Poet Benjamin Zephaniah inspired by mysterious inscription on Hampstead Heath bench

07:00 28 November 2012

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah at Mulberry House School, West Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah at Mulberry House School, West Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock


Among the family names and loving epitaphs inscribed on benches on Hampstead Heath, are the scant few words of an Iranian poet who is long forgotten and difficult to trace.

But for a few minutes last week, a film aired on Channel 4 featuring dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, bought the lines to life with a poem inspired by the inscription – “I was born tomorrow, yesterday killed me, today I live”.

“Bench” was directed by Natasha Serlin, who owns The Bespoke Film Company in Chalk Farm, and developed with the Rastafarian writer, who famously rejected an OBE in 2003.

“When I first came to London I used to go to the Swiss Cottage gym and after I used to go for a run on Hampstead Heath,” said Mr Zephaniah, who was also poet in residence at Keats House in Keats Grove, Hampstead.

“I noticed the benches and the bits of poetry inscribed on them.

“When the director came to me and said are there benches that would be inspiring to you, this one came to me straight away.

“With writing poetry one is taking a small idea, and making it big, or one can take a big idea, and write a few words.”

Director Ms Serlin grew up in the area and used to tell the stories of the inscriptions with her mother and sister as they walked through the park.

She explained: “I always felt the words on that bench were poignant and significant. For me the poem was about being in the present – running on the Heath is like that. I wanted to capture that essence.”

The team never traced the Iranian writer Parviz Owsia, whose name graces the bench, but they think it was commissioned by his family.

The words on the memorial bench will remain something to ponder for the Heath’s dog walkers and runners.

To watch the short film go to


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