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Tarnish and Masquerade

Roger Bonair-Agard

Book Reviews | Marketing Info | Author


A veteran of the spoken-word scene, two-time National Slam Champion Roger Bonair-Agard releases his debut book, Tarnish and Masquerade, with accompanying CD full of spellbinding poems. These poems chart an exile's coming-of-age and an increasingly relevant immigrant's experience. Whether set in Trinidad, Washington Heights, Texas, Brooklyn or other less-fixed locales, these poems written (and spoken) with equal parts joy and fury are full of clarity, compassion and unsentimentality.

In Bonair-Agard's collection, we get to taste rum for the first time, get angry at adults for the first time, and point fingers at those who should know better. There are rich tapestries of color that expose the stories of these writings as well-crafted, intent-driven poems. Accompanied by a CD, this book is rich on many different levels.


Coming from the same youthful, "hip-hop-in-letters" generation as Rosal, Roger Bonair-Agard, a star in the poetry slam world, demonstrates the strength of the poems in his first book, Tarnish and Masquerade (Cypher Books, 104 pages, $12). This collection of road- tested material has been masterfully reassembled under a cover and binding. It is a revelatory experience to read poems that play as well on the page as they do orally -- perhaps the book offers a new, higher form of poetics, similar in vein to Tyehimba Jess' leadbelly or Patricia Smith's Teahouse of the Almighty.

These books are exciting to be around, to see mature and become accomplished works, activating so many visceral levels at once. And while there are wonderful similarities amongst this group, once inside the book, it is all Bonair-Agard. Tarnish is broken into five acts (think of a traditional tragedy), many of which speak to Bonair's Trinidad background. An expatriot of the islands, these poems explore a longing for home, a bold criticism of familial and societal injustices, all played to the backbeat of a steel drum.
Chicago Sun Times

"Bonair-Agard is a poet who fixes his experience with memory and uses memory image as analyzer of his experience. A poet of live language mastering it's literary "statement". Someone whose poetry can be entered and felt and understood. An impressive work."
Amiri Baraka

"In this collection, Roger Bonair-Agard's lyricism is sharpened by a deep sense of politics, a profoundly muscular intelligence and a sensuality that can be wholly and beautifully dangerous. It is always wonderful to hear music in a line. Bonair-Agard is engaged with his world and drags you sweetly into his imaginings through the sheer force of his verse."
Kwame Dawes

"These sunwashed revelations -- this lilting, uproarious, precise gospel -- brings so much to the table that the reader is nearly overwhelmed. Roger Bonair-Agard is his own revolution, a deft purveyor of unflinching politics, stark sensuality and the relentless drum of the island home that beckons from every page. There is simply no resisting these stanzas, absolutely no way to turn away from what they will do to you."
Patricia Smith

"In Tarnish and Masquerade, Roger Bonair-Agard attempts to render a history of love and indignation. The collection begins in a backyard of Trinidad, and traces (through gaelle and underworld and prank and Brooklyn) a music of steel-drum tri-tones, a rage both historical and intimate, and a joy entangled in -- and excavated out of -- one man's wanderings and witness, his enigmatic sense of home. Perhaps you have heard some of these poems in Bonair-Agard's own detonating tenor, bounding off the walls, gutting the space of its silences. Become familiar again with those poems. Read them yourself aloud. You may hear your own voice transformed. You may not recognize the sound. It is your English, riled and rechristened in the bardic carnivals of heat, laughter, and calypso."
Patrick Rosal

"Roger Bonair-Agard's careful mix of resistance, pride, regret and joy is a resonant hymn to the exile. These strong, full-hearted poems describe the longing for home and tradition in a land with people and problems not of one's own making; reading them is a dance with rhythm and desire."
Daphne Gottlieb

"Roger Bonair Agard has solved two very big problems for himself ? What to say and how to say it. With Tarnish and Masquerade he's cleared a space around himself and declared that it belongs to him. That space lies at the intersection where Walcott, the ol' Calypsonians and the fellas who like to talk shit on the corner meet and drink and discuss life in what appears to be incidentally inventive language, producing what we recognize and value as art."
Colin Channer


About the Author

Roger Bonair-Agard’s work has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. He is the co-author of Burning Down the House and is a Cave Canem fellow. As the co-founder of the louderARTS Project, he launched and cocurates the louderARTS reading series at Bar 13 in New York City. A veteran of the national poetry slam scene, he is a two-time National Slam Champion and has appeared on HBO’s Poetry Def Jam, The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour and 60 Minutes. After its recent successful debut in Manhattan, Bonair-Agard’s one-man show “Masquerade” will tour nationally. A native of Trinidad, he lives in Brooklyn.

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