Buckingham Palace announced today that John Agard is to be awarded The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2012. The Medal is awarded for excellence in poetry, and will be presented to Agard by The Queen in 2013.
Guyana-born John Agard is only the second black writer to receive the Gold Medal for Poetry since the award was instituted by King George V in 1933 at the suggestion of Poet Laureate John Masefield. Its scope was widened in 1985 to include writers from across the Commonwealth, with Derek Walcott winning in 1988. Other distinguished holders of the medal include W.H. Auden, John Betjeman, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Les Murray, Siegfried Sassoon, Stephen Spender and R.S. Thomas.
The decision was made by the Poetry Medal Committee headed by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and was made on the basis of John Agard’s most recently published books, Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2009), as well as his book of children’s poems Goldilocks on CCTV (Frances Lincoln, 2011).
Carol Ann Duffy said: “John Agard has always made people sit up and listen. He has done this with intelligence, humour and generosity. He has the ability to temper anger with wit and difficult truths with kindness. He levels the ground beneath all our feet, whether he is presenting Dante to children or introducing his own (Guyanan) culture to someone who hasn’t encountered it before. In performance he is electrifying – compelling, funny, moving and thought-provoking. His work in Education over years has changed the way that readers, writers and teachers think about poetry.”
Commenting on his award, Agard said: “When told the news out of the blue on the phone by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, I couldn’t believe my ears and it took a little time to sink in. I am delighted as well as touched to be in the company of such names as Charles Causley, Norman MacCaig, Gillian Clarke, Stevie Smith , Derek Walcott. I am deeply thankful to the Poetry Medal Committee who supported my nomination for this honour and to all who supported my work over the years.”
Agard is the second Bloodaxe writer to be awarded The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He joins Fleur Adcock, who was the recipient of the award in 2006 for her retrospective Poems 1960-2000. His latest collection, Travel Light Travel Dark, will be published by Bloodaxe on 27 June 2013.
John Agard grew up in Georgetown, Guyana, in the 1950s. In 1977 he moved to the UK, and he has lived in Lewes, East Sussex, since 1978. He is a poet, performer and anthologist who has published many books of poetry both for adults and for children. His first two collections of poetry for adults were published by Serpent’s Tail, followed by five with Bloodaxe, most recently his two 2009 publications, Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems (with an accompanying DVD JOHN AGARD LIVE!), and a separate collection Clever Backbone.
Agard won the Casa de las Américas Prize in 1982, a Paul Hamlyn Award in 1997, and the Guyana Prize for two of his Bloodaxe collections From the Devil’s Pulpit (1997) and Weblines (2000). His collection We Brits (Bloodaxe, 2006) was shortlisted for the 2007 Decibel Writer of the Year Award. He was writer-in-residence with the BBC in 1998, working with the Windrush Project, and writer-in-residence at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in 2007. As a touring speaker with the Commonwealth Institute, he visited nearly 2000 schools promoting Caribbean culture and poetry. John Agard is available for interview.