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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Poet and Playwright



Born on 21 June 1949 in British Guiana (now Guyana). John Agard worked for the Guyana Sunday Chronicle newspaper as sub-editor and feature writer before moving to England in 1977, where he became a touring lecturer for the Commonwealth Institute.

Playwright, poet, short-story and children's writer John Agard was born on 21 June 1949 in British Guiana (now Guyana). He worked for the Guyana Sunday Chronicle newspaper as sub-editor and feature writer before moving to England in 1977, where he became a touring lecturer for the Commonwealth Institute, travelling to schools throughout the UK to promote a better understanding of Caribbean culture.

In 1993 he was appointed Writer in Residence at the South Bank Centre, London, and became Poet in Residence at the BBC in London, an appointment created as part of a scheme run by the Poetry Society in London. He also played a key role in the 'Windrush' season of programmes in 1998. He won the Paul Hamlyn Award for Poetry in 1997 and has travelled extensively throughout the world performing his poetry.

His published poetry includes Man to Pan (1982), winner of the Casa de las Américas Prize, Limbo Dancer in Dark Glasses (1983), Mangoes and Bullets: Selected and New Poems 1972-84 (1985) and Weblines (2000). He is also the author of many children's books, including Lend Me Your Wings (1987), which was shortlisted for the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. He has contributed to, and edited, several anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse (1986), and is also co-editor of A Caribbean Dozen (1994) with his partner, the poet Grace Nichols, with whom he also co-wrote No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock in 1991. Their latest collaboration is From Mouth to Mouth (2004), an anthology of poems handed down from all over the world.

John Agard lives in south-east England.

Critical Perspective
By Peter Forbes
Agard is a mesmeric performer and there is something distinctly Puckish about him. Mayhem, overturning the established order appeals to him. He also has a lush sensual side, expressed in some fine erotic poems. Although he has lived in England since 1978 his imagination is still deeply Caribbean.

Agard often writes sequences and books constructed around a single theme. His first book Man to Pan (1982) celebrated the steel drums of calypso. In Limbo Dancer in Dark Glasses (1983), limbo, having originated on the slave ships, is seen as iconic of Caribbean culture. Since his move to England his poetry has become less elemental, more satirical and pointed. Typical is 'Listen Mr Oxford Don' from Mangoes and Bullets (1985)

'He has been prolific in recent years with From the Devil's Pulpit (1997) and Weblines (2000). From the Devil's Pulpit explores the omnipresence of satanic influence in modern life: For Agard, the Devil is a necessary evil, an anarchic force, insinuating himself at every level of modern life. The Devil rearranges Mrs Thatcher's St Francis speech from the steps of No. 10 Downing Street.

Weblines is a book of selected and new poems, reprinting 'From Man to Pan' and 'Limbo Dancer in Dark Glasses', along with a new set of Ananse poems. Ananse is the traditional spider prophet - trickster and spider hero - of the Caribbean. The Ananse stories are primal stories - creation myths. Typical is 'How Wisdom and Commonsense were Scattered'. In prose paraphrase the story is: Ananse gathers up all the wisdom into a gourdpot but with the gourdpot hanging from his belly he could no longer climb a tree. His youngest child tells him to put the gourdpot on his head. In vexation at having his sum of wisdom questioned and added to in this way, Ananse throws the pot down and wisdom is scattered. Agard has helped to make Caribbean culture accessible to a wide audience.

One way in which he has done this has been to write for children. His many books, often illustrated, are as philosophical as his adult books but entirely accessible to children. In Come Back to Me My Boomerang (2001) he has a dialogue between a circle and a square on the respective virtues of rectangularity and circularity. In Get Back, Pimple (1996) he has a poem in which the animals dream of exploiting humans in the way that humans exploit them.

He has also written a play for schoolchildren, The Great Snakeskin (1993).

From Contemporary Writers

Posted by jebratt :: Wednesday, April 05, 2006 :: 0 comments

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