Page 3 Profile: Patience Agbabi, poet

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Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote…

Most literary. And for those who don’t know their Geoffrey Chaucer from their ers*, here comes Patience Agbabi astride a steed.

A literary knight?

The award-winning poet has reworked The Canterbury Tales, the 14th-century writer’s most famous work, for a modern audience. The “21st-century remix” of “some of the most wild, rude, funny, heart-breaking stories of human behaviour and misbehaviour ever written… catapults the characters into modern multicultural Britain, with joyous effect,” so says her publisher.

There’s never a new fashion but it’s old…

Yes, yes, very clever. Agbabi has recast the Medieval characters in interesting ways, from a hoodie Canon’s Yeoman, to a rapping Parson and a self-help guru Pardoner.

Give us a taster?

“Tabard Inn to Canterb’ry Cathedral, / Poet pilgrims competing for free picks, / Chaucer Tales, track by track, it’s the remix / From below-the-belt base to the topnotch / I won’t stop all the clocks with a stopwatch / when the tales overrun, run offensive, / or run clean out of steam, they’re authentic / and we’re keeping it real, reminisce this: / Chaucer Tales were an unfinished business.”


It looks like Agbabi has mixed up a classic and, despite appearances, her poetic contemporaries may actually be pretty hip. Simon Armitage and Andrew Motion have been a-gush with praise, while George Szirtes, said that if Telling Tales is not deemed one of the books of the year “it will be proof the world has grown very dull indeed”.

What does Agbabi have to say?

“I had no problem with the Middle English. I love Middle English. I’m no expert but I like the fact that it’s so near and yet so far from contemporary English. Taking on the grandfather of English literature was the issue... Whenever I got stuck I reread the original text and imagined Chaucer winking at me, saying, ‘go girl’.”

*Middle English: arse