Poet excited by chance to take words Off the Shelf in Sheffield

Off the Shelf festival piece - EB''Benjamin Zephaniah
Off the Shelf festival piece - EB''Benjamin Zephaniah
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PERFORMANCE poet Benjamin Zephaniah is already a hero of powerful prose - but could have been a Sheffield-born one too.

For the acclaimed author’s mother first stopped in the city on arriving in the country, only to take up nursing in Birmingham instead. The rest, as they say, is history.

His words in all forms have an international appeal with both adults and children, and he is known as one of the UK’s best-loved poets.

And this year Benjamin will star again in Sheffield’s renowned annual book festival Off the Shelf.

This time he will also curate three events in an attempt to give youngsters a ‘voice’.

His own voice, of a influential poet, novelist and playwright with 13 honorary degrees, is something he may not have expected to possess as a dyslexic child who left school at 13.

Benjamin said: “It’s not something I usually do. However, I thought about it and decided these events should be about giving people a voice who might not have the platform to do so.”

Up-and-coming poets will be encouraged to share the stage at Benjamin’s Off The Shelf gig at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield city centre, on Saturday, November 3.

A Poetry Party at the venue on Tuesday, October 9, is set to help youngsters express themselves through poetry.

Benjamin said: “When I first heard about Off the Shelf I thought that is exactly what I am trying to do with my poetry – take it off the shelf.

“What I do know is how passionate the people behind the festival are and you can’t bring literature and poetry to life without passion.

“I should have been born in Sheffield as I love the place so much. I nearly was – when my mother got off the boat her first stop was Sheffield, but then someone persuaded her to go to Birmingham.”

Off The Shelf is run by Sheffield Council from October 13 to November 3.

Highlights include actor Richard Wilson, best known as grumpy Victor Meldrew, in conversation and gold sponsor The Star featuring in its 125th anniversary year.

Until tomorrow, visitors can join a festival Friends Scheme to benefit from privileges such as advance brochures, priority booking and special events, for just £20 a year. For details, call 0114 273 4400.