Patience Agbabi

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Patience Agbabi

Patience Agbabi FRSL (born 1965) is a British poet and performer who gives particular emphasis to the spoken word.[1] Although her poetry hits hard in addressing contemporary themes, it often makes use of strong formal constraints, including traditional poetic forms. She has described herself as both "bicultural" and bisexual.[2] Issues of racial and gender identity feature prominently in her poetry. She is celebrated "for paying equal homage to literature and performance" and for work that "moves fluidly and nimbly between cultures, dialects, voices; between page and stage."[3] In 2017 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Patience Agbabi was born in London to Nigerian parents,[1] and from a young age was privately fostered by a white English family, who when she was 12 years old moved from Sussex to North Wales, where Agbabi was raised in Colwyn Bay.[5] She studied English language and literature at Pembroke College, Oxford.

She earned an MA in Creative Writing, the Arts and Education from the University of Sussex in 2002, and in September that year was appointed Associate Creative Writing Lecturer at the University of Wales, Cardiff.[6]

Poetry and performances[edit]

Agbabi began performing on the London club circuit in 1995. She has cited among her influences Janis Joplin, Carol Ann Duffy, Chaucer, and various aspects of contemporary music and culture. Agbabi's childhood love of cake is apparent in her poem "Eat Me".

The poems in her first book R.A.W., published in 1995, "owe much to the rhythms and verbal and associational genius of rap".[7] Her next collection was Transformatrix (2000), a commentary on contemporary Britain that draws inspiration from popular music forms. In 2008 Agbabi published Bloodshot Monochrome (2008), a collection that, as described by one reviewer, highlights social and political issues, captures and considers moments in time through long-dead authors, and offers readers a diverse sampling of the author’s views of life in a variety of places".[8] Carol Rumens has said: "Agbabi characteristically makes poetry an opportunity for conversation with the past, not swamping it but setting new lexical terms."[9]

As Canterbury Laureate from July 2009 to December 2010, Agbabi received an Arts Council grant to write a full-length poetry collection based on Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales,[10] and her next book, 2014's Telling Tales, mines the Middle-English masterwork to offer a 21st-century take on the characters, its poetry and its performance elements.[11] The book met with praise from poets including Simon Armitage, who described it as "the liveliest versions of Chaucer you're likely to read."[12] Agbabi continues to tour Telling Tales as a performance-poetry production shown at literature festivals, arts spaces and libraries across the UK.

She has performed extensively and in collaboration with other writers. Her work has also been influenced by rap rhythms and wordplay. She was a member of Atomic Lip, which has been described as "poetry's first pop group".[13] They worked together from 1995 to 1998 and their last tour, Quadrophonix (1998) merged live and video performance. In 1996 she worked on a performance piece called FO(U)R WOMEN, with Adeola Agbebiyi and Dorothea Smartt, first performed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and which toured from 1995 to 1998.[14]

As well as performing in Britain, Agbabi has undertaken British Council reading tours of Namibia, the Czech Republic, Zimbabwe, Germany and Switzerland. She took part in Modern Love, a spoken-word tour produced by Renaissance One, which explored love and modern relationships, touring the UK and Switzerland.

Her poetry has been featured on television and radio, including the Channel 4 series Litpop in 1998 and on the children's programme Blue Peter in 1999. She has also been a contributor to several anthologies, among them Jubilee Lines (2012), edited by Carol Ann Duffy), which marked Queen Elizabeth II's 60th anniversary on the throne,[15] and Refugee Tales (2016), a collection of stories based on accounts by Gatwick airport detainees.[16][17]

She has taught and run workshops and also been poet-in-residence at various places, ranging from Oxford Brookes University and Eton College to a London tattoo and piercing studio.[18]

In 2018 she was Writer In Residence at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.[19]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Agbabi's first poetry collection, R.A.W (1995), received the Excelle Literary Award in 1997.

In 2000, she was one of 10 poets commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to write a poem for National Poetry Day.

In 2004, she was named as one of the Next Generation poets.[20]

Agbabi was Canterbury Festival's Laureate in 2010.[21][22]

In March 2015, The Poetry Society announced Agbabi as one of five poets shortlisted for the 2014 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, for her book Telling Tales.[23]

In 2017 Agbabi was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[24]

Selected works[edit]


  • Carol Ann Duffy, ed., Jubilee Lines (Faber & Faber, 2012)
  • Sasha Dugdale, ed., Best British Poetry 2012 (Cromer: Salt, 2012)
  • Helen Ivory, ed., In Their Own Words (Cromer: Salt, 2012)
  • Rob Pope, ed., Studying English Language and Literature: An Introduction and Companion (Oxford: Routledge, 2012)
  • Tom Chivers, Adventures in Form (London: Penned in the Margins, 2012)
  • Refugee Tales (Manchester: Comma Press, 2016)


  1. ^ a b Patience Agbabi at British Council: Literature.
  2. ^ Victoria Young (5 March 2005). "Giving the Boys at Eton Poetry to Think About". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 April 2008.
  3. ^ "Patience Agbabi" at The Poetry Archive.
  4. ^ "Patience Agbabi" at The Royal Society of Literature.
  5. ^ "Patience Agbabi | Crossing Borders: From Page to Stage and Back Again", Writers on Writing, British Council.
  6. ^ Patience Agbabi at Literary Festivals UK.
  7. ^ George Stade, Karen Karbiener (eds), "Agbabi, Patience (1965– )", Encyclopedia of British Writers, 1800 to the Present, Volume 2, Fact On File, 2009, p. 8.
  8. ^ JJ Furman, "Bloodshot Monochrome",Women Writing London, 29 July 2013.
  9. ^ Carol Rumens, "Poem of the week: Skins by Patience Agbabi", The Guardian, 28 March 2016.
  10. ^ Patience Agbabi, "About", Telling Tales website.
  11. ^ "from Telling Tales Prologue (Grime Mix)", The Poetry Society, 2014.
  12. ^ "Patience Agbabi: her new book Telling Tales". renaissance one. Archived from the original on 12 February 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  13. ^ "Performance poets | Apples and Snakes". Apples and Snakes. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  14. ^ Stephanie Everett, "Patience Agbabi", Aesthetica.
  15. ^ Anna Aslanyan, "Jubilee Lines: British poets mark queen's 60th year on throne", The National, 2 June 2012.
  16. ^ Alison Flood, "Canterbury Tales rebooted with refugee stories of trafficking and detention", The Guardian, 13 June 2016.
  17. ^ Jess Denham, "Refugee Tales: Modern reboot of The Canterbury Tales to tell harrowing refugee stories", The Independent, 14 June 2016.
  18. ^ Charlotte Runcie, "Patience Agbabi: Chaucer remixed", The Telegraph, 27 April 2014.
  19. ^ "Patience Agbabi", The Brontë Society.
  20. ^ "Patience Agbabi: 'Most poets are not just poets'", BBC News, 11 September 2014.
  21. ^ Alison Flood, "Funky Chaucer reboot by Patience Agbabi due for April launch", The Guardian, 23 January 2014.
  22. ^ "Poetry Thursday - Chunnel/Le Tunnel sous la Manche by Patience Agbabi | Biographical note", margaret-cooter, 2 April 2015.
  23. ^ 2014 Shortlist, Ted Hughes Award, The Poetry Society.
  24. ^ Natasha Onwuemezi, "Rankin, McDermid and Levy named new RSL fellows", The Bookseller, 7 June 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]