ZEPHANIAH SPEAKS

My Man Shelley

Shelley’s my man. If he were alive now he wouldn’t be sitting in an ivory tower only leaving to attend the odd literature festival, he would be demonstrating against the exploitation of the third world and performing at the Glastonbury festival. He would have marched with us against the war on 15th February 2003. I used to think of Shelley as just another one of those dead white poets who wrote difficult poetry for difficult people, but then I learnt how dedicated he was to justice and the liberation of the poor. He probably saw very few black people but he was passionately against the slave trade. It was this that turned me on to Shelley, his humanity, passion, and his rock and roll attitude. His ability to connect poetry to the concerns of everyday people was central to his poetic purpose, and those everyday people overstood that he did not simply do arts for art’s sake, this was arts that was uncompromisingly revolutionary, he wrote for the masses. No TV, no radio, no Internet, but his poetry was being quoted on the streets and chanted at demonstration, not only did Shelley know the power of poetry, more importantly he knew the power of the people. I think of him as the ‘Dub’ poet of his time. The other thing is I think he was really sexy, women loved him, the authorities hated him, and everyone knew when he was in town.

Shelley once said. ‘My soul is bursting, ideas millions of ideas are crowding into it.’ Hey, I feel like that sometimes but everybody tells me I should get therapy. Shelley also said ‘Let the axe strike the tree/the poison tree will fall.’ He’s right, I believe him. What can we do about our corrupt, deceitful politicians? How can we halt the evil arms trade? How can we make corporate tyrants pay for the crimes they do? I know, we should let the axe strike the tree and then the poison tree will fall. The guy’s so relevant, the brother’s so now. Shelley was a ‘Great Briton’ because he was an internationalist, he cared about the people of Italy, and Africa, as much as he cared about the people of Britain. He knew the role poetry and the arts could play in opening minds, and he has left us beautiful, angry, powerful, lyrical, revolutionary poetry. As well as being a visionary, in my humble opinion he can also be seen as the greatest poetic historian Britain has ever produced.

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