Friday, 10 June 2016

Benjamin Zephaniah's "Tribute to Muhammad Ali" will make you laugh and cry (and long for the return of Benjamin Zephyr Zodiac)

Given that Benjamin Zephyr Zodiac is universally acknowledged as "The People's Poet", it really should be him performing a eulogy to The People's Champion, Muhammad Ali. But we'll have to make do with his acolyte, Dr Benjamin Zephaniah (piles and lumbago a speciality). British broadcasters have been informing us for the past week (without pause) that the boxer Muhammad Ali was the greatest human being who ever lived, bar none: Ali deserves, their coverage has implied, to be canonised by the Roman Catholic Church as a matter of urgency in order to heal the world's wounds asap. (The minor matter of his not actually being a Christian could surely be ignored on this occasion, because, after all, he transcended religion, and, anyway, he was ill for a long time. Or something.) One British boxer has suggested, sensibly, that the great man should be awarded a posthumous knighthood - I'd second that proposal.

There are those of you - cynics, racists, malcontents, UKIP supporters - who might find it difficult to join in the universal hymn of praise to a boxer who hated his country so badly that he refused to serve in its armed forces and threw away the gold medal he received representing it at the Olympics, who routinely described white people as "devils", preached segregation ("the bluebirds fly with the bluebirds..." etc.),  and who displayed his deep compassion by regularly humiliating opponents who were nowhere near as naturally talented at boxing - or as naturally clever - as he was (that would be all of them). But unto you I say - don't, for heaven's sake, spoil the preferred feelgood media narrative.

There is, of course, no hint of criticism (or, for that matter, reality) in Dr Zephaniah's stirring, heartfelt poem. You might struggle to identify any sign of poetic talent in it. It might indeed sound to you like the sort of performance one might expect from a 15-year old pupil at an inner-city comprehensive who has never managed to muster the energy to read a single poem in his life - or the sort of doggerel produced by "ordinary people" to mark the death of a pet or a pop hero (which is fine, because they're trying to sanctify the occasion somehow, and to express genuine emotions, albeit in a medium for which they have no talent - and, besides, they aren't lauded for their efforts). But our left-liberal establishment has decided that Zephaniah is hot stuff - the revolutionary real deal: he is, after all, an animal right activist, an anti-royalist, a supporter of the alternative voting system, pro-LGBT, a Rastafarian, and an Aston Villa supporter (just like the PM! - or is that West Ham?), and, to cap it all, he turned down the richly-deserved offer of an OBE because "I get angry when I hear that word 'empire'; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised." Well, what's not to love?

There will be some who may, upon hearing Zephaniah's panegyric for the first time, be taken aback by several of the thoughts so deftly expressed in it - in particular, "This sporting, spiritual warrior knew/No peace came from a gun". You may, perhaps, wonder how the Allies could possibly have defeated Nazi Germany without guns. But you'd be missing the point. This isn't about reality: it's about the world indulging in a vast self-congratulatory circle jerk. Take it away, Benji (please!):

Benjamin Zephyr Zodiac - please break your long silence and heal our sufferings!


  1. "Black and white unite..." Good grief! He shared a platform with the KKK and for many years believed in racial segregation.He was a close friend of Malcolm X, a real charmer who believed in violence to achieve his aims.
    I liked Ali.
    He was witty, amusing man, brave and blessed with a pugilistic skill very few have had.
    But blimey Benjy, get a grip mate.

    1. I was a great Ali fan when he was in his prime, but became disillusioned over time by his dishonourable treatment of some of his opponents, and by his seeming willingness to be used for political purposes by some really very bad people. To this day, though, I've never seen a more thrillingly graceful and clever boxer - the Federer and Pele of the ring.

      And if Benjy takes your excellent advice to get a grip, maybe he could also hire someone to teach him how to write poetry - I'm sure Pam Ayres, Carol Ann Duffy or Andrew Motion would be delighted to give him some tips about metre, scansion, rhyme, etc. I'm not a fan of any of them, but next to Zephaniah they're Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth!

  2. To paraphrase Frank Zappa from memory about rock journalists : Written by somebody who can't write for people who can't read. I'm a Darcus Howe man myself. There is a man who really knows how to take himself seriously.

  3. Sorry, another paraphrase. George and Ira Gershwin:

    You say Ken-Toki and I say Kon-Tiki
    Let's call the whole thing off.

    Ok, no more praphrases. Got to take my medication so will be quiet.