KARISA CERNERA ’14
Last Thursday, Oct. 18, Trinity students and faculty members gathered in the Smith House Reese Room to watch Roger Bonair-Agard perform his poetry as a part of the annual A.K. Smith Reading Series. Bonair-Agard considers himself to be a spoken word and performance poet. His poetry is very interactive and in many cases his poems are sung instead of read. “My body and the page work as one symbiotic process,” stated Bonair-Agard.
Bonair-Agard is a native of Trinidad and Tobago and moved to the United States in 1987 to pursue poetry rather than a career in law. He was a member of the 1997 Nuyorican Poets Cafe poetry Slam team and went on to coach the 1998 slam team as well, which won the National poetry Slam Championship in Austin, TX.
Bonair-Agard co-founded the louderARTS Project which is an arts organization that is committed to creating and teaching poetry. He was a part of many of the louderARTS Poetry Slam teams from 1999 until 2007. He even won the individual competition at the National Poetry Slam in 1999. He is currently the Artistic Director at louderARTS and has been a creative writing professor at Fordham University. Bonair-Agard has also spent a lot of time in Chicago, IL, where he taught poetry at the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center.
The poet read pieces from his upcoming book “Bury my Clothes,” which will be released in the spring of 2012. Bonair-Agard stated, that a lot of his new poetry explores the violence during the steel pan music movement in Trinidad and Tobago and compares it to the violence that is paired with the hip hop movement today. He states that he likes to focus on “why Africans create art.”
Bonair-Agard read some of his poetry, including “Back to School,” “Slick Rick,” and “Washington Heights 1981,” along with many more poems which explored many different ideas including race and heartache. The poet ended his performance with a moving piece entitled “National Botanical Gardens 1986,” which was an autobiographical piece about the poet as a young man who is on the threshold of adulthood. The story involves many Trinidadian references and focuses on a Bonair-Agard as a teenager who goes to a party with his friends and gets in a car accident on the way home.
At the end of the performance, Bonair-Agard took questions from the audience asking about why he started writing. He stated that poetry was always a major part of his life. He said that his mother used to make him memorize poems at a young age and perform them for her; that is why he loves to actually perform all of his poetry. “There was no schism in my head. I think of the authenticity of my body and think of my writing in the same way. My particular poetic project is one holistic event.”
When asked about his subject matter, Bonair-Agard stated that he liked to focus on race and violence in the black community. “We are losing more black and brown boys in Chicago than soldiers in Iraq and Iran combined,” said the poet. Members of the audience also linked Bonair-Agard’s poetry to that of rap music because of how lyrical his poems were when performed. Roger Bonair-Agard stated that he believed that rap music and poetry were very similar in nature. “There are some amazing writers who still exist in that form [rap music].” He even went on to call Lil Wayne an “incredible metaphorist.” “Rap music is the only musical and lyrical form that works itself out in front of the world,” said Bonair- Agard.
When asked about how he comes up with subject material, Bonair-Agard stated that he takes a lot of information from the places that he has lived, including Trinidad and Tobago, Chicago and New York City. “My voice has broadened because I have crossed cultures.” He also attributes his success to his desire to learn more about the world around him. “As a writer your job is to take everything in, you have to want to experience.” When asked if he writes for a particular audience, Bonair-Agard said no. Instead, he said that he writes, “to convince himself that it is real. I want people to listen even if they don’t necessarily understand.”
Roger Bonair-Agard is the author of three collections of his work including “Gully,” “Tarnish and Masquerade” and “Burning Down the House.” In addition, his fourth anthology “Bury My Clothes” is set to be released in spring 2013, so be sure to keep an eye out for it.