In Conversation with Patience Agbabi

15 Mar

As part of our Say Sum Thin 6 Commission show, the audience had the option to see our headline act, Patience Agbabi, being interviewed by Jim Hall.

Patience is one of Britain’s most prominent spoken word poets. She has had three poetry collections published: ‘Raw’, ‘Transformatrix’ and ‘Bloodshot Monochrome’. She spoke to us a lot about the next publication which she is working on, her re-writing of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’. She first came across Chaucer during her A levels and found it amazing how vibrant and entertaining his poetry was. The fact that these poems still resonate with people after such a long time really incited her interest.


To her feeling, the advantages of re-writing Chaucer’s works significantly outweighed the disadvantages. Like an ambassador to Chaucer, she hoped to encourage more people to read his works. She stressed how relevant the stories and characters are to the modern day and said she enjoyed playing with these ready-made, deeply flawed characters. The provided a template and clear structure for her. She enjoys working with a form because restraints can be very liberating.

Having studied English literature at Oxford University, she loved reading about ‘dead poets’ but felt that it was all very serious and that there was a lot of fun to be had in creating and performing poetry. She stressed the importance of poetry being a communal rather than individual experience. A community of poets help to make a poem better.

She spoke about her passion for bridging the gap ‘between the page and the stage’ in terms of changing people’s misconceptions about spoken word poetry. She said she felt there was beginning to be more cross-fertilisation between the two. After all, poetry began as oral performance! However, she stressed that there is certainly a difference between them, for example, you need the repetition of words, phrases and sounds in a spoken word poem to help it stick out in people’s minds. On the page, they can just re-read it.

Patience encourages writers to try their poetry out in live performance as this is a really good way of seeing if it works. She said that it’s better not to ‘get precious about being perfect’ as this isn’t constructive. She wrote the first draft of each poem for her ‘Telling Tales’ re-writing of the ‘Canterbury Tales’ in a day. Shutting herself away from the distractions of the outside world, she found that these first drafts, while very raw, gave her a lot of material with which to edit later. She really got to know the characters in the poem.

Some words of wisdom for writers from Patience Agbabi:

‘Perform it, own it, savour it, celebrate it and have fun with it.’

Her next book, ‘Telling Tales,’ will be released on the 3rd April. 

Patience Agbabi’s blog:


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