Beat Poetry in Society: How Patience Agbabi’s “Bloodshot Monochrome” Presents Different Perspectives on rhythm and style within their Socio-Cultural Influences


Upon and after reading Patience Agbabi’s Bloodshot Monochrome, I felt that work spoke to me as a beat poet. Also I felt this work spoke to me as someone who has always been fascinated with the rhythm, style and presentation that beat poetry brings to literature.  It was as if Patience Agbabi, as she was writing this collection of poems, was performing these poems in her mind as she was thinking of what to write.  I thought as well, as discussing different themes in terms of style, language and rhythm she also discusses different themes of culture, history and society.  One of the best examples of this I feel I shown in her “Problem Pages” section.  What she does so brilliantly is she presents the title of a poem; deciphers what they meant in their poem, in terms of their own personal matters or the time period they were writing in; interprets them in the form of pleas for advice; lastly, she gives her own advice on these situations as a way of conveying her perspective on each of these dilemmas.

The rhythm plays an important role in this work as well.  Especially in the poem entitled, “North(west)ern,”which uses music as a way of expressing the rhythm of spoken word without having to hear it.  The stanza that really spoke to me in terms of rhythm read:

“dancing on the road to Wigan Casino,

Northern Soul Mecca where transatlantic bass

Beat blacker than blue in glittering mono

The back, via Southport, Rhyl, to the time, place,” (13)

This poem truly represents the message of culture as well as the rhythm culrue brings to this piece.  To conclude, one can also see how not only music and rhythm but the roots of culture that brought them into existence, has played a role in not just British society, not just western society, but all society.  I feel it is safe to say the Patience Agababi shows the reader a spoken word performance, djembe drums and all, without having the actual performance right in front of us.


The Old Bottle and the Old Shoe

The old nursery rhyme about the mother with too many kids seems to have taken off a very different idea. The original poem found on read as:


There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.

She gave them some broth without any bread;

And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

-Mother Goose


According to Psychology Today, this nursery rhyme is regarding high fertility in many societies. In such societies, women are meant for child bearing, and thus expected to have multiple children. Any form of contraceptive is seen as sinful, so the chance a woman could get pregnant during intercourse is much greater. Of course, the more children a family has, the more money is required. Many families with greater amount of children are in high poverty. In the same article, it makes mention of an Albanian mother who sells a child in order to help the rest of her family. The article read “In spite of living in such severe poverty that she is forced to sell her children, the woman had recently given birth to her 8th child.“ The article then goes on to discuss how women’s bodies tire out after having too many children, which can lead to a higher death rate amongst infants, since the child was not fully healthy in the womb. The main focus of this nursery rhyme, however, is on the affect a large family has on the children. A family in poverty would have less food, and of course this less amount of food must be spread over a large amount of children, so they get even less. Many children in these families are starving and malnourished.


However, this riddle connects into the British Empire. The old woman who lived in a shoe is believed to have been about Queen Caroline. Queen Caroline was married to King George the II and had eight children. All 8 children were members of the British Parliament. According to, this is reason enough to suggest the bed represents Parliament. Furthermore, according to the same site, “even today the term ‘whip’ is used in the English Parliament to describe a Member of Parliament who is tasked to ensure that all members ‘toe the party line’.” Of course, it is also rumored that the “old woman” could have been King George II, as he was nicknamed the old woman for beginning the powdered wig trend. Obviously the children play the same role in both theories.



Then of course there is Patience Agbabi’s version of “There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe” which I believe is a modern take on a family in London. This woman has a bad marriage.  “There was an old bottle who met an old shoe.” She is a broken brown bottle. She is fragile, and an alcoholic. He is the lace up-leather shoe. He has been weathered down, but is still held together, and his past has made him tough. He holds expectations for her that she cannot fulfill, which causes her to drink more. I believe this relates to the idea that it is expected for women to bear children. The children are glass boots.
“There was an old woman: there was an old shoe.
She lived like a foot till the sole was worn through.”


