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Benjamin Zephaniah's "Talking Turkeys"

Updated on March 5, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Benjamin Zephaniah

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "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.

(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.")

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.

Benjamin Zephaniah offers a fun poem about turkeys at Christmas, 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.

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,
ÒI cannot wait for de chopÓ,
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 itÕs 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'.

Zephaniah reciting his "Talking Turkeys"

Commentary

A fun poem with a serious message.

First Stanza: Allusions to "Fun" Songs

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.

The speaker begins by telling his audience to "Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas." 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, "Yo! Turkey I'm on your side."

Second Stanza: Friends with Turkeys

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.

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 birds.

The speaker reports all of his turkey-friends fear Christmas 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

Turkeys just wanna play reggae
Turkeys just wanna hip-hop
Can yu imagine a nice young turkey saying,
ÒI cannot wait for de chopÓ,
Turkeys like getting presents, dey wanna watch christmas TV,
Turkeys hav brains an turkeys feel pain
In many ways like yu an me.

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.

Fourth Stanza: A Turkey Named Turkey

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 itÕs nothing to do wid Christ Mass
Humans get greedy an waste more dan need be
An business men mek loadsa cash'.

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 "greedy" and "wast[ing] more dan need be / An business men mek loadsa cash."

Fifth Stanza: Feed the Turkeys

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'.

Again, the speaker conclusively remonstrates, "So, be nice to yu turkey dis christmas." Moreover, he adds jovially that his listeners should invite the birds in for some vegetables and dessert: "Let dem eat cake an let dem partake / In a plate of organic grown beans."

The speaker then repeats his refrain one last time, "Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas," and admonishes his audience not to carve up the birds, but to "Join Turkeys United an dey'll be delighted / An yu will mek new friends 'FOR LIFE'."

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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