As a young, angry black man in the 1980s, it was a revelation to find a dead white poet that made sense to meby Benjamin Zephaniah / May 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
Red Shelley by Paul Foot
In 1982 I was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I normally insist on hotels when touring, as I’m not a good house guest. I don’t like being told when to go to bed, or sharing strangers’ bathrooms.
But on this occasion I was persuaded to stay in the house of a lady called Anne. She gave me a small room at the back of the house with one book in it. The book was called Red Shelley by Paul Foot.
I read this book and so much in my life changed. For a start, I always thought that Percy Bysshe Shelley was another one of those dead white poets that wrote about things that had nothing to do with the life I was living, and I thought all old poetry was dead. This book wasn’t full of Shelley’s poems: it was about the person and his politics, and all the things he felt passionately about.
As a young, angry black man in the 1980s, it was a revelation to find a dead white poet that made sense to me. Shelley turned me on to Mary Shelley, and Byron, and Keats, and my eyes were opened. Good poetry has no age, and no colour.
Benjamin Zephaniah & The Revolutionary Minds will perform their music at the Oxfam Moot, Friday 31st May, 9.45pm
Read more writers on the books that changed their lives