Ultimately, the pressures in her everyday life led her to alcoholism. Once they tried to get her help, it was already too late.


“There was a brown bottle, empty and broken,

a pair of glass boots in a box they can’t open.”


The struggles that women used to go through are relatable to what they go through today. Women still have certain expectations in tradition families, and I believe this poem can show a different outcome of that lifestyle. This woman clearly did not get what she wanted out of life, and ultimately cost her life.


“She died alcoholic, she died in her bed,

she died when they severed the boots from her head.”

Women and the Stage


Bloodshot Monochrome. That is a powerful title that catches the eye! When I first picked up this collection of poems I had a feeling I would dig them. I immediately realized that these poems were meant for a dark bar with a hipster crowd that would hear a raw and powerful poem and commend the performer.
Its easy to picture the scene when you have watched some of Agbabi’s performances. Performance poems take on brand new meaning that can never fully be appreciated on the page.

In this collection she covers political and social issues including womanhood, sexuality in all different forms, freedom of expression, and what it means to have more than one identity. Her medium of expression I think is the most effective for her message. It is accessible and potent to an audience that may be struggling with exactly what she is talking about.
In the Problem Pages section of the collection Agbabi continues to fascinate by reaching back in time for answers to very present problems. In one poem, Send My Roots Rain, Agbabi has a priest who is questioning how he can continue to write poetry when he is torn between his ordained practice and his passion. This eludes to Gerard Manley Hopkin’s sonnet, Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend. In this poem Hopkins is asking God why sinners seem to prosper. He is having an argumentative dialogue with God that leaves him torn. Agbabi takes this and applies it to the ‘inspiration not publication’ argument.  She advocate for poetry as art, not as profit. She cleverly uses language such as ‘thwart’ and ‘demote’ which are directly dissected from the original poem. She tells this modern day priest to write daily just like he prays daily.
This poem gave me food for thought not only because of its advocation for daily practice to hone a craft and to improve creativity, but because it reaches to the past to solve problems. She is wise to use the great literary canon as an example for what to do, or not to do. Just like Virginia Woolf she is aware and learned about the great past authors so that she can have more authority in breaking boundaries and moving forward. Agbabi is a woman who is rewriting London and plowing a path for other woman to follow or at least take inspiration from.
Spoken word poetry is a powerful place for women to take a stand. It allows for women to do exactly what they have never been allowed to do in the past, show there true selves! Women have gone from being anonymous to being on stage, front and center, shouting and singing and speaking with their own voices. This is revolutionary and every time Agbabi or any other spoken word poet enters the stage she is making a statement just by her presence!
If you are interested in other female spoken word poets here are some links to some incredible ones.
Sarah Kay
Andrea Gibson
Powerful stuff!


“Bloodshot Monochrome” By Patience Agbabi

“Bloodshot Monochrome” By Patience Agbabi



“Bloodshot Monochrome” By Patience Agbabi has various poems, which are related, around the city of London having an affect on its space. Throughout the novel it explains the many different aspects of London involving the relationship with diversity to the city structure itself. Throughout the novel, there are references to specific places, which were influenced by the city of London. One very specific reference is on page nine of the poem called, “The London Eye”, it states, “Through my gold-tinted Gucci sunglasses, the sightseers. Big Bens quarter chime strikes the convoy of number 12 buses that bleeds into the city’s monochrome.” That quote there is a very specific reference to the city of London and how its public space is affected by the way it is seen, perceived, and lived in. The gold-tinted Gucci sunglasses is describing that there are several different people around the city. Some of much different class’s and backgrounds. The line is also describing how the space of London is turning into a tourist attraction, then an actual place that people are living in and being raised in.



