Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Creative Writing Fellow, Patience Agbabi, is shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem

Monday, 15 July 2013

In 2012 Oxford Brookes Creative Writing Fellow, Patience Agbabi was poet-in-residence at Ilkley Literature Festival’s ‘Allegories of Power’ project. This was set up in conjunction with Cartwright Hall, an art gallery in Bradford and Harewood House, a stately home on the outskirts of Leeds.

At Harewood House, I was given an excellent, in-depth, 1-2-1 tour with the Exhibitions and Collections Officer. I learnt details about the house that were not in the official brochure and was informed that it was built from the profits of the transatlantic slave trade. The estate owners accumulated enormous wealth via a sugar plantation in Barbados.
Everything that Patience saw during that tour, she viewed through a sugar lens. It was difficult, being seduced by the visual beauty of an artefact simultaneously acknowledging its roots. The Chippendale furniture took on a whole new meaning. The opulence left a bitter taste in the mouth. She was also struck by the workmanship, and immediately wanted to redress that balance in her poem. A woman would be the creator. At Cartwright Hall she had again been impressed by the work of Yinke Shinobare, who uses European materials to interrogate African concerns. She yearned to be a sculpture, to recreate Harewood House from sugar: but she’s a poet so her raw material was words. Patience used the rime royale verse form, invented by Chaucer for Troilus and Criseyde. The iambic pentameter gives it a formal air, consistent with the surroundings; the persistent rhymes replicate the symmetry of the house, both in external architecture and internal design. The poem that resulted, The Doll’s House, was published in Poetry Review 103:1 Spring 2013 and has now been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.