Look north! Kate Fox gives poetry a kick-start at arts festival

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For almost 20 years the village of Alnmouth on the Northumberland coast has staged an annual festival where artists, craftspeople and designers exhibit and sell works in more than 20 private and public venues. This year the festival was widened to embrace music and literature, including poetry.

And who better to represent poetry’s public face than stand-up performer Kate Fox? Alnmouth’s Hindmarsh Hall was packed at 5.30pm on Saturday afternoon - and the audience wasn’t disappointed.

Fox, who lives down the coast at Cullercoats on North Tyneside, embodies northernness with a warmth yet sharpness reminiscent of Victoria Wood. She quotes a line from an episode of Doctor Who, “Lots of planets have a north,” and introducing another poem celebrating northern toughness explained that “those of us who live in the north … we just crack on with stuff … we don’t make too much of a fuss.”

‘Being Sylvia Plath’ examines the celebrity poetry couple’s domestic life in a no-nonsense way, while ‘Mick Jagger’s yurt’ comes from her time as Glastonbury poet in residence, in the same year that the Rolling Stones were topping the bill: “The security guards are never curt … Keith Richards’ lumbago does not hurt … even Bono would sell his shirt to stay in …”

She read from her book Where There’s Muck There’s Bras: True Stories of the Amazing Women of the North, now out in paperback, although she added cautiously: “I am a feminist, and I am a poet, but I sometimes think those two words are mutually off-putting, like Christian and musician.”  

In a change of pace, there was a moving poem called ‘Heirloom’ about tracking down her real father just before he died, and just one poem from her most recent collection The Oscillations, in which she examines the experiences of lockdown, as well as being diagnosed as neuro-divergent. “I’ve discovered my neuro-divergent tribe,” she said, in introducing another poem called ‘The psychiatrist’s confession.’  

Her final poem, ‘This Run is For you’, commissioned to mark the 40th anniversary of the Great North Run, is much more of a celebration of the positive aspects of lockdown, and of the community spirit uncovered in places other than Downing Street: “The doorstep clappers, / the calm, the flappers, / the delivery drivers, / the solitude thrivers, / the sourdough makers, / the banana bread bakers … / the ones who thought that this would pass, /the ones who felt it was forever, / those miles, those miles, those endless miles, /we got through this together.”

After her reading there was possibly the longest signing queue for a poetry book that I’ve ever seen. Let’s hope that Kate’s rip-roaring success will mean more poetry at Alnmouth arts festival next year.    

◄ Amplify: Janine Booth, Allographic Press

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