The first thing that grabs you when New York poet Roger Bonair-Agard performs is his voice. Okay, it's probably not the first thing. He's an extremely striking man after all: tall. Handsome. Muscular. Getting an audience's attention? Not so hard. But it's Bonair-Agard's strong, expressive voice and mesmerizing Caribbean accent that hook you.
Really. A lot of poets have made do with a lot less, and while it's hard to ignore his sheer physical and aural presence, it's really Bonair-Agard's meticulous, oft-times blistering writing and his determination to poke through the shadows that fall on both the U.S. and his native Trinidad and Tobago that make him a writer to be reckoned with. For example, take his poem "Song for Trent Lott" (who said we'd be a better country today if Strom Thurmond had won the presidency). Writes Bonair-Agard: "You think you'd have/survived/that vote Mr. White Man/do you know what we do in the dark?/we took your rags and made rope/took your kindling and grew fruit/picked your cotton and crafted reconstruction/that slave-barrack hunger rages in our history."
There's defiance in Bonair-Agard's writing and also struggle, emotional depth and, above all else, survival. This is a staggeringly important poet, one worthy of attention.
Roger Bonair-Agard performs his one man show, "Masquerade: Poems of Calypso and Home," at the Found Theater, 599 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 433-3363; www.foundtheatre.org. Tues., 8 p.m. $10.