Patience Agbabi’s collection of poems Bloodshot Monochrome looks at many different ideas such as race, and sexuality. The theme of race in her poem “Skins,”” stood out to me.
The poem “Skins” addresses the issues of race. The third stanza directly addresses the issue of race and discusses “passing.” The poem states, “A misfit./ Mixed race but light-skinned,/ brown hair, blue eyes,/ bootboy with a hard-on./ I passed./ I had to.” Upon my initial reading I had no idea what was being referred to the with the lines, “I passed./ I had to.” So when I flipped to the back of the book and discovered the notes on these poems, I re-read them all again to provide context and clarification to the poems. The term “passed” means to pass for a white person. This concept is interesting to me, and I would love if there was actual background information on the character of why they felt that they had to pass. The vagueness of the language and the lack of explanation to me provides a mystery and something that I am interested to know more about. In an interview about this poem Agbabi stated that, “It was an attempt to capture the speech patterns of a man of few words who’s making the confession of a lifetime.” Each of the lines are end stopped. This allows for the reader to slow down while reading this stanza, and provides emphasize to each of the lines. Agbabi is attempting to get the reader to contemplate the ideas of race in this stanza. In an interview she stated that this poem was meant to have an audience implied within this poem, and that these short end stopped lines were there to help make the poem dynamic. This poem to her “stood up off the page,” because of the short sentences.
One of the things that I like to do is look up information on the author to see where they are coming form when they write certain pieces. In an interview with Patience Agbabi she discussed her life with having Nigerian parents, but being raised and privately fostered in a white English family. This duality that Agbabi faced in her life growing up allowed for her to move between cultures. This is one of the things that is discussed in the poem “Skins” is passing. The character in this poem rejects their black identity in order to pass for white. This duality of identities is something that is very interesting that Agbabi is able to present in her poems.
This poem does not directly mention any links to London, and could be read as it is about anywhere. To me one of the things that does bring it back to the concept of “Englishness” is that there are many varieties of people that live there. The idea of race, and blending of cultures is something that is common when you enter a large and international city such as London. According to 2011 census data 36.7% of people in London are foreign born making it the second largest immigrant population just behind New York City. London is a place of diversity with several different languages, cultures, and religions. This poem looks at diversity through race, and allows the reader to contemplate race, especially in the scope of an international city such as London.