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Roger Bonair-Agard
Chicago, Brooklyn, The Cut
writer, teacher, poet, shit-talker, father, tarnish & masquerade, GULLY, Bury My Clothes.
Interests: The hip-hop, the literatures, sports and exquisite spirits.
Recent Activity
Sometimes we are given exactly what we need to do; exactly what’s required of us. And when this happens it means we have been gifted with the immense good fortune to know and understand, Purpose. Even if it is Purpose only in a moment and not for one’s whole life or something impossible like that, we should count it amongst our blessings. It is with that in mind that I’m sitting here thinking about what to talk about in a blog platform for Best American Poetry in the few days I have the opportunity to do so. I tell my students all the time, to write not just ‘what they know’ , but to write from their current obsessions. What do you care most deeply about in the moment? What do you obsess over? Write from that place. To teachers I say, teach from that place. Let the immensity of the love or rage that is currently consuming you drive at least some of the pedagogy that informs your practice. How then to talk about Baltimore? I’ve been searching for ways ever since Trayvon Martin’s murder, and particularly since the absolution of his murderer, to use my life as a writer, as platform to speak to the experience of being Black in America, an experience that the Martin case I thought, was going to finally hip America to. I wrote poems, essays, manifestos about places from which I pledged to begin the work of making America see us. I thought the time was so ripe for work to begin and for some other parts of America to finally recognize that the work needed to be done, right now. And then we got us another Trayvon, almost once a week up until Baltimore’s Freddie Gray. The evidence keeps mounting in the form of dead black bodies, made so by white police, or individuals who feel they have every right to police our bodies. At different turns, I found myself outraged, hurt, weeping, too paralyzed to get out of bed, feeling guilty for no longer being young and taking to the streets, for needing to take care of my daughter instead, for not treating my own body as a more holy object all these years, for not recognizing that I had the right to say No. This past week was announced the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, awarded to Gregory Pardlo, a Black man for sure, a friend, one whose book was rejected – according to the New York Times – by every major publisher… before Four Way Books snatched it up. In a week of such sadness and rage, I saw how the celebration of the brother was a godsend and absolutely needed. I hadn’t spoken to him in the minute, but I sent him a note. Look… I understand no less than Auden has told us that ‘Poetry makes nothing happen.’ Fuck him on this one. Turns out he has several more intelligent and useful quotes. Poetry helps me not run... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Every few years or so, we are told by someone new that poetry is dead. I’ve been writing poetry seriously for about twenty years now, and I can recall at least five such elegies during that time. I’m sure they came before as well. I’m sure they will come again. Indeed, when my friend, Silvana, sent me a link to the latest such death knell (this week by Christopher Ingraham, in The Washington Post) I told her I had no intention of responding to it, because, well… I had poems to write. But then I remembered I was gifted this great platform this week and figured it was probably as good a time as any to address it. In deciding how I’d enter this discussion, I wanted to begin straight off with a screed on how whiteness in the form of ‘evidence’ and ‘empiricism’ is always interested in reducing to cold, hard numbers, ideas and beauties that were never meant to be thus confined. I wanted to analogize Mr. Ingraham’s data, with the dismantling of public school education through the turning of our children’s educational lives into an argument of profit vs loss. I thought to talk about hip hop’s ubiquitous influence on the world as evidence that poetry is alive and well, sure as I am that rap is the most important (and rigorous) poetic form of the 20th Century, but I needn’t have searched so far to find my evidence. I walked into a South Side Chicago Elementary this morning, where I teach a theatre residency to second and third graders. One of my third-graders, in the bi-lingual class (they have been almost painfully shy this entire time) got up to share this response to the weekend poetry exercise I gave them: I hear the voices of the dogs, the bears the snakes / I see the refuge in the eyes of cows. / My dreams are about fire and flesh. / Nobody knows about one graveyard under the stars in the skies in our world… I’d introduced them to Federico Garcia Lorca on Friday past. This morning they introduced Lorca back to me. They invented and re-mixed. They found the break in Lorca’s music, looped it and re-imagined it. I could go on and on and share five or six of the more prodigious efforts from these young people (who are still struggling with expression in this, their second language), but it dawned on me that I have the good fortune every day to be part of the narrative evidence that states definitively that poetry is now, has been and always will be, alive and on the rise. Let me be clear; my instinct was to be dismissive of Mr. Ingraham, but I am betting that Mr. Ingraham does not get the gift that I got this morning, and get so often because I teach theatre and Creative Writing to young people. Of course Mr. Ingraham’s article has graphs, has ‘irrefutable’ numbers, which suggest that less people... Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Apr 27, 2015