Julie Cyzewski is an Assistant Professor of English at Murray State University. Her current book project, Broadcasting Friendship: Decolonization, Literature, and the BBC, is on the politics and form of literary radio broadcasts from London to the West Indies, South Asia, and Anglophone Africa.
On June 1, 1963, J. P. Clark’s poem “Agbor Dancer” was recorded for the London-based Transcription Centre’s program Africa Abroad, an English-language radio magazine program distributed for broadcast on multiple African stations. Africa Abroad producer Lewis Nkosi praised the poem and recorded it in its entirety in his review of the anthology Poems from Black Africa, edited by Langston Hughes. In “Agbor Dancer,” the speaker watches a woman dance to drums and juxtaposes the dancer’s connection to “communal” identity through music and dance with the isolating effects of language and print. The poem, first published in print and then broadcast, describes West African aural and kinetic traditions while also using and referencing European literary traditions. What does it mean to take this poem, often read as a reflection on the alienating effects of print culture, and record it for radio broadcast instead of distributing it through print?