Benjamin SaphiroBenjamin Saphiro is an English poet, writer and artist. His work explores themes of identity, the self and the me generation. He is credited with having created the Reductionist genre of poetry, characterized by short, punchy works. He wrote for many years before attempting to publish his work.
Early life and careerBorn in Birmingham, England, Saphiro is the youngest of four children born to working-class West Midlands parents, a background he has mined extensively for his writing. He has said of his time growing up, “We all went to the local state school, which in hindsight was about keeping us off the streets until we were old enough to be ‘factory fodder’.” Before becoming a writer Saphiro worked in an array of jobs from washing dishes to lecturing at universities.
Career and literary works 2008 - 2015
Benjamin Saphiro photographed in 2012
His second book, Reductionism, defies many poetic conventions. Saphiro states in the foreword that he is paying homage to Imagist poetry and the ‘philosophical heart’ of the Haiku. Reducts is Saphiro’s third book and second book of Reductionist poetry. The subject matter provoked various controversies.
STUFF and Poetry for the Busy Mind. STUFF (2013) marked a return to Saphiro's 'long-form poetry'. Subject matter centred around Materialism and the emotional and symbolic value. The anthology opens with a quote from the Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel Fight Club, 'The things you own end up owning you.' Saphiro was heavily criticised for content throughout as the collection tackled sensitive issues including disability and the holocaust. When directly questioned about the seemingly racist nature of the poem 'Black Barbie' Saphiro openly admitted, 'The poem is racist, but not in the way you're implying,' and continued to extrapolate, 'The poem highlights the stupidity and greed of the white man.'
Reductionist periodTo date, two of Saphiro’s collections of poems have been examples of the Reductionist genre, which he is credited with creating. Reductionist poetry is identifiable by its sparse, simple style. Poems often contain as few as ten words or syllables or one rhyming couplet. Saphiro has attributed the style to his lack of formal literary education, a desire to make poetry accessible to a wider audience and the low attention spans of modern readers. He has described the choice of name as an ironic swipe at the literary establishment and the world of ‘-isms’.
InfluencesSaphiro cites his primary influences as Charlie Parker, The Beatles and Picasso, saying that literary ones would stifle his ability to write. He has said, “I couldn’t write if I was thinking about Jean-Paul Sartre or Boris Pasternak – every word would feel tepid in comparison.” He is unusual for having deliberately avoided reading the writers he respects. “The stories about Blake, Bryon, Kerouac, Camus and Langston Hughes told me what I needed to know about writing. Not reading their work gave me more,” he told a Beijing magazine.
StyleGeneration Me – Saphiro often uses the character name Benjamin Saphiro for his protagonists. He has said, “We’re living in a narcissistic age, with locked doors and hiding behind computers. This affects our emotional intelligence and ability to empathize.”
TypewritersWhen writing poetry Saphiro predominantly uses mechanical typewriters and is best known for using a 1930s Everest Mod 90. Other models have included an Olympia travel de lux, 1930s Imperial, flying fish and various Olivettis.
DyslexiaSaphiro was diagnosed with moderate dyslexia in 2001, which he described as “ironic and amusing”. The condition went undiagnosed throughout his education, after teachers and professors failed to investigate his difficulties reading and writing. Saphiro has attributed his sparse writing style to the condition.
Poetry readings and appearancesSince 2011 Saphiro has refused to give any poetry readings. After performing at an array of venues and ‘slam’ readings he concluded, “You might as well be reading the ingredients from the side of a jar. You’ll be received exactly the same way.” He told a Beijing journalist, “People don’t attend poetry readings to listen to poetry. They attend for a pseudo-cultural excuse to drink free wine.”
ControversyBenjamin Saphiro has gained notoriety in literary circles for his frank way of conveying ideas, his outspoken criticism of the publishing industry and his treatment of sensitive topics including political correctness, gender politics and race.
Publishing – Saphiro wrote for many years before seeking to publish his work due to his cynical view of the publishing industry. He has said, “The quality of the work is secondary. All publishers are interested in is sales.”
Feminism – Saphiro has written many poems that rebel against notions of gender equality. His poem Vomit on the pavement explores the idea that with equal opportunities women have relinquished “traditional female traits” such as grace, dignity and measure in exchange for “acting as crass and shallow as their flawed male counterparts”. The title alludes to the idea that women now also vomit on the pavement after drunken nights of promiscuity.
Homophobia – Despite criticism for a poem about HIV called Gay plague, Saphiro has denied accusations of homophobia. He is quoted as saying, “Are you kidding? I love the gay. If the gay community doesn’t get the joke, I’d better start writing musicals.”
In 2003 Saphiro moved to Bucharest to work. It was here he wrote Why are you so bitter? in 2005. The book is a candid account of his mother’s life. Although he finished the work in 2006, he refuses to publish it to avoid destroying the family. Saphiro began writing his first book of poetry The Regressive Years while living in Bucharest.
Saphiro moved to Beijing to work as a full-time writer in 2008, saying he wanted to witness “the rising of the Chinese Empire.” His book Reductionism has been translated into Chinese. He is currently working on a collection of poems about China called Unbound Feet.
The American Dream
"If you travel East long enough. You end up West."
The Regressive Years (2009)