The next line, “Big Ben’s quarter chime strikes the convoy of number 12 buses that bleeds into the city’s monochrome” is describing how the city is over run with tourists and sightseer’s (like ourselves) and how it might be taking away something from the simple beauty and space of the city itself as a whole. The next line states, “through somebody’s zoom lens, me shouting to you, ‘Hello… on… bridge… minster!’” This again I took as another reference to the space f London being over run by tourists again. The line is also stating that it is so crowded, and it is so packed with people, you can barley hear anything or yourself speak. The reference to the zoom lens camera is another tourist indicator I think because if you are a tourist, you most likely will have a camera with you. The next line states, “the aerial view postcard, the man writing squat words like black cabs in rush hour.” This is saying that a man is writing a generic postcard to someone like he was in a huge rush with maybe rarely any effort. I think this is an important line because it explains that in a big city, everything seems rushed. And also the tourist probably seems like their just people repeating the same thing over and over again. I suppose it you lived in a city like London and had to experience that everyday it would eventually feel very repetitive. Also, I believe that tourism though is a part of London’s “Englishness”. The monuments are beautiful and people come from all over the world to experience its sights.

Another poem from the novel is on called “Skins”. It describes a man who is directly affected by the public space around him making him feel insecure about himself as a person. The poem states, “I just want to fit in. A misfit. Mixed-race but light-skinned, brown hair, blue eyes.. I passed. I had to. Then I got this tattoo. I did it in a fit of rage. It soon passed. You want to read my skin? .. Put my soul on ice, denied a black dad, too terrified to let on. I wore the outfit, marched with the skins.” This passage is directly relating to the stereotype of a public space that he is or was surrounded by. He was influenced by the people’s views around the city to develop this belief. The British meaning or slang of “Skins” for this poem according to page 75 is, “’I passed is short for ‘I passed for white’ i.e. I was mistakenly accepted as a white person.”

The City of London is a very international city. Which directly relates to the poem. There are many different people in the city, cultures and languages. People can be living there permanently or just visiting the city. “Sightseers are becoming a part of London and it’s “Englishness”. This can either be a great experience for some or a burden for others. Regardless, people make up the public space of London. Through the Souvenirs being sold, pictures, food, to language and noise; it is all in some way, being affected by the people in the city. The public space changes constantly with the people who are in it. It is a part of the city and what makes it so diverse and interesting.

Bloodshot Monochrome

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Patience Agbabi’s Bloodshot Monochrome is a collection of poetry that 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. It’s obvious from Agbabi’s poetry that the color of her skin was sometimes a struggle to deal with in certain social climates so one of the prevalent themes in her collection is racism.

Agbabi was born in London to Nigerian parents and lived there for years before moving to Wales. The title of her book Bloodshot Monochrome, alludes to a color-conscious theme that runs throughout the collection that stems from her life experience. The first poem “Seeing Red” continuously contrasts black and white, separates them, and though in the poem the colors don’t specifically signify people, you realize the intention of the contrasts in the line: “…I see the world through a red eye / where blood and heart mean more than black and white”. This line makes clear that the black and white objects are people, whom Agbabi is saying should be judged by what’s inside rather than by skin color.

One of Agbabi’s poems presents an encounter two young women have with racism. “Parce qu’elle est noire (translated: “because she is black”), delivered at such speed and with such hatred it stung me: to encounter such rage; more, for being judged solely by colour”. This sonnet shows Agbabi’s frustration with racism but there is another part of the fictional encounter that she deems even worse. The young woman who was verbally attacked refused to translate his words, to which Agbabi writes: “that’s the killer, / her silence, like a shroud”. Agbabi is bringing these topics to light because she recognizes the importance of having open discourse about them.

The Problem Pages discuss racism on the “Knew White Speech” page. This instance in particular hits home for Agbabi because in this problem page Agbabi writes from the perspective of Gwendolyn Brooks, a black poet who, like Agbabi, used the sonnet – a “traditional white form”. Brooks received flack for this from the black community, as might have Agbabi herself to some degree. In Brooks‘ letter to Agbabi she says, “I’ve been accused of degrading the sonnet with black, anti-war propaganda: and of not being black enough!”  In an interview Agbabi talked about this very problem when asked about the “Knew White Speech” problem page. She said, “Throughout literary history there are fashions and fads. For black writers these tend to coincide with political history e.g. after Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute on the Olympic rostrum in 1968, it was a signal for black people to celebrate black culture”. In the problem page, her answer to Brooks is, “[Some say] that blackpoet+sonnet=sellout… It’s literary skill that counts”. From Agbabi’s little niche in the London poetry scene, she says she hasn’t seen that the controversy of black people using “white forms” still exists but does recognize that it probably does outside of the liberal London scene.

