TO DO WID ME is a film portrait of Benjamin Zephaniah by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, drawing on both live performances and informal interviews. It shows him performing his poetry for different audiences and talking about his work, life, beliefs and much else. You see him live on stage at Ledbury Poetry Festival, Newcastle's Live Theatre, Hexham's Queen's Hall and Brunel University, and engaging with school children at Keats House in London, where he was writer-in-residence. All the poems and songs from the film and videos are included in the accompanying book from Bloodaxe, Benjamin Zephaniah: To Do Wid Me. For more details see bloodaxebooks.com/titlepage.asp?isbn=1852249439
Best-known for his performance poetry with a political edge for adults – and his poetry with attitude for children – Zephaniah has his own rap/reggae band and has made many recordings. He grew up in Handsworth, Birmingham, where he was sent to an approved school for being uncontrollable, rebellious and ‘a born failure’, ending up in jail for burglary and affray. After prison he turned from crime to music and poetry.
In 1989 he was nominated for Oxford Professor of Poetry, and has since received honorary doctorates from several English universities, but famously refused to accept a nomination for an OBE in 2003. He was voted Britain's third favourite poet of all time (after T.S. Eliot and John Donne) in a BBC poll in 2009. In 2011 he was poet-in-residence at Keats House in 2011, and then made a radical career change by taking up his first ever academic position as a chair in Creative Writing at Brunel University in West London.
He has appeared in a number of television programmes, including Peaky Blinders, Eastenders, The Bill, Live and Kicking, Blue Peter and Wise Up, and played Gower in a BBC Radio 3 production of Shakespeare’s Pericles in 2005. He was the first person to record with the Wailers after the death of Bob Marley, in a musical tribute to Nelson Mandela, which Mandela heard while in prison on Robben Island. Their later meetings led to Zephaniah working with children in South African townships and hosting the President’s Two Nations Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1996.
His first book of poems, Pen Rhythm, was produced in 1980 by a small East London publishing cooperative, Page One Books. His second collection, The Dread Affair, was published by Hutchinson’s short-lived Arena imprint in 1985. He then published three collections with Bloodaxe, City Psalms (1992), Propa Propaganda (1996) and Too Black Too Strong (2001), the latter including poems written while working with Michael Mansfield QC and other Tooks barristers on the Stephen Lawrence case. His other titles include poetry books for children from Puffin/Penguin and novels for teenagers from Bloomsbury. In 2018 he published his autobiography, The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah (Simon & Schuster).
Pamela Robertson-Pearce is an artist and filmmaker. Her films include IMAGO: Meret Oppenheim (1996), on the artist who made the fur-lined teacup, and Gifted Beauty (2000), about Surrealist women artists including Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo. IMAGO: Meret Oppenheim won several awards, including the Swiss Film Board’s Prize for Outstanding Quality and the Gold Apple Award at the National Educational Film and Video Festival in America. She has shown her work in solo exhibitions in New York and Provincetown, and in various group shows in the US and Europe. Born in Stockholm, she grew up in Sweden, Spain and England, then lived mostly in America - also working in Switzerland, Norway and Albania - before moving to Northumberland.
She co-edited the anthology Soul Food: nourishing poems for starved minds (Bloodaxe Books, 2007) with Neil Astley, and worked with him on the DVD-books In Person: 30 Poets (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) and In Person: World Poets (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), filming poets whose work is included in the two anthologies. Bloodaxe issued two more of her poetry films on DVDs with books in 2009, John Agard Live! with John Agard's Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems and Life is IMMENSE: visiting Samuel Menashe with Samuel Menashe's New & Selected Poems, followed by Jean 'Binta' Breeze's Third World Girl: Selected Poems with a live performances and interview DVD in 2011. Her full-length feature film Benjamin Zephaniah: To Do Wid Me was released on DVD by Bloodaxe in 2013 in Benjamin Zephaniah's DVD-book To Do Wid Me. She also devised the creative course Sky in the Eye ('Developing Creativity Using Women Surrealists' Art as a Palette') with poet Pascale Petit, run for the first time at Ty Newydd Writers' Centre, Wales, in 2013 and 2016, and followed by another course, Out of the Shell: writing and making art, run with poet and artist Annie Freud at Ty Newydd in 2017.