Contradiction(s): A poem and conversation with Roger Bonair-Agard

A Ghazal for L’il Wayne

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

— Walt Whitman

America don’t want too many layered niggahs
America scared of another player niggah
You show America how Katrina played a niggah
You rock and roll vicious but still stay a niggah
You rep Blood ties like you they mayor niggah
You spit grimy flows like you ain’t fraid of niggahs
Work for your bling like a John Henry niggah
They don’t know your dark or how you heavy niggah
Can’t tell you how you got your pennies niggah
Tupac incarnate You contain many niggahs
Show mad love but take on any niggah
Stay lifted and tight you rhyme with any niggah
How we gonna front on an inventive niggah?
You are America You contain many niggahs!

(“contradictions” appears in the forthcoming collection GULLY from Cypher Books.  Reprinted here with permission from the author.)

Oscar Bermeo: Thank you for letting Doveglion post your poem. This poem originally started as a sonnet and became a ghazal. Why is that?

Roger Bonair-Agard: The poem’s structure and rhymes lent itself more to the ghazal form than the sonnet. I also inserted a reference to Lil Wayne in the end line as well, making his name the “signature” of the poem in place of my own.

OB: It feels like the poem digs at Wayne’s penchant for simple rhymes.

RBA: See that’s the thing—Wayne doesn’t always go for the simple. His purposeful repetition is able to unearth the fundamentals of his lyrics, much like the ghazal tradition.

OB: So the poem isn’t as much critique as it is tribute?

RBA: Definitely more tribute than critique. It’s a tribute that highlights Weezy and builds from there.

OB: The N word is prominent throughout the poem and there are some folks who would prefer not using it poetry or in conversation. But to me, eliminating the N word from poetics deprives us of poems like Willie Perdomo’s “Nigger-Rican Blues,” Felipe Luciano’s “Jibaro, My Pretty Nigger,” Tyehimba Jess’ “When Niggas Love Revolution Like They Love The Bulls,” to name a few. What are your thoughts on using the N word in poems?

RBA: Well, you can’t say the word doesn’t exist and you can’t erase the word from the lexicon without erasing the history behind the word. Erase the word and you eliminate the injustices done on so many people when that word was enacted. And I’ll argue that I can use the word right back and I’ll fight to use it.

Actually, the only people who can tell me I can’t use the word is older black people, folks who might have had to endure the word back in the day.

OB: “Contradication” brings together an Arabic poetic form, the voice of Walt Whitman and the poetics of hip-hop. How does hip-hop influence your poetry?

RBA: Hip-hop can’t not influence my poetics. I remember when I first heard hip-hop, I immediately knew everything had changed. Here are people on the radio talking with beats in the background. You just felt the landscape of America transforming.

Now, I will say calypso is my first music, the music I use to negotiate my world, but hip-hop is a very close second. In fact, with hip-hop, I find myself as much a student of it as I am entertained by it.

If you think about it, everyone’s poetics is affected by hip-hop. Even those who hate it can’t help but be influenced by it. I mean, jazz influenced so much poetry and hip-hop is even bigger than jazz.

Photo courtesy of Peter Dressel.

Roger Bonair-Agard is a native of Trinidad and Tobago, a Cave Canem fellow and author of 2 collections of poems, tarnish & masquerade (Cypher Books, 2006), and GULLY (Cypher Books, Peepal Tree Press, 2010). He is a 2-time National Poetry Slam Champion and an MFA candidate at the Univ of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Roger is the co-founder of the louderARTS Project in NYC and poet-in-residence with Young Chicago Authors. He teaches as well at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. He lives mostly in Chicago.

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3 Thoughts on “Contradiction(s): A poem and conversation with Roger Bonair-Agard

  1. Pingback: Many Things, Including Doveglion and Generosity : Barbara Jane Reyes

  2. Glad to see you have opened for poetry submissions.

    This first one by Bonair-Agard is challenging in that it establishes the esssential “moxy” of this curated on-line literary journal.

    I, too, feel like a “niggah” when my poetry is considered Asian, ethnic, or material from the Oriental diaspora. But that gives me vigour instead, enough to say “niggah” over and over again, without being a negro.

    Let excellent poetry speak for itself — niggah or not.

  3. why is it so short and the poem need to be exciting

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