was simple in his praise:

As were other members of the public:

Meanwhile, others were explicit about the politics of Zephaniah’s stance:

And some even wrote poems to commemorate the occasion:

Meanwhile, others suggested the choice is a missed opportunity to change the post ‘from within’:

https://twitter.com/ForSouvenirs/status/1059749672972140545

But this is unlikely to concern the writer. In an interview published by Red Pepper, Zephaniah said:

Reforming does nothing. That’s why I’m an anarchist.

The best form of representation

It’s not the first time Zephaniah has shirked government recognition. In 2003, he turned down an OBE. When talking about this at the time to Radio 4 Today, Zephaniah said:

I do not write poems to win awards or to get OBEs or laureateships. I write for people.

Zephaniah is also not the only person to discount themselves from the position. Wendy Cope said in 2008 that she didn’t want to be poet laureate. She then called for the post to be abolished the following year. Historically, Rudyard Kipling and William Morris – like Zephaniah, an anarchist – turned down official offers.

Talk about the next poet laureate is focused on representing Britain’s Black and Minority Ethnic communities. But Zephaniah is ardent in not wanting to be a tool for government – any government. And his stand against church, state, and monarchy is the best form of representation he could give.

Get Involved!

Watch Zephaniah talk about poetry, anarchism and other matters with Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

Read some of Zephaniah’s poetry.

– Check out other articles at The Canary about anarchism and poetry.

Featured image via David Morris/Wikimedia Commons

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