“Fruit of a Mutual Realm”: An Analysis of Daljit Nagra’s “A Black History of the English-Speaking Peoples”

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Tony O’Neill

Abstract

A difference between British poet Daljit Nagra’s earlier collection Look We Have Coming to Dover and Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!!, is how in the latter work the poet’s trademark “Punglish” makes room for an increased number of poems voiced in standard or Queen’s English. The contrast, however slight, suggests a shift in response to the creative anxieties aired in Nagra’s earlier work. These anxieties revolved around the Black British poet’s awareness of his own complicity in the publishing world’s process of marketing the exotic. The crux of the dilemma was that as a British-born child of Punjabi immigrants Nagra, performing in Punglish, could not avoid playing a minstrel, leading to a guilty self-questioning, in effect a case of Black Skin Black Mask.To illustrate, the expectation or burden resting upon the Black British poet to perform to type is what Kabba, a Punglish-speaking father, means when he addresses his own creator, the author, Nagra.

So vut di coconut do - too shy to uze

his voice, he plot me

as ‘funny’, or a type, even vurse –

so hee is uzed in British antologies –(2007 43)     

However, in a more recent work, there is a relaxing of such inhibitions as the “coconut,” Nagra, increasingly speaks with “the chalk of [his] white inside” [2007 6]. A case in point is the final poem in Tippo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine..., “A Black History of the English Speaking Peoples”.  Versed in standard English, the poem supplies a counter reading to the imperial history found in Winston Churchill’s A History of the English Speaking Peoples, through a dissection of the imperial tropes embedded in the noble laureate’s prose.

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