But it's also his voice. He talks in a warm, soft tone that is half West Indian and half Brummie. When he performs his poetry, his accent becomes more Jamaican, and he sometimes describes himself as a 'dub poet'.
This evening's performance is entitled 'An audience with Benjamin Zepheniah'. The format, as Zepheniah matter-of-factly describes it, involves him telling us a bit about his life and times, interspersed with a few poems, concluding with a question & answer session. He had doubts about the format himself, but tells us that he was convinced to do it by his friend Tony Benn (an early tip-off for those who aren't familiar with Zepheniah's politics).
To be honest, I would have preferred an evening that was based more around his poetry. Although he creates funny and fascinating stories out of his youth and early career, he doesn't seem to be quite big-headed enough to really enjoy talking about himself for an hour and a half, which shows in the slightly stumbling and undramatic way some of his tales begin.
The few poems he does perform are what really keep you listening. Some are simple, with fun see-them-coming rhymes. Others are angry, polemical, and challenging, such as the poem he wrote about Stephen Lawrence. The poem that really stands out in this performance is a relatively new one, 'Wrong Radio Station'. It's a long, disturbing, ranting poem about living in world of non-stop media input, and the confused state of mind this creates. It catches the mood of the scary times we live in brilliantly.
One thing tonight showed me was how good Benjamin Zephaniah is with children. There were a lot of school trips in, and the kids absolutely adore him. They made the question & answer session, which I wasn't really looking forward to, really enjoyable. At the end of the show he performed, by request, a great pro-vegetarian poem about Christmas turkeys. But I wondered if the teachers were all entirely comfortable with their pupils' adulation of this subtly rebellious poet. When asked how he liked Oxford, he replied: 'I don't think you really get to know a place until you've been arrested there.'