Didactic Poetics : Critical, Creative, Consequentialist

Osborne, Deirdre. 2018. 'Didactic Poetics : Critical, Creative, Consequentialist'. In: Race and Poetics and Poetry in the UK: Legacies of Colonialism. Queen's College, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom 26 October 2018. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

As Jean Fisher (2010) argues, ‘To focus and judge work on the basis of ethnic or racial markers’ can serve as ‘confirmation of expectation, even prejudice’ positioning the artist as ‘anthropological “native informer”’ – which ignores ‘the unique artistic dimension and experience of the work’ and overlooks its potential ‘to deterritoralise’ these very assumptions. This paper explores the ways in which poetry can serve an explicitly didactic purpose in educating readers/listeners about racial-cultural exclusion zones – literally in Benjamin Zephaniah’s late-twentieth-century school poems (‘School’s Out’, ‘Propa Propaganda’, ‘City Psalms’) and literarily in Lemn Sissay’s ‘A Reading in Stansted’. Through centring black pupils’ perspectives (while pupils of all ethnicities constitute his primary addressees, auditors, interlocutors), Zephaniah contests the narrowness of curriculum, elucidates the consequences of ignoring the rich cultural heritages that multi-ethnic populations bring to education, and represents the effects of restricted views of history upon a minoritised young person’s sense of themselves in the world – which links directly to today’s salient question, ‘Why is my curriculum White?’ Contrastingly, Sissay’s poem’s black persona, contracted to read his poetry in a white-clientele pub, is unwitting prey to trans-historic racist hostility, against which art is represented as insignificant and defenseless. While Zephaniah’s and Sissay’s poems articulate discrediting, silencing and disregard, their Didactic Poetics also holds white-majority culture accountable for the consequences of Britain’s imperial past and in doing so, confirms Seamus Heaney’s vision ‘of poetry as its own vindicating force’ (1988).

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Poetry, Didactic Poetics, Benjamin Zephaniah, Lemn Sissay

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature
Theatre and Performance (TAP)


26 October 2018Accepted

Event Location:

Queen's College, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Date range:

26 October 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

09 Jan 2019 14:26

Last Modified:

09 Jan 2019 14:53



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