Poets against the pandemic

This year, the festival will draw attention to HIV/AIDS. The theme is “Poets against the Pandemic: Defying the Disease through the Power of the Word”.

Bonair-Agard, who has appeared on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam no less than three times, will use his poetry skills to help bring attention to pressing social issues and give young people exposure to our indigenous oral traditions. He will perform his one-man show Masquerade: Poems of Calypso and Home today at the Little Carib.

The brainchild of the Circle of Poets and the Idakeda Group, the National Poetry Festival, which started on Monday, features an exciting array of new and original events, from Roadside Readings, to Storytelling and of course Open Mike performances. The Festival will culminate on Saturday with the installation of a new Poet Laureate of Port of Spain.

This years’ festival is made possible through the support and commitment of the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs, with key involvement from the National Museum and NALIS.

Bonair-Agard weaves living, breathing tapestries out of politics and the notion of home. The Trinidad and Tobago native has lived in Brooklyn for 17 years and his work reflects the struggles of a man in voluntary exile in a conflicted 21st-century America.

A professional performance poet since 1997, Bonair-Agard has appeared three times on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on HBO.

He has also performed and facilitated writing and performance workshops at colleges, universities and high schools around the United States and stirred audiences at festivals and concerts from Germany to South Africa to Anchorage, Alaska. He recently opened for calypso legend Shadow for an audience of 2,000 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

Bonair-Agard aims to blow the hinges off what is considered possible, to create work that discomforts with the truths and lies it exposes down to every forensic detail, and so create a movement of its very own, such that when the poems are read, they birth new mythologies in the reader’s memory.

He is co-author of Burning Down the House (Soft Skull Press, 2000), and author of tarnish and masquerade, scheduled for publication by Cypher Press in April 2006. He co-founded the louderARTS Project (of which he is also Artistic Director), an organisation dedicated to the evolution of poetry through the craft of writing and performance.

Bonair-Agard is also a Cave Canem fellow, studying with such luminaries as Yusef Komunyakaa, Marilyn Nelson, and Cornelius Eady. In 1998, he was named the Nuyorican Poets Caf? Fresh Poet of the Year. That same year, he coached the Nuyorican team to victory in the National Poetry Slam over 44 other teams. The following year he earned the title of National Individual Slam Champion while leading and coaching the New York City louderARTS team to the final four of the National Poetry Slam (out of 48 teams), a feat he repeated in 2000.

While managing the louderARTS slam as a forum to nurture new writing within his community, Roger continues to perform and teach throughout the world, leading workshops and conducting performances in major universities, including such outposts as University of Alaska at Anchorage, University of West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and in Literary Festivals in Heidelberg (Germany), Kingston (Jamaica), Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg (South Africa) and the Geraldine R Dodge Poetry Festival (New Jersey).

He has also appeared on The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, Air America, Pacifica Radio’s Beneath the Surface and other national radio programmes.

He works as a creative writing instructor and teacher trainer with Urban Word NYC (a writing and performance resource for New York City teens,) Cooper Union’s outreach programme, and the Bronx Writers’ Centre, among others. His poetry and research have also earned him invitations to serve as the keynote speaker at the commencement exercises of several high schools, and to serve on panels and lecture on topics including Teaching Poetry to Teens, The Relationship between Media and Hip-Hop, Blues to Hip-Hop: a journey of resistance (New York University) and Social Responsibility and local activism (as part of Dartmouth College’s SEAD programme).

Bonair-Agard’s work has been widely anthologised, and has been commissioned extensively through the multi-disciplinary performance troupe VisionIntoArt (www.visionintoart.com). He has also authored a successful one-man show, and chaos congealed (1998) and the acclaimed one-man poetry concert Masquerade: Poems of Calypso and Home.


"Poets against the pandemic"

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