Agbabi did an interview in 2012 about her works and writing style. One of the questions asked was how her gender and race effect her view on the world and subsequently her poetry. She replied, “Yes, I think race and gender do affect my work… In the 80s and 90s there was lots of pressure on Black poets and/or women poets to reflect their politics and ‘positive images of black people/women”. Agbabi continues on to say that in her first book she was very color conscious in the sense that she wanted to portray black people in only a positive light. Her later books have a “much broader range” because she began to “let the characters speak for themselves”, regardless of whether the characters are ‘speaking’ good or bad things and regardless of their skin color. Thus Bloodshot Monochrome has a large cast of characters that show the author’s understanding that the bad elements of human nature are universal, as are the good.

 Interviews Used:

Bloodshot Monochrome


“Big Ben’s quarter chime

strikes the convoy of number 12 buses

that bleeds into the city’s monochrome”

Bloodshot Monochrome by Patience Agbabi is a collection of raw and visceral poetry. She approaches her poems from personas that tend to attract a lot of condescension from the public, and utilizes these characters to force the reader to identify with and realize that the speaker is not that unlike them. As many of the books and poems we have been reading have suggested, human beings are constantly attempting to categorize and separate themselves in the spaces that they inhabit; however, our most primitive desires are almost the same. All human beings search to be loved, accepted, and find some sort of power in the identity they were assigned, whether that character is black or white, gay or straight, male or female. For example, in Agbabi’s poem “Yore Just My Type,” the speaker is a gay male who is being used by someone that he met on the internet. While in today’s society, gay relationships tend to receive a lot of stigma, Agbabi makes this speaker relatable by first making the poem a persona poem. This persona poem assumes the first person narrative throughout it, which places the reader inside the head of the speaker. By human nature, when we read we ultimately seek to identify with at least one character, and most likely this will be the one using the word “I.” Agbabi also incorporates a contemporary discourse by using colloquialisms that many use in informal texting conversations: “Yore just my TYPE. I promis more than good SEX” (“Yore Just My Type” 10). Using this type of discourse and applying it to the speaker’s desire for physical intimacy makes the persona easy for the reader to relate to and evokes a sense of sympathy for the speaker as they are constantly evaded by the male they are interested in. The reader continues to feel connected with the speaker, relating to his rejection as this is something we have all experienced and we all fear. Agbabi ends the poem with the speaker’s revenge on the male who hurt him and closes with the statement “is it too late / for me to text him to make another date? / I do. this is what it says: FUCK YOU!” (“Yore Just My Type” 49-51). The reader is able to celebrate this victory of revenge with the speaker, and the gender, race, and sexual identification of the speaker becomes irrelevant because Agbabi is able to put the speaker and the reader on par with one another, she makes them equal by forcing them to understand one another through relatable situations.

In an interview Agbabi stated that in her poems she allows her characters to speak for themselves and walk a tightrope of appropriateness. She claims that she “wanted to see what happened if [she] let the characters speak for themselves rather than edit them.” This allows her poems to be more versatile and embody a broader range of people and ultimately makes her texts more accessible to more readers. The spaces that Agbabi inhabited while writing her books also effected how she chose to write about the world and the people in it. Agbabi lived in London for some time and stated that living in a large city “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.” Therefore the spaces that she allows her characters to inhabit in her poems are influenced by the spaces that she inhabits in real life. The diversity of her own surroundings have influenced her to write with such diversity as well.

Interesting Links:
More of Agbabi preforming

What is a Monochrome?

How do readers relate to characters?

Bloodshot Monochrome



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.