Gravesend poet and performer Patience Agbabi has made waves with her new book, Telling Tales, a retake of Chaucer’s 14th century Canterbury Tales. She tells reporter HELOISE WOOD why she wanted to put Kent back on to the literary map.

"It blew me on to another planet."

Hearing Patience Agbabi speak about studying the Middle English poet Chaucer, something which many schoolchildren endure rather than enjoy, is awe-inspiring.

The 49-year-old writer and performer is lauded as Britain’s one of most exciting poets with her new book drawing praise from Andrew Motion and Simon Armitage.

Her new book includes poems based in Dartford, Stone, Gravesend and Shooters Hill and Kent is clearly an area she is passionate about.

The 49-year-old was born in London, grew up in north Wales but has spent the last 11 years living in Gravesend.

She says: "This book has been a long time coming and it’s been a lifelong ambition. 

"I studied some of Chaucer at school and it blew me on to another planet. 

"I immediately went to WH Smiths and bought an audio cassette of the tales, which I still have now. I loved the bawdiness and the mischief although I like the more serious ones now as well. 

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"I loved poetry at school, especially the music of it."

Patience believes her love for Chaucer helped her win a place at Oxford University to read English.

She explains: "I think that’s why I got in there because I’d written my own version, the Colwyn Bay tales, about where I lived and the mods and rockers. I thrust my manuscript into the tutors’ hands during my interview.

"I think they thought I was mad.

"My Arts Council grant for the arts, funded by the National Lottery, has allowed me to step back from my performance work."

 "I really wanted to capture ordinary people’s voices, because when ordinary people are just talking in the pub, that’s poetry but they don’t know it.

"Jeremy Paxman recently said people can’t relate to poetry but there is some poetry that really does speak to people, there’s a whole range."

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Poetry and performance tips 

Patience is enthusiastic about the opportunities and online resources for literature.

She says: "If you want to be a writer, I recommend you read, read, read. 

"But if you’re new to poetry, listening to it can be a good way in. 

"There are lots of spoken word events - there is a one starting soon in Gravesend - and you can also listen to lots online. The Poetry by Heart website and Andrew Motion’s Poetry Archive are both good."

Patience’s favourite Gravesend spots

The writer believes the area is ripe for creative goings on.

She says: "I live in the canal basin and love the atmosphere here. It’s very noirish with the fog and the rain and lots of films have been set there. 

"Even though I’m an urban poet I love being by the river and the marshes. It’s a writerly thing to say, but I love being near the water, it helps my work.

"I love the Old Town Hall - it’s where I married my partner - and tearooms like No 84 in Parrock Street.

"My shoulders drop as soon as I come back into Gravesend from London. If you ask where somewhere is, they won’t just tell you, they’ll take you and show you. 

"It sounds a little thing but it makes a difference when people are so kind."

Telling Tales is published by Canongate Books. Visit