Bloodshot Monochrome

When interviewed about being a poet, Patience Agbabi answered the question “What can you express in poetry that you can’t in another literary or art form?  Her response describes her use of working in rhyme:  “You can write poetry about anything under the sun. What I love about poetry is how you can use poetic forms to shape ideas. I love working with rhyme, I don’t care whether it’s in fashion or not, I love the SOUND of words and the SHAPE of words on the page. Of course, when you’re using that method, there’s intensity to what you write. Poetry is about the compression of an idea. I guess some ideas are too big to put into one poem they should be in a novel. But they can become a BOOK of poems.”

Patience Agbabi is a performance poet, but also writes poems to be read and this collection is written in set in five sections covering race, sex, drugs,  music and more.  I’m not sure there was a consistent theme that was being repeated. Some of the poems seem to relate personal experiences (Foreign Exchange), others are about famous people of the past, Josephine Baker and Anne Boleyn included.  I found the style of the poems to be different from section to section.

One section “Problem Pages” allows the author to act as an advice giver, providing suggestions to poets from the past, including William Shakespeare, John Milton Edna St. Vincent Millay and more. I think the tone here is humorous, but she does touch on issues of race as it relates to black poets using traditional white forms.  Her response to the African American poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who writes that she has been accused of degrading the sonnet and not being black enough is:  ‘Some say poetry+politics = propaganda. That black poet+sonnet = sell-out. I do hope your ‘propaganda’ sells out, continuing the long tradition of both political poetry and black poets engaging with white forms. It is literary skill that counts: always ask yourself, am I poet enough?’

How do these poems “write London?” I am trying to look at all the works we are interpreting in this class and I know this is a central issue.  I think “Bloodshot Monochrome” tells the reader that London can be written by many types of writers drawing on the old and new in expressing their “Englishness”.



Two links including interviews with Patience Agbabi:


1 thought on “Bloodshot Monochrome

  1. Hey there, Chris! The quotes you mentioned in this post enriched my reading of some of the poems, which is so cool! When Agbabi says that she doesn’t care if rhyme is in style or not, she just loves to write in it, it seems to echo the quote you pulled out from the problem poem about Gwendolyn Brooks. Brooks, in the poem, asks for advice because she is accused of not being black enough and Agbabi writes back “I do hope your ‘propaganda’ sells out, continuing the long tradition of both political poetry and black poets engaging with white forms. It is literary skill that counts.” Both rhyme and the sonnet are considered “white” forms of poetry, and Agbabi is encouraging Brooks to be true to herself and write to break down the stereotype. I think Agbabi’s book of poetry, because it is so diverse like you pointed out, is meant to break down the current structures in place when it comes to writing and poetry. In order to carve out a place for yourself, you have to break down the confines in which you are put. That’s why the problem poems are so unique; not only is Agbabi giving advice to the black poets going through similar struggles, but she is engaging and giving advice to white poets. The white poets she advises are very well known and are traditionally seen as writers that poets should look up to and emulate. By breaking this relationship and reversing the roles, Agbabi is making a place for herself in the equation and taking some of the power away from these writers (which at times makes them seem untouchable and not human) and making them more accessible to everyone. We see her rewriting the tradition of Englishness, which largely includes white male authors.poets being the only ones that have a claim to fame, and starting to show the similarities between poets instead. You’re right that Agbabi is showing that London can be written in various ways by different types of writers. That’s exactly what Agbabi is doing! Every poem in the book of poetry, whether it directly or indirectly means to, writes a part of London and the identity of Englishness. Thanks for the great links!

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