© Image by Claire McNamee

Fred D'Aguiar

(b. 1960)

"I want that next poem. To get it I'll shed my skin, I'll lose my name, pretend I have no history, be history's fool, become elemental, all of these, none of these." - Fred D'Aguiar

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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  • The Carribean Poetry Project
    This pioneering collaboration between the Cambridge University Faculty of Education, the Centre for Commonwealth Education and the University of the West Indies aims to help teachers develop their knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of Caribbean poetry, and to extend knowledge, understanding and creative engagement with Caribbean poetry among secondary-school students.

Select bibliography

  • Mama Dot, London, Chatto and Windus, 1985 - out of print
  • Airy Hall, Chatto and Windus, 1989 (new ed. Poetry Book Society, 2007)
  • British Subjects, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bloodaxe Books, 1993
  • Bill of Rights, Chatto and Windus, 1998
  • The New British Poetry (co-editor with Gillian Allnutt), London, Paladin, 1988
  • Bloodlines, Chatto and Windus, 2000
  • An English Samplar: Selected Poems, Chatto and Windus, 2001
  • Fred D'Aguiar Reading from Bloodlines, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2005
  • Continental Shelf, Carcanet Press 2009.
Fred D'Aguiar (b. 1960) draws on his dual Guyanese/British heritage throughout his writing which incorporates poetry, novels and plays. Although born in London, he lived in Guyana until he was twelve before returning to England where the highly politicised atmosphere of the British black community of the 60s and 70s became a major influence on his work. His first collection of poetry, Mama Dot, was published to great acclaim and was followed by a further four collections and a new and selected poems, An English Samplar, published in 2001. His position between two cultures is reflected in the many prizes his work has won including the Guyana Poetry prize (twice) and the Whitbread First Novel Award. D'Aguiar is currently Professor of English and Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing at the Virginia Technical Institute and State University.

D'Aguiar has written "home is always elsewhere" and this sense of dislocation is at the heart of his writing, in particular the complex legacy of slavery and colonialism. These themes have been developed and extended in his two most recent collections, Bill of Rights about the Jonestown tragedy, and Bloodlines which traces the relationship between a white man and a black slave, taking politically charged language - blood, skin, slave, union, freedom - and making it an experience of the utmost physical intimacy: "The two of us slaving for the wages/of sin; consumed by touch that hungers/for more touch, that can never be assuaged." Both these later collections mark a stylistic shift for D'Aguiar in his use of the book-length poem. Written in ottava rime 'Bloodlines' is a major technical achievement. The form, which rhymes abababcc, has a rolling energy that carries the narrative forward whilst D'Aguiar's skilful employment of internal and half rhyme avoids monotony and allows for subtle shifts in tone. Perhaps in the interplay of alternating rhymes and concluding couplets can also be seen the deeper thematic patterns of the book, its passionate exploration of what divides us, balanced by a hope for unity: "We share the night,/we share the day. I am black, you are white."

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on February 15 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.


1983 Minority Rights Group Award

1985 Greater London Council Literature Award

1985 Malcolm X Prize (Poetry), Mama Dot

1989 Guyana Poetry Prize, Mama Dot and Airy Hall

1993 Commission for Racial Equality Race in the Media Award, 'Sweet Thames'

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