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Letters to America
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Categories: 21st Century, American, BAME, British, Caribbean
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (88 pages)
(Pub. Nov 2020)
eBook (EPUB) Needs ADE!
(Pub. Nov 2020)
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The Poetry Book Society Winter 2020 Choice
A White Review Book of the Year 2020
In Letters to America the Guyanese-British poet, novelist and playwright Fred D'Aguiar has some difficult things to say. The twenty-two poems are full of lived tales and memories - of Britain, the Caribbean and the United States - and of specific and shared memory. He supplies some of the difficult detail he has omitted from earlier poems. The modern mid-city Los Angeles sun-rise we experience is a cacophony, violent and memorable music rendered in prose. The poems weave in and out of familiar forms, including terza rima, casting and breaking spells. There is peril at every turn, and opportunity.
D'Aguiar is now Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, a wry perspective from which to survey a nation enduring a dismal present, and also the years that shaped him. It is the variety of lives, his own among them, that provide the changing illumination of his writing, and he has developed a mimetic language that takes its bearings from Derek Walcott and from Kamau Brathwaite whose 'Barbados shines/Back at Africa'. Like his chosen forebears, he risks longer forms as well as lyrics, most notably in the fragmented 'Burning Paradise', in 'Call & Response', an impassioned exchange with Martin Luther King, and in the extended title poem.
This is Fred D'Aguiar's fourth Carcanet collection, and his most ambitious.
'I've long admired D'Aguiar's poetry for its musicality, which rarely has anything less than perfect pitch, even when taking on extended narrative or dramatic monologue... Still, there's a shift in these Letters, even more swing and dare in the language and an unflinching political activism. Put simply, D'Aguiar is writing the most accomplished and interesting work of his life.'
James Byrne, The Poetry Review
'In parts of Letters to America, Fred D'Aguiar comes to seem like Walcott's true twenty-first-century heir ... Fred D'Aguiar has written 'a canticle of water', a book for the individual bowed, imperilled, under the wave of history - monarchical and imperial - and crying out for collective action to stop it from consuming further shores. Letters to America is emphatically worth reading.'
Camille Ralphs, Ambit
'There are some exceptional poems, including the title poem Letters to America (An Abecedary) [...] The poetry is vibrant and musical'Praise for Fred D'Aguiar 'D'Aguiar's rhymes give the dialogues between Black Swan and the jockey and irresistible energy as freed slave and horse find common ground... It's a glorious gallop of a book.'
Adrian B. Earle, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal
Rishi Dastidar, The Guardian
'D'Aguiar's electric prose vividly recounts a cancer diagnosis and treatment in the Covid year, a private suffering amid a collective one.'
Sandeep Parmar, New Statesman
'Nothing in this book is sentimental or simple... Reading Year of Plagues is a contradictory experience. Both its language and the experience it conveys are too complex and rich to skim over, and yet the prose has an ongoing urgency, speed and impatience that hustle the reader along. Time passes both slowly and quickly... Yet when he breaks into song or waxes rhapsodic, time stops.'
Rachel Hadas, Times Literary Supplement
'sharply observed...Part of [D'Aguiar's] defiance in the face of cancer is to throw everything he has onto the page. The result is weird and articulate and angry... his rage to live shivers in every sentence... I'm happy to report that Year of Plagues ends on a cautiously upbeat note. Cancer's had to pipe down.'
Dwight Garner, New York Times'A visceral account of personal illness and social ills'
'Throughout, the author's resilience inspires. This makes the fragility of life devastatingly palpable.'
'An array of sublime poems that unfold unsettling accounts of 'black' identity and the horrors of slavery...written with refreshing candour.'
Mohammad Fahran, Wasafiri
'Translations from Memory everywhere suggests the vital necessity of continually revisiting and revising our cultural past... It asserts the presence of those who have been written out of it and shows how the complex legacies of slavery and colonialism remain under-explored and undigested.'
Sarala Estruch, The Times Literary Supplement
'D'Aguiar manages to weave together memoir, history and critical race theory in ways that deepen our understanding of his poetics...Translations from Memory [...] will no doubt cement his standing as one of the most important Guyanese writers of the twentieth century.'
Leo Boix, Poetry London
'D'Aguiar is not generally concerned with textual translation in this collection: he applies the word in a broader sense... abbreviations seem part of the serious trans-cultural game, inviting recognition, but also making the outsider notice the limits and exclusions their own education has entailed. Whether the planet's human creatures might coexist without radically mistranslating each other is one of the vigorously posed questions.'
'Reformation' was The Guardian's Poem of the Week, September 24th 2018
'D'Aguiar interrogates and reassesses whatever he sees in a poetry that is flexible and fast paced, every action, every relationship thrown into fierce relief by a sense of threat and insecurity...'
Charles Bainbridge, The Guardian
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