Humor and Anger in the Poems of Tom Leonard
John Agard’s poem develops a simple idea which is found in a familiarterm. Half-caste as a term for mixed race is now rare. The term comesfrom India, where people are rigidly divided into groups (calledcastes) which are not allowed to mix, and where the lowest caste isconsidered untouchable. At the start of the poem John Agard uses thephrase, “Excuse me”. He is trying to seem polite so that he can getinto the conversation and then get his point across. However thispoliteness is not used in the rest of the poem. In the poem John Agardpokes fun at the idea, he uses humour in this poem to break thebarriers of people’s minds so that they will listen to what he saysand not just take the term stereotypically. He does this with anironic suggestion of things only being “half” present, by puns, and bylooking at the work of artists who mix things.
The poem opens with a joke – as if “half-caste” means only half made(reading the verb as cast rather than caste), so the speaker stands onone leg as if the other is not there. John Agard ridicules the term byshowing how the greatest artists mix things – Picasso mixes colours,and Tchaikovsky use the black and white keys in his music, yet to calltheir art “half-caste” seems absurd.
He playfully points out how England’s weather is always a mix of lightand shadow – leading to a deliberate pun on “half-caste” and”overcast” (clouded over). The joke about one leg is recalled later inthe poem, this time by suggesting that the “half-caste” uses only halfof ear and eye, and offers half a hand to shake, leading to theunheard of dreaming half a dream and casting half a shadow. The poem,like a joke, has a punch line – the poet invites his hearer to “comeback tomorrow” and use the whole of eye, ear and mind. Then he will