Talking Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah

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.
I got lots of friends who are turkeys
An all of dem fear christmas time,
Dey wanna enjoy it, dey say humans destroyed it
An humans are out of dere mind,
Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys
Dey all hav a right to a life,
Not to be caged up an genetically made up
By any farmer an his wife.
Turkeys just wanna play reggae
Turkeys just wanna hip-hop
Can yu imagine a nice young turkey saying,
“I cannot wait for de chop”,
Turkeys like getting presents, dey wanna watch
christmas TV,
Turkeys hav brains an turkeys feel pain
In many ways like yu an me.
I once knew a turkey called…….. Turkey
He said “Benji explain to me please,
Who put de turkey in christmas
An what happens to christmas trees?”,
I said “I am not too sure turkey
But its nothing to do wid Christ Mass
Humans get greedy an waste more dan need be
An business men mek loadsa cash’.
Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
Invite dem indoors fe sum greens
Let dem eat cake an let dem partake
In a plate of organic grown beans,
Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
An spare dem de cut of de knife,
Join Turkeys United an dey’ll be delighted
An yu will mek new friends ‘FOR LIFE’.

1 Zephaniah loves parody . In Propa Propaganda (1996), his poem has a scheme that is a parody of Martin Luther King’s speech I Have a Dream, and Terrible World parodies  Louis Armstrong’s song What a Wonderful World. In Talking Turkeys, there’s a clear intertextual link with a very well known anonymous nonsense poem which is sung to the tune of Sousa’s Stars and Stripes

.
Be kind to your web-footed friends
For that duck may be somebody’s mother,
She lives on the edge of a swamp
Where the weather is always damp.
You may think that this is the end,
Well it is but to prove that you’re all liars,
We’re going to sing it again,
But only this time we will sing a little higher.

Repeat the song but sing it a bit higher. Continue for as many rounds as you can
stand! The last verses are:

You may think that this is the end…
Well, you’re right!

2 After finding the similarities between the song and the poem you can discuss why Zephaniah may have resorted to parody and whether the poem transcends mere
imitation. You can also try to sing the poem to the tune of Stars and Stripes!
3 Humour generally relies on anticlimax -what makes you smile or laugh is what’s unexpected, ironic or absurd. In “Be nice to your turkeys dis Christmas”, the reference to the Christmas season right after the request that we be nice to turkeys is truly anticlimatic, as all of us know it’s the time of year when most turkeys end up on the table. Go over the poem and provide further examples.

4 Another major device used in the poem is personification. In it, turkeys think, behave and feel like humans. As Zephaniah is a vegan, his purpose in resorting to personification must be to make his readers / listeners empathise with turkeys. Which are the lines which, in your view. are the most moving?
5 In informal American English, “to talk turkey” means to discuss something honestly and directly. Is the title a mere play on words in keeping with the poem’s light tone or does it have a more serious purpose? What about the play on words between “Christmas” and “Christ Mass”?
6 ‘He said “Benji, explain to me please / who put de turkey in Christmas…?”’ On the Internet you can find a lot of information on this Christmas custom, for example, at
http://www.animalaid.org.uk/campaign/vegan/xmasshop.htm. What follows is a summary: originally from America, turkeys reached Europe around 1524. Already in the early XVII century, they were the common meal at rich people’s Christmas table -the poor having to be content with geese. However, it was Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that popularised the serving of turkeys for Christmas dinner.

7 All poetry should be read aloud to appreciate its rhythm and sound effects, and more so in the case of truly oral poetry such as Zephaniah’s. The type of poetry he prefers
is that of “performance poets who are unpublished and want to stay that way”. According to The Independent on Sunday, Zephaniah’s poems “bounce up from the
page and demand to be read, rapped, sung and hip-hopped aloud”. Is this true of this poem? Concentrate on some of the devices he’s used to achieve this effect: end
rhyme, internal rhyme (eg line7), repetition of whole lines, phrases, structures (eg the imperatives on lines 32, 33 & 34) and sounds (eg “ dey’ll be delighted”)

8 One of Zephaniah’s purposes as a poet is to change people’s way of looking at poetry, for them to feel less intimidated by a genre which most people relate to elaborate, obscure and sophisticated language. His style is just the opposite: he uses everyday speech and dialect, and writes words as they sound. Pick out the most striking examples of this in the poem. Have you ever come across poetry like this one? Do you agree with his use of ‘unpoetic’ language or do you think the language of poetry should be more ‘educated’?

9 The poem tells us turkeys “wanna play reggae” and “hip hop”. As both types of popular music have exerted a profound influence on Zephaniah’s artistic output, an interesting activity would be to do some research on the two terms on the Internet.  The site below will provide you with useful information on rap music and hiphop
culture: http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/ curriculum/ units/1993/4/93.04.04.x.html

 

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