Winner of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, 2012
John Agard has been broadening the canvas of British poetry for the past 40 years with his mischievous, satirical fables which overturn all our expectations. His ninth Bloodaxe collection, Border Zone, explores a far-reaching canvas of British/Caribbean transatlantic connections, sweeping across centuries and continents.
His border territory ranges from Love in a Sceptred Isle, a novella-like narrative poem of a romance between Barbados-born photographer, Victor, and Welsh librarian, Rhiannon, told with lyrical tenderness and thought-provoking wit, to Casanova the Philosopher, a sequence of sonnets in the voice of the legendary Venetian philosophically observing 18th-century English ways in a tongue-in-cheek memoir and travelogue.
This is a diverse collection where the thought-provokingly mischievous, bawdy and elegiac rub shoulders alongside the sequence The Plants Are Staying Put – with the poet turning overnight lockdown gardener – as well as calypso poems, where the Guyana-born winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry puts on his hat as ‘poetsonian’, a term he coined in the 80s in tribute to the inventive lyrics of the calypsonian, a crucial strand of Agard’s varied, innovative, and often satirical poetic output.
‘John Agard’s satirical poetry, driven by affection for his country rather than easy disdain, has always taken serious comic aim at prejudiced authority. Agard received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2012, but he is nonetheless a poet of the people; or, better still, the nation’s jester, speaking truth to power in many registers. Border Zone, his most recent collection of poems, opens with eighty-six seven-line stanzas of varying rhyme schemes… about the Windrush generation… to read Agard is always to be reminded of the idea of poetry as song.’ – Fred D’Aguiar, Times Literary Supplement
‘John Agard’s poetry is generous with its pleasures. His wit and playfulness are on full display in Border Zone, a title that could encompass the Guyanese-British poet’s five decades of writing about the margins of Englishness… Agard approaches all his subjects, and forms, with a keen awareness of history.’ – Matthew Gilley, New Statesman
'Well into the fifth decade of his poetry career, John Agard's Border Zone shows little sign of the elder statesman slowing down... Celebratory even in its moving elegies for friends and heroes, Border Zone is a work of joy from an old master.' - Dave Coates, Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Summer 2022
‘... if Agard had not already been forged in the roller-coaster aftermath of empire, there would be an urgent need for society to invent someone like him.’ – William Wallis, Financial Times Magazine
‘In the year when we learnt of the damage and cruelty that the UK’s hostile-environment policies inflicted on the Windrush generation, John Agard strikes back with these cleverly crafted parables of an outsider. The little green man’s encounters and observations, his mix of wonder and wise caution, are given a voice that manages to be both naïve and incisive.’ – Maria Crawford, Financial Times (Poetry Books of the Year 2018), on The Coming of the Little Green Man
‘Through the figure of the alien, Agard is able to retell, in an original and uncanny manner, the now familiar stories of migrants arriving, and striving to assimilate, in Britain… The Coming of the Little Green Man makes a poignant contribution to current discussions of migration and ‘foreigners’, and makes an insistent call for a shift away from isolationism to a more inclusive and harmonious humanity.’ – Sarala Estruch, Times Literary Supplement
‘John Agard's poetry is a wonderful affirmation of life, in a language that is as vital and joyous as we are able to craft it in the Caribbean, in spite of our history of distress.’ – David Dabydeen
John Agard reads from Border Zone at the 2022 Newcastle Poetry Festival
John Agard read from his 2022 collection Border Zone at the 2022 Newcastle Poetry Festival. John read ‘Potato Speaks’, ‘Flag Speaks’, ‘Diversity in de Market’, ‘Ice Speaks’ and ‘Weeds’. Filmed by Peter Hebden. Special thanks to Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts.
JOHN AGARD: Alternative Anthem
John Agard performs his 'Alternative Anthem' with the audience at London's Soho Theatre. 'Alternative Anthem' is also the title poem of Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems (2009), a DVD-book featuring Agard's performances at two different venues. This video is from the DVD John Agard Live! included in his Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems from Bloodaxe.
JOHN AGARD: Listen Mr Oxford don
John Agard reads his poem 'Listen Mr Oxford don', familiar to thousands of school students from the GCSE syllabus. This video is from the DVD John Agard Live! included in his Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems from Bloodaxe.
JOHN AGARD: Playing the Ghost of Maimonides
John Agard reads and introduces six poems from his Bloodaxe collection Playing the Ghost of Maimonides: ‘The Return of Perplexed Maimonides’, ‘The Jester’s Postwar Reflection’, ‘The Jester’s Eureka Moment’, ‘The Jester Confronts the Almighty on Separating the Sheep from the Goat’, ‘A Senior Moment’ and ‘Maimonides Discourses on the Fifth of the Four Humours’. This video shows part of his performance at Ledbury Poetry Festival on 3 July 2016.
JOHN AGARD with Keith Waithe
A second excerpt from the Alternative Anthem DVD-book (2009). John Agard and fellow Guyanan Keith Waithe perform 'Flute Boy', a piece specially written by Agard for his flute maestro friend. Then Waithe accompanies Agard's performance of his poem 'Marriage of Opposites'. Finally, the third poem in this excerpt is Agard's much celebrated 'Half-caste', now on the syllabus in many English schools. This live performance by Agard and Waithe was filmed at Havant Arts Centre in 2008. This video is from the DVD John Agard Live! included in his Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems from Bloodaxe.
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