Benjamin Zephaniah surprised by Big Issue vendor’s poetic performance

Legendary performance poet was stopped in his tracks by vendor’s rendition of ‘Me Green Poem’

Benjamin Zephaniah has described the moment a Big Issue vendor took him by surprise with a “word for word” rendition of one of his most renowned works, ‘Me Green Poem’.

“I was in Oxford a few years ago and I’ll never forget this,” said Zephaniah. “There was somebody selling The Big Issue. He stood back and he performed a poem of mine called ‘Me Green Poem’. 

“It’s a really long, fast poem. And he performed it word for word. I went, where the hell did you learn that? He said: ‘Man, I was one of your biggest fans.’ It blew me away.”

A writer, musician and actor, Zephaniah is best known for his politically active poetry. His work is often described as “dub poetry”, a form of spoken word performance that draws on the rhythms of reggae.

As a legendary performance poet, Zephaniah was impressed that the vendor didn’t just know the words of the poem, he delivered them with style.

“My poems, especially those longer faster ones, are really hard for other people to do. And when he did it, he did it just like me,” he said.

Zephaniah says he often thinks of the mystery Big Issue vendor and would love to find out who he was.

“I always think, who was that cat? I would love to find him,” he said.

Listen to Zephaniah tell the story of meeting the poetic vendor in the clip above. Below, you can hear him perform the full poem.

Benjamin Zephaniah has written for this week’s Big Issue about the new poets rising up during the coronavirus lockdown. The magazine is available now from your local vendor or in selected supermarkets. Find out how to subscribe here.

Life and Rhymes airs on Sky Arts from November 4 / ‘Windrush Child’ by Benjamin Zephaniah is out in November, published by Scholastic