"Continental Shelf" traces a journey, across continents and from youth to maturity. It moves from memories of childhood in Guyana, through a long elegiac exploration of the shootings at Virginia Tech University in 2006, to the reflective closing section which gives its title to the book. Fred D'Aguiar celebrates individuals and the histories embedded in places. He conjures up a sensuous childhood world of characters, stories, a loved particularity - a smell of bitumen, the local hero who comes last in a National Cycle Championship, a distant train's incantation of 'greenheart, mora, baromalli' - impressions so distinct and powerful that 'fumes - spin my head/Back whenever I catch a whiff from a car'. In D'Aguiar's Elegies for the thirty-three people who died in Virginia, that loss of unique and particular individuals is mourned, in a scrutiny of what civil and private life has become, and how, alongside grief, we may recover delight in the world. In his first full-length collection since "Bill of Rights" (1998), D'Aguiar celebrates how imagination and memory enable us to cope with violence and death. Love, above all, is the mainstay.
Fred D'Aguiar was born in London in 1960 to Guyanese parents and grew up in Guyana, returning to England when he was a teenager. He trained as a psychiatric nurse before reading African and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury. His previous collections of poetry are Mama Dot (1985), Airy Hall (1989; winner of the Guyana Poetry Prize), British Subjects (1993) and Bill of Rights (1998; shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize), all published by Chatto. His An English Sampler: New and Selected Poems appeared in 2001. Fred D'Aguiar is also the author of four novels, the first of which, The Longest Memory (Pantheon, 1994), won both the David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award. His plays include High Life (1987) and A Jamaican Airman Foresees His Death (1991), which was performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London.