Benjamin Zephaniah's "Talking Turkeys"

Updated on October 27, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Benjamin Zephaniah

Source

Introduction and Excerpt from "Talking Turkeys"

Benjamin Zephaniah's "Talking Turkeys" consists of five stanzas. It is a cross between a rap song and a versanelle, with a reggae flavor. It scintillates with rime but does not display a consistent rime scheme. While the poem's delivery appears to emphasize the fun in its subject, its deeper message is quite serious: Benjamin Zephaniah is an activist and vegan-vegetarian.

This offering is a fun poem about turkeys at Christmas time, punning on the phrase "talking turkey," meaning t0 speak seriously or frankly—quite apt, as the speaker, although stylizing a fun poem, is, in fact, dead serious about the issue he is addressing.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Excerpt from "Talking Turkeys"

Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas
Cos' turkeys just wanna hav fun
Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked
An every turkey has a Mum.
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas,
Don't eat it, keep it alive,
It could be yu mate, an not on your plate
Say, Yo! Turkey I'm on your side.

To read the song/poem in its entirety, please visit, "Benjamin Zephaniah Books"

Zephaniah reciting his "Talking Turkey"

Commentary

Benjamin Zephaniah has created a fun poem with a serious message. As an avid vegan/vegetarian, the speaker wishes to promote the dietary habit of eschewing the ingesting of animal flesh. He hopes to win converts through his clever repartée, instead of trying to ram his views down the throat of his listeners, as vegan-nazis often try to do.

First Stanza: Allusions to "Fun" Songs

The speaker begins by admonishing his audience to "nice" to "yu turkeys" during the holiday season. Then he adds jauntily that "turkeys jus wanna have fun," an allusion to Cyndi Lauper's song, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and Wyn Coopers's poem, "Fun," which was turned into a pop song and made popular by Sheryl Crow.

Then the speaker describes turkeys as "cool" and "wicked," and they also have mothers. He then repeats his refrain about being nice to the birds and adds the command, "Don't eat it, keep it alive." He says that the bird could be your pal and does not belong on your dinner plate. He tells his listeners to tell their turkey that they side with the turkeys, meaning he wants them to make the nontraditional decision to befriend instead of killing and eating them.

Second Stanza: Friends with Turkeys

The speaker then claims that many of his friends are turkeys, but he does not mean those friends are humans who behave like "turkeys" in the slang-meaning of the term; no, he means the literal birds.

The speaker reports all of his turkey-friends fear the holiday season and complain that humans "destroy[ ] it" for the birds. He then remarks that his turkey-friends have "right to a life." They deserve "not to be caged up" and "genetically made up / By any farmer an his wife."

Third Stanza: Turkeys Dig Reggae

The speaker claims that turkeys just want to be free to listen to the music of their choice; they never look forward to being carved up so people can eat them. Turkeys are like people: they like to get Christmas presents and watch TV, and they "feel pain" just as people do. He informs his listeners that turkeys have brains, attempting to assure his listeners that the birds are more like humans than they perhaps believe.

Fourth Stanza: A Turkey Named Turkey

The speaker then says he "once knew a turkey His name was Turkey"—a funny line that demonstrates the fantastic nature of this playful poem, which continues with Turkey saying to the poet/speaker, "Benji explain to me please, / Who put de turkey in christmas."

In addition, Turkey is also concerned about what happens to "christmas trees." The speaker answers that he is not certain about those things, but he knows eating turkey has nothing to do with "Christ Mass." The speaker then unloads on humans for being wasteful and greedy; he implies that business are especially greedy because they "mek loadsa cash."

Fifth Stanza: Feed the Turkeys

Again, the speaker conclusively repeats his original command to be nice to the turkeys during the holiday season. Moreover, he adds jovially that his listeners should invite the birds in for some vegetables and dessert. Again, riffing off an allusion to Marie Antoinette, who is reputed to have said in response to the French citizens lacking bread, "Let them eat cake!" Plus he add some "organic grown beans" into the meal.

The speaker then repeats his refrain one last time, commanding his listeners to be "nice" to the birds. He adds an further command, forbidding them from craving up the target of his discourse. Instead of killing and mutilating these beautiful birds, he wants his audience to join in his fight "FOR LIFE," by allowing these creature to live. He places for life in all caps to emphasize the serious message of his otherwise jovial discourse.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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