Guyanese Poet John Agard awarded Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry


Guyanese poet joins a host of distinguished names including WH Auden, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin, as Felicity Capon reports for London’s Telegraph.

Buckingham Palace has announced that the poet John Agard is to be awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2012.

The decision was made by the Poetry Medal Committee headed by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. It was based on Agard’s most recently published works, Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems(Bloodaxe Books, 2009) and his collection of poems for children, Goldilocks on CCTV(Frances Lincoln, 2011).

The Guyana-born poet is only the second black writer to receive the award, after the Trinidadian Derek Walcott won in 1988. The award was founded by King George V in 1933 at the suggestion of the then Poet Laureate John Masefield. The scope of the award was extended to include writers from the Commonwealth in 1985.

Agard joins other distinguished recipients of the award including WH Auden, John Betjeman, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Les Murray, Siegfried Sassoon, Stephen Spender and RS Thomas. Last year it was awarded to Jo Shapcott.

Carol Ann Duffy said of the decision: “John Agard has always made people sit up and listen. He has done this with intelligence, humour and generosity.

“He has the ability to temper anger with wit and difficult truths with kindness. He levels the ground beneath all our feet, whether he is presenting Dante to children or introducing his own (Guyanan) culture to someone who hasn’t encountered it before.”

One of Agard’s most popular poems, Half-Caste, featured on the GCSE syllabus for many years. It is a wry analysis of racial prejudices and misconceptions.

Agard commented: “When told the news out of the blue on the phone by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, I couldn’t believe my ears and it took a little time to sink in. I am delighted as well as touched to be in the company of such names as Charles Causley, Norman MacCaig, Gilian Clarke, Stevie Smith and Derek Walcott.”

Agard grew up in 1950s Georgetown, Guyana. In 1977 he moved to the UK, and he has lived in Lewes, East Sussex, since 1978. He is a poet, performer and anthologist and has published many books of poetry both for adults and children.

The medal will be presented to Agard by the Queen in 2013.

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