BookTalk Special World Poetry Day Event, 21 March 2018: Telling Tales

Our next BookTalk event will celebrate World Poetry Day with a discussion of a brilliant re-interpretation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales for the 21st century by one of the UK’s foremost poets: Patience Agbabi’s 2014 poetry collection, Telling Tales.

The Canterbury Tales was written in Middle English between 1387 and 1400. It is a collection of stories told by a group of fictional pilgrims travelling to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. The pilgrims agree to a proposition put to them by the keeper of the Tabard Inn, Harry Bailey, that they will each tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on their return, with the teller of the best tale promised a free supper.

Agbabi extrapolates from the competitive premise of Chaucer’s Tales in re-envisaging the stories as a poetry slam. Her characters perform their ‘remix’ on a Routemaster bus:

On this Routemaster bus, get cerebral,
Tabard Inn to Canterbury Cathedral,
poet pilgrims competing for free picks,
Chaucer Tales, track by track, here’s the remix.

In place of Chaucer’s Parson, Merchant, Prioress, and Friar, Agbabi’s updated pilgrims include Rap, The Son aka ‘The Parson’, Soul Merchant, Missy Eglantine, and Huw Friar Jones.

BookTalk will feature three expert speakers exploring the Canterbury Tales in their original and re-imagined forms:

  • Dr Megan Leitch, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Cardiff University with a focus on medieval English literature, will discuss Chaucer’s retellings of romance narratives in The Canterbury Tales
  • Dr Sara Pons-Sanz, Senior Lecturer in Communication and member of the Centre for Language and Communication Research at Cardiff University, will apply her expertise in English historical linguistics in exploring the significance of linguistic variation in Chaucer’s stories
  • Dr Sheri Smith, independent scholar of late-medieval literature, will look in detail at Agbabi’s collection of poems as modern rewritings of Chaucer’s pilgrims and tales.

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The Format

Each of our speakers present a 10-15 minute talk, explaining how their research intersects with our chosen book, and then there is an opportunity for (always lively!) audience questions and discussion.

To make the most of the session, you may like to read or re-read Telling Tales, as well as Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale, the Merchant’s Tale, Sir Thopas, and The Reeve’s Tale.

The main event will be preceded by a reception with tea, coffee, and biscuits at 6.30pm in Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Maindy Road, Cardiff.

Tickets are free and all are welcome! Register to attend here.

About the Authors

Patience Agbabi has performed her poetry live, on TV and radio all over the world. Her work has also appeared on the London Underground and human skin. She has lectured in Creative Writing at several UK universities including Greenwich, Cardiff, and Kent, and is currently Fellow in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University. She was Canterbury Laureate from 2009 to 1010.

Telling Tales, Agbabi’s fourth poetry collection, was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year in 2015 and the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry in 2014.

Geoffrey Chaucer (early 1340s–1400) worked as a soldier, diplomat, controller of customs, justice of the peace, member of Parliament, and forest official, writing poetry in his spare time. He has been called the ‘Father of English Poetry’ and is the first poet to be buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.