Fans of the late poet and activist Benjamin Zephaniah were asked to plant flowers and trees in his honour.
Zephaniah passed away on Wednesday, December 8 at the age of 65. The news of his death was announced via an update on his Instagram page. His death came eight weeks after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
“Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed,” the post read. “We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news.
“Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator, he gave the world so much,” it added. “Through an amazing career including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy”.
According to an X/Twitter post, the poet will be laid to rest at a small family funeral today, December 28.
— Professor Benjamin Zephaniah (@BZephaniah) December 28, 2023
The post read: “Today is Professor Benjamin Zephaniah’s funeral day. We know a lot of people want to show respect to him but cannot join his funeral. As Benjamin does not like flowers without roots, we recommend that if you want to, please plant something like flowers, trees or any plants you want to, anywhere you wish, name them as Benjamin Zephaniah in memory of him.”
It also added that supporters can also donate to the charities The Vegan Society or Inquest, which helps bereaved families of people who have died in police custody or prison, immigration detention, mental health settings or where there have been failings by the state.
Zephaniah rose to fame throughout the ‘80s – most famous for his poetry works which often touched upon topics such as race and the British legal system. By the ‘90s, he was considered one of the most influential voices in the UK.
His first book Pen Rhythm was published in 1980, and was inspired by his aim revive the reputation of poetry. This was later followed by 2001’s Too Black Too Strong, which detailed the struggles of Black Britain. His influences included the music and poetry of Jamaica as well as what he named “street politics”.
Arguably his most famous work was the children’s poetry book Talking Turkeys, which was released in 1994. It was this that led to him being named as one of the 50 Greatest Post-War Writers by The Times in 2008.
Famously, he turned down an OBE in 2003, writing: “Benjamin Zephaniah OBE – no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.” He also said he had begged Tony Blair to meet him to discuss crime in Britain and told the Queen to stop “going on about the empire”.
In 2011, he was appointed as poet-in-residence at Keats House in Hampstead, London. He was also given the BBC Young Playwright award, and went on to receive 16 honorary doctorates from universities around the UK.
Born and raised in Birmingham which he often referred to as the “Jamaican capital of Europe”, the poet also went on to take on numerous acting roles. These included appearances on UK television shows including Eastenders and The Bill.
His most famous role, however, took place 10 years ago, when he took on a role in the hit BBC drama Peaky Blinders back in 2013. For this, he played a character called Jeremiah ‘Jimmy’ Jesus, and appeared in 14 episodes across the series.
As well as venturing into the acting world, he also had many ties to the music industry. His first writings used dub poetry, a Jamaican style of work that has evolved into the music genre of the same name. He also performed with the group The Benjamin Zephaniah Band.
He frequently collaborated with other artists too. This included working alongside the late Sinead O’Connor on Bomb The Bass’ 1995 song ‘Empire’, as well as acts including Natty, Toddla T and Joe Goddard.
The likes of Billy Bragg, Mark Davyd of Music Venue Trust, Simone Butler of Primal Scream, Benefits, Loyle Carner have all paid tribute to the poet.
Cillian Murphy also paid tribute to Zephaniah and said: “Benjamin was a truly gifted and beautiful human being – a generational poet, writer, musician and activist. A proud Brummie and a Peaky Blinder.”