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. As well as the main film, the DVD also has a bonus feature: music videos made by Zephaniah with the Beta Brothers. All the poems and songs from the film and videos are included in the accompanying book from Bloodaxe. 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. His latest book is his autobiography The Life and Rhymes and Benjamin Zephaniah (Simon & Schuster, 2018).
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.