Contributor: Nisha Obano
Patience Agbabi was born in London in 1965 to Nigerian parents. She was fostered by a white English family and lived in Sussex, although she remained in touch with her birth mother and father. Her foster family then moved to Colwyn Bay in North Wales where they bought and ran a guesthouse. Agbabi later left Wales to study at Oxford University.
A prolific poet and performer, Agbabi is one the UK’s most radical poets whose experimentation with form and language also expresses a more personal and fluid sense of cultural and sexual identity. Agbabi regularly appears at diverse venues in the UK and abroad, some more conventional literary establishments than others, ranging from long-running literary and music festivals (such as Ledbury, Glastonbury, the Soho Jazz Festival and Pride) to metro stations. One of her most extraordinary appointments was poet-in-residence at the London tattoo and piercing studio Flamin’ Eight between 1999 and 2000. Agbabi has described herself as a ‘poetical activist’ who is ‘obsessed with poetic form, the human form, the dynamices of performance’. ‘Body language is my work in progress’, she explained in 2003, ‘I write because my ink must flow like blood. The written must be spoken. The chasm between page and stage must be healed’ (<http://www.britishcouncil.org/patience-agbabi>). In 2010 she was named Canterbury Poet Laureate.
Agbabi was a regular performer on the club circuit before her first published work appeared in The Virago Book of Wicked Verse in 1992. Her first full collection R.A.W (Gecko Press) came out in 1995 and won the Excelle Literary Award in 1997. Subsequently her work has been published in a number of anthologies, including Bittersweet: Contemporary Black Women’s Poetry (Women’s Press, 1998), ORAL: poems, sonnets, lyrics and the like (Sceptre,1999) and IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain (Hamish Hamilton, 2000). 2000 also saw the publication of the critically acclaimed Transformatrix, which was both a commentary on Britain at the time and a celebration of poetic and popular cultural forms.
Although primarily a solo performer who has toured extensively, particularly with the British Council (Namibia 1999, Czech Republic 2000 and Zimbabwe and Germany 2001), Agbabi has also collaborated with other poets and artists on a number of performance projects. Between 1995 and 1998 she was a member of Atomic Lip, possibly the UK’s first poetic pop group, founded by Steve Tasane and including Joelle Taylor. Agbabi formed FO(U)R WOMEN with Adeola Agbebiyi and Dorothea Smartt which performed at the ICA in 1996. She has also taken part in Modern Love, a UK tour featuring a number of spoken word poets and in March 2002 she took Modern Love to Switzerland with Malika Booker. Her work has also been broadcast on television and radio. In 1998, she was commissioned by Channel 4′s Litpop series and in 1999 she was asked to write a poem for Blue Peter‘s National Poetry Competition, which was supported by the BBC.
Agbabi has also delivered a range of workshops and has tutored students in a variety of settings. She was in-house poet at the Poetry Cafe in 1999, a scheme run by the Poetry Society, and later Poet-in-Residence at Oxford Brookes University between 2000 and 2001 where she developed a Poetry Writing module for English Literature undergraduates and delivered workshops for trainee nurses and teaching staff in the School of Healthcare. In 2002, Agbabi completed an MA in Creative Writing at Sussex University and has subsequently taught on a number of creative writing programmes, namely: Greenwich University (2002-2003), University of Wales Cardiff (2002-2004) and Kent University (2004-2005). In 2005, she was poet-in residence at Eton College, Windsor, working with students in the upper and lower schools, a project which received wide coverage in the press.
Since 2007, Agbabi has published numerous works. She contributed to Trees in the City: Poems About the Need for Action on Climate Change (2007), which also featured poems by Jon Burnside and Matthew Hollis. Her third collection, Bloodshot Monochrome (Canongate) appeared in 2008. In 2010 she contributed to I Have Found A Voice, a collection of poems and images to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. She is also a contributor to the collection, Metamorphosis, a unique collaboration between the National Art Gallery and the Royal Opera House, featuring among others, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy and Jo Shapcott (Yale UP, 2012).
Agbabi continues to write, tour and teach. She is currently working on a new collection inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a work Agbabi has admired from an early age, and she has also appeared at a number of venues in the UK as part of the Cultural Olympiad celebrations in 2012.
Works by Patience Agbabi
Bloodshot Monochrome. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2008.
R.A.W. London: Gecko Press, 1995.
Roving Mic. Working title, forthcoming.
Transformatrix. Edinburgh: Payback Press, 2000.
Patience Agbabi’s Work in Anthologies and Journals
Bittersweet: Contemporary Black Women’s Poetry. London: Women’s Press, 1998.
‘Getting Dressed for Love’. Feminist Review 30.1 (1988): 104.
IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2000.
I Have Found A Song. London: Enitharmon Press, 2010.
‘The London Eye’. Best Poems on the Underground. Ed. Gerard Benson et al. London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 2009.
‘Martina’. Feminist Review 30.1 (1988): 104.
Metamorphosis. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012.
‘Ms Demeanour’; ‘Martina’. Feminist Review 62 (1999): 55-57.
‘North(west)ern’. Penguin’s Poems for Life. Ed. Laura Barber. London: Penguin, 2007.
ORAL: Poems, sonnets, lyrics and the like. Frensham: Sceptre Press, 1999.
