Tonight, at the sixth and final Lowell Humanities Series event of this semester, Boston College had the honor of hosting renowned poet and performer Patience Agbabi. Seats in Gasson 100 filled quickly as students, faculty, and other visitors eagerly awaited the poet, who has written four books. Among those is Telling Tales, which she published in 2014.
Patience explained how in writing Telling Tales she revisited Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, but added her own 21st century spin to it. In her poetry collection, she honors Chaucer’s original stories while also cleverly and skillfully addressing contemporary themes and placing her characters in a variety of cultures.
Agbabi demonstrated the power of the spoken word through her lively recitation of several of the poems she has written. These particular poems were inspired by Chaucer’s medieval characters, themes, and stories from his 14th century, Middle English work, The Canterbury Tales.
Patience began by performing her remix of The Canterbury Tales’ “The General Prologue”, then discussed her desire to celebrate Chaucer’s poetry in her writing. She explained that she aimed to honor his work by avoiding prose and free verse. Patience maintains elements of Chaucer’s original poetic form in her adaptations, through the use of heroic couplets, rhyme royal, and iambic pentameter, for example.
She recited several of her pieces, including “The Wife of Bafa,” inspired by Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath.” This poem embraces a Nigerian woman as its subject. In a purposeful tweak, Patience administered a directness in speech that Chaucer did not afford the Wife of Bath. Patience translated this piece from Middle English to Nigerian English, which she explained allowed her to honor Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales by working with vernacular through a multicultural approach.
Patience explained the importance of racial and sexual gender identity in her work as well as her determination to combine literature and performance. Each poem she recited was unique, and she performed them masterfully, integrating the past and present as well as the written word and performance.
Patience Agbabi came across as an excellent poet, and her performance tonight was inspiring. To anyone who has the chance, I would highly recommend reading or listening to Agbabi’s work.