vocalisms #9: Roger Bonair-Agard


vocalisms is a regular feature that presents selected tracks from voca, the Poetry Center's online audio video library of more than 800 recorded readings, spanning from 1963 to today.

Photo of Roger Bonair-Agard by Cybele Knowles

I’ve heard Roger Bonair-Agard’s “allegory of the black man at work in a synagogue” more times than I can count, but I would be willing to hear this performance dozens of times more. Why have I heard it so much? It’s a key piece of a favorite lesson plan used for university and community field trips to the Poetry Center. The lesson (which you can find in the Poetry Center’s lesson plan library) uses “allegory of the black man” as a jumping off point for students to generate writing about identity and personal history. I’ve heard great writing come out of this lesson plan, and Bonair-Agard’s riveting performance sets the foundation for this to happen. “My name means / hunger My body means Hunger […] All these poems        Hunger,” Bonair-Agard recites near the poem’s end. Hours and days after, I find Bonair-Agard’s intense final lines lingering in my mind, my thoughts returning to the hunger for identity that he skillfully expresses.


Roger Bonair-Agard (2011) “allegory of the black man at work in a synagogue” from Poetry Center on Vimeo.