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Performance poets make Swiss “love tour”

Patience Agbiba (left) and Malika Booker (picture: British Council in Bern)

British poets Patience Agbabi and Malika Booker are currently on a "love tour" of Switzerland to show Swiss audiences how poetry can be transferred from the page to the stage.

“The Modern Love Tour” as it’s called has been organised by the British Council in Bern, as part of its mandate to highlight the cultural diversity of Britain.

Both poets are themselves from culturally diverse backgrounds; Booker is of Guyanese and Grenadian parentage and Agbabi of Nigerian.

They have worked together extensively as performance poets, touring Britain and the rest of Europe as well as appearing in one-woman shows. Their current tour explores contemporary issues of love, with bittersweet observations on such themes as relationships and the ups and downs of city living.

Connecting with listeners

“Taking poetry from the page to the stage is an interesting area,” says Agbabi. “I actually feel that most good poetry can work before an audience. Most of it’s written on the page to begin with anyway, and when performing it you need to use certain techniques such as metaphor, simile, rhythm and rhyme.

“You must also employ such devices as body, voice, wonderful clothes and the atmosphere in the audience. But the poetry has to stand up on the page before it can stand up on the page.”

The two poets have years of experience of performing before non-English mother tongue audiences, and have slightly adjusted their act for the Swiss. “The poems are exactly the same as the ones we perform in Britain,” Agbabi told swissinfo, “but we slow down the delivery a bit, and clarify some cultural references.”

Booker points out that T.S.Elliot once said that good poetry communicates before it’s understood. “In any case people everywhere can connect to most of the themes we deal with, such as parent-child relationships. The resonance of the poetry speaks of the human condition in a universal language.”


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