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an interview with
Roger Bonair-Agard
september 2003

Okay Roger, some easy ones to start off with..

You have a few poems about migrant workers in California....what inspired you to write them?

As a poet writing about issues of empowerment and change and class etc, I find it's necessary to consider how it affects all facets of and cultures within our society.  Living on the east coast, migrant workers' plights are not something I was very familiar with until I started traveling to the west coast often.  That plus the work of martin espada opened me up to the politics' of migrant workers' rights in a way that I wasn't before.

What do you enjoy about performing the most?

A fellow poet described the adrenaline rush of performance as being similiar to the adrenaline rush you get when you're about to get into a fight.  He's absolutely right; and that sort of rush is a very potent drug.  Moreover, the idea that my performance can help you get more out of my words is also a motivator.  Then there is the kind of high you ride when you're absolutely there and hitting it just right, which is really closely tied up in my huge huge huge ego that is fed by the performance :-)

What is the least enjoyable part about performing?

That nagging feeling at the back of every performance that maybe just maybe you're never really adequate or good enough.

How many groupies do you have?

I don't know.  I don't think i have any or if I do, they haven't told me.

You lie. But that is okay. I will turn the tape off...

(tape still on...)

So tell me...How many groupies?



Who is the best modern poet?

Impossible question to answer.  Here are a few and really only a few, candidates tossed out from the top of my head:  Marti Espada, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marie Howe, Nikkey Finney, Kwame Dawes, Li-young Lee, Terrance Hayes, Jonathan David Jackson, Jeff Mcdaniel, Willie Perdomo, Patricia Smith and on and on and on and on...

Who is your biggest rival? Why?

Time - there will never be enough of it to say all I want to say, to accomplish all I want to, to love the children I will have the way that I want, to love the people whom I love the way I'd want to, to become the kind of man I'd like to be able to say I am.

Oh! you are clever. But I will now corner you in, who is your biggest human rival in the poetry world and why?

Hmmmm - human rival...  I honestly don't know.  I suspect that there are some who might consider me, their rival, but there really isn't anyone who occupies the emotional space in my life that I can term as rival.

Have you ever killed a man?

Not that I know of, but everyday our ignorance and unmindfulness and bigotry will have made me culpable in the deaths of many.

Killer. Do you think people should own hand guns?

As long as we have a justice system that justifies the use of them in an unfair proportion of instances, depending on color, class and whether or not you're a police officer or member of the military, it will always be more dangerous and a bad idea, and particularlay harmful to the poor and disenfranchised among us.

I see. So, are you a communist?

Not in the sense of the word that we've come to understand.  I have an understanding of the world that is based on principles that would probably be classified under socialism or some such thing, but at the end of the day, I think it's a dangerous label in the context of the histories we live.

Speaking of danger..when traveling around to all these different places and listening to people "slam"...do you ever think "God they are terrible!"?

Yes.  And I sometimes think that when I pick up a book and see what people who are supposedly 'academics' and 'page poets' do and at the end of the day, maybe it's less about what quality you've managed to achieve to date than it is about the size of the effort and your commitment to telling the truth in the best way you can, and getting better at telling (and ascertaining) that truth.

Such a nice answer...Are you really a nice guy or are you just pretending?

(chuckling) I don't know if my answers sound like a nice guy.  some days I am, and some days I just way too smarmy and sarcastic for anyone's good.

Okay then nice guy...more about you. Do you like sports? Which sport?

I am the biggest sports junkie you'll ever meet. I get cable just for ESPN and fox sports world.  My favorite sport is soccer.  I played all the way past college varsity and into some semi-pro for a coupla years, but i'll play or watch just about any sport there is.  I've been known to actually watch skeet-shooting championships.

David Beckham.....is he good or is he just white? Compare him to Ronaldo or Luis Figo....and answer it again....good or just white?

Beckham's fame is not the result of his being white.  He is a very good player; not all time superstar. The fact is if Real Madrid play a 4-3-3 formation, he might very well have to come in off the bench.  But he is very good, nonetheless.  I think the football world - those in the know - are very clear on that.  However, he has captivated his public as much with his statesmanship as he has his game.  He has been that sports star whose PERSONALITY has allowed him to transcend the game.  Meanwhile, he is one of the best dead ball kickers the game has probably seen, but perhaps no better historically than Puskas (Hungary 1950s), Rivelino (Brazil 1970s), Roberto Carlos (his teammate on Real Madrid), Michel Platini (France 1980s) and a coupla guys I played with in high school - I'm not even kidding.  I've probably left out some names in my haste.

He is a better dead-ball player than Figo, but not as creative a playmaker.  Difficult comparison with Ronaldo, since Ronaldo is a striker and Beckham, a mid-fielder, but overall skill and pure football instincts, Ronaldo is a better player.  Again, I don't think you'd have to argue this too hard with people in the know.

Do I ask tough questions or what?

Yep they is - it's good intellectual sparring though; If anything that vomits itself out of me can be called intellectual...

Intellectual eh? Hmm. Try this on for size...Is your relationship with past poets like that of De Chirico's starved relationship to the classical painters?

