Everybody Is Doing It by Benjamin Zephaniah is a poem that, at first glance, would seem to describe a series of “dance[s]” that occur across the globe. On a deeper level, however, Zephaniah is using these “dance[s]” and locations—though many of the “dance[s]” are different—to show a general sameness in various areas. Essentially, different “dance[s]” might be performed, but in the end, it is still “dancing.” Through a number of literary devices and techniques, this concept is driven home to the reader, creating layers of depth and meaning where the simplicity of naming “dance[s]” once was. You can read the full poem here.
Everybody Is Doing It Analysis
One of the first ways Zephaniah allows this theme of commonality to be expressed is through the line structure of the poem. The reason for this is, basically, that there is no definitive number of lines for all stanzas, though stanzas remain as an integral part of the work’s structure. Specifically, three out of five stanzas contain eight lines (first, fourth, and fifth stanzas), but the eight-line prospect is broken up between the second and third stanzas so that Stanza Two has one line and Stanza Three has seven lines.
This is a concept that expresses the sameness of size, but with a slight difference in approach—an idea that is the key element to this poem overall. All of these areas have specific “dance[s]” that allow for differences—“In Hawaii they Hula,” “In Kenya they Benga,” etc.—but whatever the “dance” is, it is, in fact, still a “dance.” Just as the poem can be broken into sections of eight lines with a subtle variation in the second and third stanzas, these cultures vary in styles of “dance” while still embracing that unifying concept.
On another level, the rhyme scheme allows a sameness to be shown while throwing in a level of variation as there is no concrete rhyme scheme shared among all stanzas. Stanza One, for instance, has an AAAABBCB pattern whereas the final stanza has an AABBCDCD one. Clearly, there is little method of telling where the rhymes will fall from stanza to stanza, but outside of the second stanza that only has one line, it is a given that rhymes will occur in some way within each, even if the rhyme is as basic as different “dance” and area names that end with a general “a” sound.
This variation of rhyme scheme could have a number of meanings. One is the overall theme at work of “dancing” showcasing a commonality across the globe—thus, rhymes happening—though the process comes with variations that make each “dancing” group separate—thus the variation of when the rhymes happen in the stanzas. This is arguably the most obvious of the possible meanings behind this varied rhyme strategy.
The second is that, as certain rhymes are more perfect throughout the work—like “Disco” and “San Francisco”—others are less refined—like “India” and “Guatemala.” Some could argue, in fact, that moments when it is only the “a” sound linking words as rhymes are too much of a stretch to label them rhymes, but since it is a similar ending of a word, this analysis will treat them as rhymes. The stretch that it takes to come to that conclusion, however, in contrast to the more perfect rhymes available, could be commentary about the varied success level people might have in regard to these “dance[s]”. In some cases, “dance[rs]” are perfectly structured, while other cases might involve “dance[rs]” who barely know the steps.
If such is the case, this idea is treated as unimportant since it does not matter how capable these people are as “dance[rs]”—they are still a part of the “dance.” This can be seen as a representation of life as well—that everyone is a part of the current world, no matter how out of place or insignificant they might feel. Once more then, the reader discovers a universal concept that unites various locations.
Another element that somehow expresses a sameness and a difference among the cultures at the same time is the alliteration within the stanzas. To begin, some of these ideas of cultures paired with “dance[s]” are visually linked by alliteration—like “In Hawaii they Hula” and “In Trinidad they Tango.” This provides a solidarity between the territory and its culture, even while both details are listed among so many others groups that share the commonality of “dance.” This again allows them to have their separate identities while embracing a sameness among them.
Note as well that all of these geographic locations do not share that kind of connection with their noted “dance.” This could be an inclination that different aspects of life are more important to some cultures than others. Essentially, the “Hula” might be integral to “Hawaii[an]” culture, while the “Marimba” is a smaller piece of “Guatemala[n]” culture. The topic varies in importance then, but it is still present. Once more, there is difference and identity even among the commonality.
One final note about the poem’s universality is that at some points, that universality is more vivid than at others. Already, the differentiation of “dance” styles in different areas has been noted within this analysis, but at times, even that difference seems to be pushed aside. For instance, “[t]hey dance Ballet all over,” and “[e]verybody does the Disco.” What this could entail is that at some points of being, it is not just a matter of sharing a commonality as general as “dance.” Sometimes, that commonality runs deeper, just as these specific “dance[s]” are noted for being universal in contrast to the others that are more territory-centered. This mirrors life since certain elements are, at their core, identical among cultures. One group might read different literature, as an example, but everyone must breathe air.
These varied levels of similarity are expressed in these universal “dance[s]”—particularly when one “dance” is noted as so popular that “[e]ven foxes” perform it. At this point, the universality of the poem extends beyond human reach and includes external elements as well, linking other things under the appearance of commonality that Zephaniah has created within this poem.
Capitalization and Grammar
Regardless of the universality, however, the cultural identity of these groups still remains intact and important, and this can be seen in two simple techniques in the poem. For one thing, all “dance” names are capitalized, although a number of them feel like nouns that should not need such treatment. “Belly Dancing,” for example, feels general enough to be treated as a typical noun. By insisting that each “dance” name is capitalized, Zephaniah has showcased how important these cultural elements are to each location.
In similar fashion, the lack of commas separating the geographic names from their linked “dance[s]” creates a sense of visual unity that is unbroken, as if the culture cannot be separated from the people—not even for something as structural as a comma.
Whether or not the “dance” of each group is the high-priority element of their culture, something in their culture is high-priority to them, and those elements are important to them (thus the capitalization) and inseparable from their identity (thus the lack of commas). The existence of those varied elements, ironically, creates commonality because each geographic culture would have such details—an idea that links those places even with their differences. This blend of variation and sameness is the main idea of the poem.
About Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah is an English poet who was highly influenced by Jamaican culture, both in his writing and in his beliefs. He is a writer, musician, and social spokesperson who influences those who read his works.