Critic and novelist David Dabydeen has described Agard's poetry as "a wonderful affirmation of life, in a language that is vital and joyous". This recording showcases the best of this verve and vibrancy, not least in those poems that mix religion and modern life with panache. In 'Coffee in Heaven', one of a number which depict the Devil as a necessary, creatively anarchic power, fresh espresso drifts up from Hell to annoy those sipping decaf in the clouds, while in 'Rainbow', even the Lord Almighty is seen strutting His stuff as a limbo dancer. But beyond these often freewheeling performance pieces, Agard is also capable of crafting metered and rhymed forms. Take 'Flag', which tersely sketches out the deadly weight of politicised symbols in its unnerving, repetitive rhyme scheme, or the series of mischievous sonnets from Agard's recent collection Clever Backbone, celebrating life's diversity in their witty exploration of Darwinian evolutionary theory.
Yet whether Agard is impassionedly 'Checking Out Me History', lambasting those educators who "tell me bout 1066 and all dat" yet ignore Caribbean heritage, or elsewhere finding 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Old Tie' à la Wallace Stevens ("An icon of Eton / worn even with the heat on"; "A signifying signpost / to the nearest pubic station"), his captivating Anglo-Caribbean accent always draws you in; rich, exotic and lively, weighing the worth of each word. This recording of one of poetry's most flamboyant, inimitable performers confirms Helen Dunmore's view of Agard as an "eloquent contemporary poet", whose work is "rich in literary and cultural allusion, yet as direct as a voice in the bus queue".
John Agard's recording was made on 26th November 2009 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.