I do not know who De Chirico is.  My relationship to past poets is one of respect if I like their work, curiosity if I don't understand it, non-plussedness if I don't like it.  Hey wait!  It's kinda like my relationship to contemporary poets.

Yes. I don't know who De Chirico is either. I heard the name somewhere, maybe in Taco Bell. More about art..what is more important to a city: A new sculpture, a new highway, or a new library?

A new sculpture or painting or poem or musical composition.  I think this is obvious; like for real.  None of us would survive - literally - without these things.

Air. I think air is important. Is it better in art, all forms of art, to ask questions or give answers?

I think it's better to ask questions.  Sometimes in the asking are the answers you need.  Giving answers just generates more questions anyway.

Do you think education is important? Why?

Knowing more of what and why is the only way to stave off depravity in the long run, it is the only way that the individual can ultimately inform him/herself enough to find God, to figure out that truth inside them, to be able to make the world - and here we get hokey - 'a better place' and such education cannot ever stop until you die.

Did you go to college? If so, wich one? Did you graduate? In what program?

I went to hunter college in NYC, majored in Political Science, finished my course work, but did not actually graduate. I never did the graduation audit an' shit - so i'd have to go back and do that and hope they didn't find some random course they thought I should take in order to graduate.

They are fuckers. Political Science? Well, maybe you can help me out here..America is a Republic, yet many people say "The American Democracy." People in the press, past Presidents - even the crafty Bill Clinton! - have all commited this mistake.  Can you shed any light on why they would confuse this Republic with a Democracy?

Confusing the Republic with a Democracy is not a mistake Presidenst have made.  It is a deliberate obfuscation.  Publicists and spin doctors understand that the connotation of the word 'democracy' has evolved to the point that Americans equate it to 'freedom'.  It is very beneficial therefore, for those who want us to continue to support the system, to continue to be good consumers, to remind us that we live in a 'Democracy'.

True Democracy is said to be "Tyranny by the Majority." Many of the Founding Fathers of this Nation took extreme precautions to avoid a true, open Democratic nation. Were they correct to follow in the footsteps of Plato and carry such a fear that the will of the majority would mean a less enlightened and vengeance prone legislation or are they really just "Elitist" conspiring together to keep their class ruling the masses?

The founding fathers took precautions to avoid a true open democracy, because such a thing would not be advantageous in their goal of maintaing the class stratification.  To leave any nation to an entirely open Democracy is to actually cop to the 'will of the people'.  The people are largely poor.  If they had the opportunity to organize and figure out what kind of liaisons and decisions they could get together and vote on, that would be to their advantage, you can bet it wouldn't be to the advantage of the rich and wealthy landowners who make up the founding fathers of our nation.  These same 'fathers' very carefully pit groups against one another to foster loyalties that had nothing to do with the people for one another, but people toward them and the system.  This gerimandering are the roots of our class-structure as we know it today, racism, sexism and the foundation for just about every fucked up law that drove Indians from their land.

That answer naturally leads me to ask:   Which, if you had to choose and you do, do you like better: Playboy or Penthouse?

Playboy - better articles.  After you get through both magazines' fare of ridiculously airbrushed women, you're only left with the articles.

What city has the hottest chicks?

Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. No joke.

What city has the hottest guys?

Hmmmm - uhh New York City, I guess.

What city has the hottest animals?

It'd have to be somewhere in Arkansas...  I guess.

I will let sean know about Arkansas. Now, what kind of ice cream do you like best?

(snicker) I'm not sure.  Don't eat ice cream enough to have an opinion, but gimme hot apple pie with a scoop of vanilla and I'm sold.

Yes. That sounds good.  Where is the best place you have performed? What made it so great?

That's difficult.  Here are a few from the top ten.
Music something-or-other in Johannesburg, S.Afr
University of Cape Town, Cape Town, S.Afr
University of Alaska
New Jersey performing Arts Center
Chicago Theatre
this joint in Carthage, Missouri
Nuyorican Poets' Cafe
Bar 13
Durban, S. Afr

in S. Afr, the crowds were really invested and attentive and responsive and I think I gave some of the best performances of my life there.  It was something of the continent and the history and the audiences that contributed to it.  Chicago Theatre was huge and it was a rock-starrish type atmosphere and i felt i was able to feel the audience's energy almost as a tangible thing and i rode that energy.  Bar 13 is my home venue so i've had some transcendental performances there.  Nuyorican used to be my home venue so ditto for there...

Have you ever heard or read a poem that made you cry? If so, what is the name of that poet and poem? Also, if so, are you a sissy?

Willie Perdomo's "Letter to Pedro Aviles".  I dunno, what constitues a sissy?  I cry fairly liberally; movies, commercials and after a fight. I'm not even kidding and this is getting intensely personal but it doesn't even have to do with if I beat or get beaten. I don't know why that happens, it just does - or used to when I did that sort of thing.

Man, the girls must love you. Is writeThis a cool e-zine or what?

Absolutely, you've even managed to ask some intelligent questions (small laugh)

Ha! Fine, now it is your turn...go ahead and ask me a question..

I'm going out on a big limb and saying jubei wasn't your given name at birth.  What is it and where are you from originally?

I have lived in several states. I am always on the move. And my name happens to be

(tape ends....)

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