A unique and energetic force in contemporary British poetry, John Agard’s poems combine acute social observation, puckish wit and a riotous imagination to thrilling effect. Born in Guyana, South America in 1949, Agard moved to Britain in the late seventies.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, cultural differences, class divisions and subverted racial stereotypes abound in his often questing, questioning work, from poems that adopt the Caribbean tradition of limbo dancing as a symbol of freedom and otherness, to darkly comic, bitingly sardonic pieces such as Half-caste, one of Agard’s best-loved poems, which brilliantly turns that phrase’s offensive absurdity inside-out. But as serious as Agard’s themes often are – and this recording gives a broad taste of his dealings with ethnicity, mythology, academia, morality and technological advancement, to name but a few – his is always a playful, entertaining approach; humour as a means of disarming the worst of the world. Here is a poet who revels in disrupting accepted opinion and coolly undermining the po-faced establishment: the “simple immigrant / from Clapham Common” in Listen Mr Oxford don, who “dont need no hammer / to mash up yu grammar”, “making de Queen’s English accessory to my offence”. John was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal Award for Poetry in 2013.