Compare how language is used to explore ideas and feelings in ‘Checking out me History’ and one other poem from the Anthology. By dordafaye Compare how language is used to explore ideas and feelings in ‘Checking out me History and one other poem from the Anthology. Checking out me History is a poem about a Caribbean man’s frustration at the teaching of history- he believes that he is only taught about white historical figures and argues that some important black icons are neglected. He argues for more freedom to learn about icons from other cultures- reflecting multi-cultural society more accurately.
Singh Song is a poem written from the perspective of a newly- wed Indian shop-worker in Britain, and tells the reader about his relationship with his bride and how this affects his work. The poem explores ideas about cultural identity- particularly looking at how ethnic cultures fit into Western (British) society. In ‘Checking out me History John Agard uses a Caribbean dialect “lick back”, and phonetic spelling “dem… dat” which reflects the Caribbean accent, to create a clear character voice. He does this to emphasize that he is a black Caribbean man and therefore the issues he explores are relevant and personal to him.
Agard is in fact half Guyanese and so the character of the poem could in fact be him; this could be auto-biographical. ‘Singh song is similar in that DalJit Nagra uses phonetic spelling “My vife is on di web” to reflect an Indian accent, and uses some humorous examples of language ‘lost in translation’ such as “at di cheese ov her price”. Like Agard, Nagra uses a Voice’ which is directly linked to his own, as he is a British born Punjabi Indian, and the character speaks in what is referred to as ‘Punglish’ a Punjabi influenced version of standard English.
The tone of the two poems is very different- ‘Checking ut me History has an angry and negative tone. He is using the dialect and accent to emphasize how different black Caribbean is from white British. The choice to write in non-standard English perhaps reflects his disapproval of the idea of ‘standard English’- linking to his cultural identity. He repeats the phrase “dem never tell me” which emphasizes that the accused “dem” are withholding important information, and depriving him of something.
He directs his poem at “dem”- a nameless authority who he claims are leaving him in the metaphorical dark: “Blind me to me own identity’. We can assume that “dem” are white people that decide the curriculum, and the narrator feels show a very polarized view of history; you could say he is trying to show that they oppress him, an idea which is fuelled by the images of slavery and oppression of black people by others, and of escape: “freedom river”, that he depicts in his descriptions of his heroes.
The fact that he doesn’t give “dem” names suggests he doesn’t think very positively of them; they don’t deserve a name. He Juxtaposes white icons with black icons, and often the white icons or histories are ridiculous Dick Whittington and ne cat” or linked to war and aggression “Lord Nelson and Waterloo”. This has the effect of making the black icons he mentions seem more important and impressive “Toussaint a slave with vision”. The presentation of the poem pushes this idea further- as the black icons are written in italics, whereas the white icons are written in ‘normal’ font.
This could be significant as often literature uses italics to stress of emphasize a word within a sentence, he is perhaps trying to present his history choices as important in contrast to “dem’s” choices. However, ou could say that there are positive moments in the poem- when he is describing the people he would like to learn about he sounds as though he is inspired, using adjectives like “see-far” and verbs such as “struggle… brave” to show his admiration.
His descriptions of the black historical icons use positive imagery referring to freedom “hopeful stream to freedom river” from slavery, and of positive role-models “A healing star… a yellow sunrise”. When he describe the white fgures he is taught about he is matter-of-fact and very succinct, but discusses the black figures in longer and more expressive detail. His descriptions of black icons are also free’ from rhyme schemes, enforcing the theme of freedom which runs throughout. ‘Singh Song has an overall positive and Jolly tone. Nagra uses phonetic spelling and mis-translations in an amusing way.
He builds what might be called a ‘stereotypical’ image of an Indian man. The stereotype is shown in that: he runs a corner shop, he eats Indian food “chapatti… chutney’ and he lives in an ‘indian’ area “di whole Indian road”. However, rather than being angry about being a stereotype, the character is happy and content. When non-standard English is used, it isn’t necessarily deliberate or rying to make a point like in ‘Checking out me History which I think forces a phonetic difference to create an atmosphere of them’ versus ‘me (the narrator)’.
I do still think that Nagra is trying to disprove the stereotype subtly, and show that them’ and ‘me’ can be harmonious. He does this mostly through the character of the bride’ who is shockingly untraditional “effing at my mum… stumble like a drunk… a red crew cut”, but is still connected to her Indian culture: “in all di colours of Punjabi… sari”. She is a more ‘modern’ and westernised representation of an Indian woman.
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