The rasta performance poet Benjamin Zephaniah is supporting a new poetry prize for Cambridge students. The organisers of the competition, the St Edmund’s College Political Forum, are especially keen to encourage writing that propels social change.

The award, which is titled the Benjamin Zephaniah Poetry Prize, will be announced and presented by the poet himself at an event in June where the best entries will be read aloud. The competition is open to all Cambridge students, both undergraduate and graduate.

Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah was born in Birmingham in 1958. Dyslexic before the condition was recognised, he attended an approved school which he left at the age of 13, unable to read or write. He got into trouble with the law and had a spell in prison.

He became actively involved in a workers’ co-operative in Stratford, London, which led to the publication of his first book of poetry, called Pen Rhythm. Three editions were published. Zephaniah has said that his mission is to fight the dead image of poetry in academia and to take everywhere to people who do not read books.

A hugely charismatic and compelling performance poet, Zephaniah now has a string of anthologies and novels, plus an impressive series of awards, under his belt. He is much loved by young readers and has done a huge amount to promote poetry in schools. His first book of poems for children Talking Turkeys had to go into emergency re-print after just six weeks.

Talking about his decision to lend his name to the new prize, he said: “I am normally suspicious of poetry competitions, but this is a competition with a conscience. It's not promoting a brand or a trend, it’s encouraging entrants to open up and explore their imaginations. So go for it, there are no limits.”

Entries are not restricted to any particular style, subject or theme – and there is no word limit. A maximum of two poems per author can be submitted. The prize will be a single award of £400.

Submissions should be sent with the author’s name and address to Charis Charalampous, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, CB3 0BN or email The deadline is 10 May 2011. 

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