John Agard, born in 1949 to parents of mixed nationality came to live in Britain in 1977. Agard’s poem ‘Half Caste’ demonstrates the attitude of narrow minded people he must have met, who consider people of ‘mixed race’, to be inferior. Agard uses a bit of humour but the anger of the situation is always obvious. Tom Leonard, born In Glasgow, a British Citizen but describes him self as being thoroughly Scottish. Similar to Half Caste, Leonard’s Poem is about attitude towards people with non standard accents and dialects and how we are discriminated because of the way we speak.
Half Caste opens up with a short, sharp three line stanza in which Leonard sarcastically explains he is ‘standing on one leg’ because he is half caste; by this Leonard means that if people consider him to be half a person than he would only have one leg. From the second stanza on, the poet addresses the audience in a very direct way, ‘explain yuself, wha yu mean’. It is almost as if Agard is assuming that the reader is one of those who look down on mixed race people and use the term ‘half-caste’.
On the other hand, Leonard’s ‘unrelated incidents’ is about how people have prejudices for and against particular accents and dialects and he starts his poem with language close to Standard English, ‘this is thi six a clock news’, but it becomes more dialectal as it progresses. Leonard attempts to argue that people are more likely to trust and believe a news reporter with correct English dialect and Received Pronunciation (BBC accent), rather than someone with a strong accent. ‘ yi widny wahnt mi ti talk aboot thi truth’.
In half caste, the poets argumentative tone continues through out the poem and he emphasizes the fact that those who he is addressing have to realize their attitude. Imagery the poet uses is very humorous and it provides an interesting juxtaposition to argue his point. For example in the second stanza, ‘yu mean when Picasso mix red and green is half caste canvas’ and ‘mix a black key wid a white key is a half-caste symphony. The poet stresses that Picasso and trachoivsky are not questioned because they are geniuses; he feels he should be accepted and respected just like Picasso’s painting and trachoicsky music.
Continuing the theme of prejudice in society, Leonard shows in his poem that ‘middle England’ sees it self as superior to other regions. The poet takes on the persona of a news reader, to enforce the message that people will only believe people who have elitist accents, who use proper Standard English. The persona is shown to be aggressive. ‘Belt up’, taunting the reader and again emphasising his anger. Although it seems a funny poem at first the second half of the poem has a deeply felt angry tone to it; this reflects the mixed emotions of the presenter.
In half cast, Agard continues to use examples to get his point across, this time a humorous pun, ‘mix in de sky…england weather nearly always half caste’. Agard uses such obvious half and half combinations to show how ridiculous it is to look down on people of mixed nationality. Agard continues to give examples evoke the absurdity surrounding mixed race; although this time he refers to body parts. He says he is listening to the reader ‘wid de keen half of mi ear’ and looking with ‘the keen half eye’ and ‘offer yu half a hand’.
In unrelated incidents, Leonard cleverly makes the reader examine the language by purposely writing phonetically. It is phonetically spelled to recreate the Glasgow accent of the persona. Leonard also uses dialectal words and phrases through the poem for example ‘belt up, ‘coz’ and ‘scruff’ to show which social group the persona belongs to. Leonard rejects conventional, standard spelling, and instead spells phonetically, imitating how the words sound in his accent. This is to emphasize his rejection to standard ‘bbc accent’.
The poem is written with short lines. This is to mimic the format used in the reader’s autocue. As well as the lack of punctuation, the short two or three lines convey the speed of the speech. The poem is written in free verse. Without stanza breaks there isn’t much time for pause for reflection. The paired down form of the poem suits the direct straight talking language.
Agard uses enjambment in his poem. The poem flows along through four stanzas of different lengths with out punctuation. There a two forward slashes in the poem indicating a break or pause. Furthermore the poem uses very little use of capital letters. The lack of restriction to sentence structure and language emphasise a desire for freedom and openness which suits the theme of the poem. The poem is written in first person to so that the reader can emphasize with the characters feelings. Repetition of the word ‘half’ also emphasizes the stupidity of the term half caste. The poem is a dramatic monologue.
In conclusion both poems are successful in arguing how we are characterised. Agard’s poem argues racial prejudice whereas Leonard’s poem argues prejudice of dialect. Both poems are in first person and they are set out to make readers realise their own attitudes towards accent and dialects and race. From reading the poem readers eventually senses how outraged both poets are by the idea that a person of mixed nationality or different accent is less than anyone else.