By Roger Bonair-Agaird
Review by Adisa Vera Beatty
Trinidadian poet Roger Bonair Agard has crafted with brave sight and memory, poems that are at times achingly tender while others are potent tales intent on being told. Entitled Gully the collection pays homage to the word’s multiple meanings. Gully, a defensive position in the game of cricket and in Black street slang someone who will do whatever is necessary to survive. And from this place of duality Bonair-Agard speaks his piece, weaving personal lore and legend through the thread of a Caribbean childhood imbued with cricket and beyond into his experiences as an immigrant balancing this dual sight/identity in America.
Cut in two like a deck before the deal the first section of Gully is set against the backdrop of a childhood in part shaped by the dominating force that was the 1970’s West Indies cricket team and the tautness of race in the British colonized Trinidad. With conviction and swallowed whole belief Bonair-Agard paints a vulnerable and triumphant picture of Black masculinity juxtaposed with a society that negates that very thing. In the poem dragon-slayer he pays homage to champion cricket player Sir Isaac Vivian Anderson Richards who occupies a mythic place in the poet’s childhood and simultaneously is an archetype of manhood that blasts white domination every time he steps on the cricket field.
Just as Gullyis divided in two parts that could be seen as home (part one) and away (part two) there are also two forces that push and pull against each other throughout the collection; one, the knowledge you soak up with your people and two, what the world says. And it is this very push and pull that fashions Gully. In earth and god, a poem dedicated to his grandfather the poet summons this etched memory and the blood that helped create him with lines that could come from a passed down family bible or be an epitaph, “what I still remember is that my grandfather was the son of an African washerwoman and a French land-owner that he could have been all things in a different world at a later time had his skin not been so black-broiled in the cocoa sun…”
In the second half of Gully the poet now speaks of battles and scars; the ability to live. There is still the beating of a heart but there is rawness, defiance and longing so it must be articulated. In poems like contradiction, a Ghazel dedicated to L’il Wayne the poet is hard hitting, ceaseless and on point from the opening lines, “America don’t want too many layered niggahs…” and the imprint of home in, i have decided to want…
“I have decided to want a house on stilts
I want the smell of jasmine all the time
I do not know when I started wanting
The smell of flowers everywhere
I want to crash into things again
My body to unfold from angle
To angle to emerge bloody
I want to play in a yard
Pretend I am the whole game
And all the players
I want the red dirt’s fine dusting
Over the shadow bebe and the sorrel
I want the lime tree to be the boundary again”
One of the most defining poems of Gully is, the tragicomedy of the black boy blues or a hip-hop nigretto or the boy became black at JFK. The poet further articulates movement, the pull of home, ancestors, wounds acquired in the world-defining a place for yourself.
“the boy became black at JFK
he does not know where he belongs anymore
he hears shouts of his tropical childhood
he listens for the sound of kite-tails in the wind
he is hip-hop he owns a green umbrella
he is resistance music and conflict diamonds
he is learning to love his scars he is making new
scars of his own-
they are beautiful-women flock
to the place where his downbeat sits
he is blacker than ever he is
blacker than ever he is
blacker than ever
and he likes it”
Gully is a fearless collection embracing movement and all things in its path. Gully also means to make gains, overstand, achieve, subvert with god given and learned skills also known as to work the hand dealt you. And in this spirit Bonair-Agard submits and sanctifies his truths.
Adisa Vera Beatty received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Brown University and contributes to Centric TV’s blog, Culture List. Her poetry has appeared in Callaloo, Perfect 8, Spelman College’s L-I-N-K-E-D and is forthcoming in Kweli Journal. Currently Adisa is serving in Liberia as an IFESH International Educator for Africa.