Ahead of receiving the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the poet John Agard tells Felicity Capon about his poetry, growing up in Guyana and what he thinks of British society today.
Raucous laughter emerges from the studio where the poet John Agard is being photographed. The photographer asks him to leave his coat on, and Agard cheerfully agrees, telling us in his deep Caribbean voice that it will “make him look like he just arrived from the tropics”. Dressed in a jaunty hat and jazzy shirt, casually rolling a cigarette as he talks, Agard is warm and thoughtful. I am told that his favourite place to write is in a pub with a pint of Guinness and I get the impression, as we speak, that he is pretty down to earth.
One of the most highly regarded poets in the UK, Agard has won many awards. Today his poetry will be recognised by the Queen, when he is awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. The award was first instituted in 1933 by King George V, and the recipient is chosen by a committee chaired by the Poet Laureate. Past winners include Stevie Smith, Ted Hughes, Norman MacCaig and Derek Walcott – a cross-section of poets that Agard describes as “good company”.
Though he is touched by the honour, for Agard a medal from the Queen means as much as, for example, the letter of congratulations he recently received from his old sixth-form teacher, or the support of friends in Lewes, Sussex where he now lives.
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