Compare and Contrast John Agard’s ‘Listen Mr Oxford Don’ and Benjamin Zephaniah’s ‘No rights Red and Half Dead’
This essay will aim to compare and contrast the two poems ‘Listen Mr Oxford Don’ by John Agard and ‘No rights Red and Half Dead’ by Benjamin Zephaniah, using the study diamond and commenting on their effects, the techniques used within them, interpretations of their meanings and any relevant contextual information. First up the essay will appraise each poem succinctly, then it will deal with differences and similarities in rhyme, rhythm and structure. To conclude, the essay will sum up the major points raised and present them concisely. ‘Listen Mr Oxford Don’ to me is a very complex and clever poem. The subject matter is race but it also deals with anger, repression and English culture. The techniques, structure and language used really help to convey the anger and frustration that Agard is feeling. ‘No rights Red and Half Dead’ is a much darker and more complex. It deals with anger, frustration and oppression. The imagery that runs through the poem is clearly dealing with race. The context for both poems is very similar a black immigrant struggling in a white culture, race is a key issue in both.
The poems are both symmetrically structured but the techniques used are different. Agard uses short, to-the-point lines and Zephaniah uses long descriptive verses. Agards structure of using short lines, dense with information gives the impression of anger and frustration. Almost as if they are being spat out, from behind clenched teeth. It keeps the rhythm fast much like an attack. ‘I ent have no gun/ent have no knife’ ‘No rights Red and Half Dead’ conveys it’s message very differently. The lines are longer and much more descriptive ‘While dem get dem money’s worth/ I started fe feel sick’ it slows the pace, this creates a much more sobering mood, more like a TV narration. The metrical foot is very different, Agard uses a combination of free-verse and rhyme ‘Dem beat him, tried fe mek him still’ this is necessary to convey the feeling of anger ‘I don’t need no axe/to split/up yu syntax’ Zephaniah uses a mix of 5, 6 and 7 syllables this is necessary to convey the drama using descriptive lines ‘Dem drag him to the police van/an it was broad day light’ the metrical beats help to emphasise the meaning and stress the important information. Both poems use alliteration towards the end this technique again is used to cement meaning in the readers mind Agard uses ‘I slashing suffix in self-defence’ and Zephaniah uses ‘You must be bloody blind’ in both cases it makes the text seem more dramatic, more visceral, more urgent even.
Dialect also is used heavily by both authors, ‘dem’ ‘tink’ ‘I ent’ ‘tekkin’ ‘yu’ this is used for realism. Also to include the black immigrants and create a more genuine sense of race and unity within the pieces, this is key to the subject matter. Both poems use rhyme but yet again to different effect. Agard uses rhyming couplets ‘axe-syntax’ ‘grammar-hammer’ where as Zephaniah’s rhyme is more classically organised and follows a rhyme scheme ‘Yu must be doing fine/ An if yu tink yu seeing justice/yu must be bloody blind’ Agards rhyme is visceral, the way you hear it read or when reading leaves an effect on you, again this helps to convey the feelings of anger and frustration. Zephaniah’s rhyme is more structured and organised in order to reinforce the images he is describing, painting a clearer picture.
Even though the rhyme schemes are very different they are both there to ultimately create more meaning and send a direct message. In both poems the rhythm helps to add to the meaning and send a powerful message ‘Listen Mr Oxford Don’ uses refrains and short lines to express anger and frustration ‘Im a man on the run/and a man on the run/is a dangerous one’ Zephaniah’s rhythm works in a similar way but without the refrain. ‘An it was broad daylight’ ‘I knew it was not right’ ‘It was an ugly sight’ The rhythm of both poems is essential in allowing the narrative to flow and also give the words greater power. Agard uses free verse and line construction with no punctuation to convey the meaning of the poem, he is speaking of his disregard for rules and in his poem he conveys that perfectly by making his own and failing to adhere to the status-quo. The rebellious nature of the writing makes me smile as well as absorbing the message. Zephaniah however needs a more rigid and ordinary structure to get across the gruesome details he is describing. This in turn creates in my opinion a powerful daunting image, which I did not enjoy as much. In conclusion, after using the study diamond to analyse the two poems similarities and differences. This essay has found that both poems use largely similar techniques however they are used to convey different
messages, with different effects and goals. References
Rosemary O’day, Will Hardy, George Marsh, Steve Padley and Leigh- Anne Perryman-Making sense of the arts (2011) (858)