Red: Contemporary Black British Poetry. Ed. Kwame Dawes. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 2010.
‘Selections from Problem Pages’. Women: a Cultural Review. 20.3 (2009): 323-324.
‘The Sign of the Times’. Feminist Review 30.1 (1988): 104.
‘The Sting’. The Guardian. 5 June 2004 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2004/jun/05/nextgenerationpoets.poetry>.
Trees in the City: Poems About the Need for Climate Change. London: Axon Publishing, 2007.
‘Two Poems’. Feminist Review 62.1 (1999): 55.
The Virago Book of Wicked Verse. London: Virago, 1992.
Live Recordings of Agbabi Performances
‘14 ways to say I love you’. Part of ‘Live New Departures’. London: British Library, 25 July 1999.
‘Accidentally falling’. London: British Library, 25 July 1999.
Artrageous. London: BBC recording. Broadcast BBC 2, 22 Apr. 1992.
‘Black the white and the blue’. Part of ‘Poetry in the Piazza’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.
‘Countdown to zero’. London: RNIB Talking Book Studios, undated.
‘E(manic dance mix A)’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.
‘It’s better post- than pre-’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.
‘Ms Demeanour’. London: British Library, 25 July 1999.
‘RAPunzel’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.
‘R.A.W’. London: British Library, 25 July 1999.
‘Sex is’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.
‘Tiger’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.
‘Ufo woman’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.
Work on Patience Agbabi
Arana, Victoria. Black British Aesthetics Today. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.
Arana, Victoria and Lauri Ramey. Black British Writing. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Breeze, Jean ‘Binta’ et al. ‘A Round-table Discussion on Poetry in Performance’. Feminist review 62 (1999): 24-54.
Dieffenthaller, Ian. Snow on Sugarcane: The Evolution of West Indian Poetry in Britain. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.
Doku, Samuel. ‘Analysis of Patience Agbabi’s Transformatrix as an Avant-Garde ad
Postmodern Poem’. Suite101.com 2 Jan. 2010
Dowson, Jane, ed. The Cambridge Companion to twentieth-century British and Irish women’s poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011.
Dowson, Jane and Alice Entwistle. A History of Twentieth-Century British Women’s Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.
Everett, Stephanie. ‘Patience Agbabi: Pop Poet’. Aesthetica Magazine (undated)
Huk, Romana. ‘In AnOther’s Pocket: The Address of the “Pocket Epic” in
Postmodern Black British Poetry’. The Yale Journal of Criticism 13.1 (2000): 23-47.
King, Bruce. The Oxford English Literary History: Volume 13: 1948-2000: The
Internationalization of English Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.
Mack, Shree. ‘Patience Agbabi. Crossing Borders: Words on the Page and Words on the Stage’. Afroeuropa 3.1 (2009) <http://www.journal.afroeuropa.eu/index.php/afroeuropa/article/viewFile/131/119>.
Marsh, Nicky, Peter Middleton and Victoria Sheppard. ‘“Blasts of Language”:
Changes in Oral Poetics in Britain Since 1965’. Oral Tradition 21.1 (2006): 44-67.
McMerriman, Emily Taylor and Adrian Grafe, ed. Intimate Exposure: essays on the
public-private divide in British poetry since 1950. Jefferson: McFarland & Co, 2010.
Novak, Julia. Live Poetry: An Integrated Approach to Poetry in Performance: 153.
Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2011.
Osborne, Deirdre, Valerie Mason-John and Mojisola Adebayo. ‘“No Straight
Answers”: Writing in the Margins, Finding Lost Heroes’. New Theatre Quarterly 25.1 (2009): 6-21.
Perez, Antonio Jose Miralles. Restless Travellers: Quests for Identity Across European and American Time and Space. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011.
Ramey, Lauri. ‘Performing Contemporary Poetics: The Art of SuAndi and Patience
Agbabi’. Women: a Cultural Review 20.3 (2009): 310-322.
Rapi, Nina and Maya Chowdhry. Acts of Passion: Sexuality, Gender and Performance. London: Routledge, 1998.
Reed, Brian. ‘She Follows Them How Else? By Flying’. Review of A History of
Twentieth Century British Women’s Poetry by J Dowson and A Entwistle.
Contemporary Literature 48.3 (2007): 460-67.
Stierstorfer, Klaus and Monika Gomille. Cultures of Translation. Newcastle upon
Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.
57 Productions Website <http://www.57productions.com/artist_info.php?id=4>
Apples and Snakes Website <http://www.applesandsnakes.org/page/84/137/253>.
British Council Website <http://literature.britishcouncil.org/patience-agbabi>.
British Council Website Crossing Borders project <http://www.transculturalwriting.com/radiophonics/contents/writersonwriting/patienceagbabi/index.html>.
Canongate Books Website <http://www.canongate.tv/authors/patienceagbabi>.
Literature Wales Website <http://www.literaturewales.org/writers-of-wales/i/130185/desc/agbabi-patience/>.
Patience Agbabi Official Blog <http://www.patienceagbabi.wordpress.com>.
Patience Agbabi on Twitter <https://twitter.com/PatienceAgbabi>.
Patience Agbabi Wikipedia Entry. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patience_Agbabi>.
Various YouTube performance clips including eg ‘Inspire’ by Patience Agbabi <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDcpHMj0BdQ>.