This is going to be a tough post, analyzing poetry was never my strong suit- I prefer a more clearcut, forward way of things and poetry doesn’t always provide that- so just bear with me.
I really enjoyed the poetry in Bloodshot Monochrome by Patience Agbabi, there was a gritty realism in all of her poems that really captured my interest and intrigued me. In terms of “Mapping Englishness”, there was one poem that really struck me (in which I’m sure a lot of other people picked up on as well). “The London Eye” is named after the beautiful, gigantic ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames. It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom.
What I find most fascinating about this poem is that someone can read it and have no idea what it’s really about (like me) until they do a little digging of their own. I originally wanted to talk about “The Siamese Twins” poem, but couldn’t find any outside information on it and really didn’t have a clear understanding of what I wanted to say. So I started looking up information on the other poems that interested me and that brings me to presently writing about “The London Eye”. What initially attracted me to this poem was the idea of being able to see all of London from The Eye; while heights aren’t everyone’s forte, they would have to admit that being able to see for miles is kind of an amazing thing.
However, upon further inspection, I learned that “The London Eye” is an answer to William Wordsworth’s 1802 sonnet “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge”. I also happened to find a very helpful explanation of the conjunction of these two poems in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century British and Irish Women’s Poetry edited by Jane Dowson. In this companion, it is stated that Agbabi imagines a blind date with Wordsworth where she shouts out to him as he writes his poem on the bridge: “The aerial view postcard, the man writing/ squat words like black cabs in rush hour.” They enter “cupid’s capsule” and the lines “…a thought bubble/ where I think, ‘Space age!’, and you think, ‘She was late.'” refers to the idea that Agbabi is over 200 years too late to their blind date and by moving anticlockwise, they are brought to 1802, which is when Wordsworth wrote his poem. (“Big Ben strikes six. My SKIN .Beat (TM) blinks, replies/ 18.02. We’re moving anticlockwise.”)
The connections amaze and intrigue me so much because, like I previously said, upon first glance, it’s about a blind date to the London Eye. I can imagine that if someone read this and was a fan of Wordsworth and understood the reference, it would mean all that much more. I think this “writes London” because the London Eye is a landmark that almost everyone is familiar with and is a vital part to the cityscape. You honestly can’t miss the gigantic ferris wheel. It also engages with the way women occupy London and this is explained through an interview with Agbabi herself.
Amaris Gentle: I love your poem ‘The London Eye’. Do you feel that living in London effects us romantically because there is such a diversity of race and culture or do you feel people still stick to what they know?
Patience Agbabi: I don’t live in London any more but yes, it’s a very cosmopolitan city and when I was younger I did find it broadened my horizons and expectations of a partner. I’ve been out with men and women, black and white which may not have happened had I been living in a small village in the middle of nowhere. I found London stimulating as a writer but also found I needed to get away from it once a month to recharge my batteries.
This excerpt illustrates that because London is such a diverse city, it emphasizes and encourages the way people live in it and to take advantage of all of its opportunities. It involves “Mapping Englishness” because it’s an integral part of the city’s layout and the idea that the Eye can connect people that have been in London in the past and who are there presently. There is so much history and culture in the city that it’s hard to ignore all of this when living there or just visiting.
[I also found another interview about Bloodshot Monochrome with Patience Agbabi and, while I didn’t use it, I thought I’d include it for giggles.]