Review: Bloodshot Monochrome by Patience Agbabi
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Bloodshot Monochrome by Patience Agbabi
It's a thin book. However, if you're about to become the romper room for someone else's narratives, neuroses and hang-ups, it's cheery that the book is at least thin. They won't be here long. Maybe you can cope.
So Patience enters your romper room. 'Shots', the first of the five parts of this poetry collection, turns it around. She wants neither to invade, nor to assault. You've been invited into her sitting room, sat down with a glass of wine, and she gently soothes you with her lyrical voice. Don't be afraid, she says, I've serious things to say, but I'll say them gently, whilst the cat of my metre sits on your lap and purrs. It's okay to laugh, she says, when you get to 'On turning on the TV...' I'm glad you did, and was afraid you wouldn't.
So that by the end of 'Shots', you want to stay some more and listen. This is as well, because the next two parts, 'Monologues' and 'Problem Pages' are not quite as successful. 'Josephine Baker Finds Herself' is a genuinely clever, successful poem. 'Yore my type' is amusing, but you have to wonder how successfully Patience has entered this other world, or are we sharing a misconception of an alien lifestyle? 'Problem Pages', where Patience has famous writers set her questions which she then answers, may appeal to some, and be a useful resource for literature teachers, but it left me cold after the first couple.
In 'Blood Letters', Patience seems to return to letting us share her experiences. Not as comfortable as 'Shots', but we know each other by now, and it's okay to dare a bit and exchange more personal stuff. Exchange? Reading a book of poems? Yeah, you'll be surprised how you start talking back. Until, with 'Black and White and Red All Over', you're shamed into silence. Momentarily. Patience is not a vicious woman.
The last section, 'Vicious Circle', is a long work. Fourteen paired stanzas, highly structured, clearly thought out. I'm not sure I got the story first time around, but as I made my goodbyes and left this writer's room, buttoning an imaginary coat against an imaginary wind, I didn't feel I'd wasted time. I wanted to visit again, maybe ask some more questions. A good time out.
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