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The Achievement of Mockery through Literature and Music in John Agard’s Poetry (pp. 93-112)

Alejandro Nadal Ruiz

Universidad de Zaragoza


This article explores the essential link between music and literature in Caribbean poetry and, more concretely, in the work of the Afro-Guyanese writer John Agard. As a member of a former British colony, Agard seeks to create a powerful Caribbean voice that subverts the political, economic and cultural power of the Empire, and he does so by resorting to Caribbean music rhythms and orality. Accordingly, I attempt to demonstrate that musicality and performance play a fundamental role in Agard’s endeavour to ‘write back’ against the Empire. Drawing on Homi Bhabha’s notion of ‘mockery’, I close-read two of the most representative poems by this author, namely “Listen Mr Oxford Don” and “Alternative Anthem”. More specifically, I pay attention to the dialogue between content and acoustic features in the selected poems and to the ironic effect sought by the author. In addition, the analysis of the poems is enriched with a close look at how the poet himself reads them out. Therefore, his role as a poet-singer also proves meaningful in this respect. As regards conclusions, it has been found that the selected poems’ musicality and performance contribute to enhancing Agard’s mockery against the British Empire, hence making visible the individual and collective stance of the subaltern. 

Keywords: musicality; Caribbean poetry; John Agard; mockery; the subaltern.


Alejandro Nadal Ruiz is a postgraduate research fellow (FPU) at the Department of English and German Philology of the University of Zaragoza. He is currently writing his PhD thesis on trauma and limit-case testimony in Jean Rhys’s modernist novels. His main research interests lie in modernist and postmodernist fiction, trauma studies, postcolonial studies, and the rewritings of classical texts.

e-mail address: anadal@unizar.es


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