Report from the Festival by Hannah Hodgson

Stay tuned for a series of reports/reviews/overviews of the Festival!  The first is from our wonderful Blogger-in-Residence, Hannah Hodgson, pictured here reading at the Open Mic.  If you didn’t manage to get to the festival this year, we hope this in-depth account will make you feel like you could have been! 

You can follow Hannah on YouTube, or on her blog

At our Festival Launch Matthew Sowersby performed three poems, each on a different theme. One that made my hairs stand on end was after the Manchester Bombings, while watching the OneLove concert he spoke out of the cowardice it takes for grown men to attack children. We also heard from the Director of the Anne Frank Trust Tim Robertson, who spoke of how the reputation of Wordsworth’s daffodils poem has vastly differed over time, with the most comedic and toe curling of those mentioned being the Heineken advert, “refresh[ing] the poets other beers cannot reach!”

We also enjoyed the first performance from the Young Musician in residence, Alistair Burton on the Violin.

On Friday evening both Kayo Chingonyi and Judy Brown read for us.

Kayo read  about an initiation rite called ‘Kumukanda’, which would have normally been performed only a short while after he left Zambia. This rite is to “cross the river boys of our tribe must cross in order to die and come back grown.” This, and other poems read by Kayo have a strong sense of culture – specifically him feeling close to sometimes, and far away at others. His performance also gave the audience an appreciation of how important this initiation right is, because he talks of this other self (that would have been come to life after the Kumukanda) having opinions on his “literary pretentions”; and the idea that this other self knows all of his ancestors in the afterlife “Would he be strange to me as I to him, frowning as he greets me in the language of my father and my father’s father and my father’s father’s father?”

Judy then read. She performed an array of poems around being short sighted, and the gruesome discovery of a dead rat on her sofa. The last poem that she read was about her father having heart surgery. The poem detailed the medical professionals cooling her fathers body down so his organs weren’t so oxygen hungry, and then about heart restarting itself after surgery; this made the whole operation almost sound like an act of wizardry. It made the reader confront the reality of mortality, but also the strength of the human condition.

On the Saturday of the festival, our first reading came from Wayne Holloway Smith and Dean Smith.

Wayne read a poem called ‘Everything is always sometimes broken’, which used the image of “a single crow fell out of my mind and fell at your feet” as a metaphor for a deep sense of grief. This image is so powerful because it works on both a physical and visceral level. We all know what a dead crow looks like, but we also all know deep emotional pain which can make you feel numb, or even a little dead on the inside for a while. You may be trying to think of where you have read about a crow and grief before, and that would have been in Grief is a thing with feathers by Max Porter, which frustratingly for Wayne was only released a week before his book came out. However, having read both I feel the way in which they differ is the recognition that many people can be having these feelings at once – “Some people have crows, its no big deal” means the poem not only addresses his feelings, but potentially the feelings of readers as well.

Dean read from both his book The Swan Machine and The Bubble Wrap. He read the poem “Sweet Offer”, which involves a rather melted Murray mint, and how a few misheard words can land you in a rather sticky (pun definitely intended) situation with someone.  Another poem he read revolved around Robert Broomfield “The cobblers laureate”. Before reading Dean said that he sees himself as a modern day ‘Peasant poet’, and so felt an affinity to the subject of the poem. He also noted that the poet Robert Broomfield sold 20,000 copies of his book in the first two years of sale, and to put this in to context Wordsworth only sold a matter of hundreds. The poem charts both his literary success, and the factors that led to his downfall. Dean’s poems have a deep sense of humour, and they linger in your mind long after you have left the reading.

During the Saturday afternoon we heard from both Patience Agbabi and Sasha Dougdale. Patience recited work from her most recent book, Telling Tales which is a retelling of the Canterbury tales. Patience is a performer, she had memorised all of the numerous poems she read out, had developed accents and character traits for each poems speaker; and gave an entrancing performance. The rhyme scheme, length of poems and performance skills of Patience gave the audience a feeling of being spellbound, totally in the world she was creating for us. Patience also read from another piece of work she had written in conjunction with a refugee. Although had to change the persons details for their safety, her work brought in to sharp focus the ease of which someone’s life can be ruined, and nearly ended (by a house fire) simply because of some documents the dictatorship government believed she had seen, when in fact she had no idea what they were referring to.

Sasha is a poet and playwright, and this definitely came across in her monologue ‘Joy’, which won the Forward prize for the best single poem in 2016. The poem is from the perspective of Catherine, William Blake’s widow. It seems to, at times, be oxymoronic with grief – such as with the actual title of ‘Joy’ – but also gives the reader windows in to her deep sadness.

“The eye watered

The world was a mote in that eye

The mote was a world in that eye

And his brush was a blade and his tears made a Lake.”

Sasha is very softly spoken, which only added to the beauty of this piece.

On Saturday evening we heard from Pascale Petit and Nicola Madzirov. Pascale read from her latest collection ‘Mama Amazonica’. It looks head on at her mothers mental health problems. Every poem is interwoven with beautiful metaphor from the Amazon rainforest, which Pascale uses to give stark contrast to her mothers experiences. Her mother needed sanctuary, which was given within the psychiatric hospital, the Amazon.

“My newborn mama washed clean by the drugs,

a caiman basking beside her.”

Taken from Mama Amazonica.

Nikola Madzirov lives in Macedonia. He read from translated poems, published by Bloodaxe. The poems said things in a way that is unlike I have ever experienced in poetry. The poems are written with sentences that are in a slightly different order than you would expect to find, and this gives it an extra special quality in translation.

On Sunday morning we heard from Claudine Toutoungi and David Constantine. Claudine read from her collection ‘Smoothie’. She read a wide range of poems on a variety of themes. The poem ‘Reunion’ centres around herself and a former lover, who have a coffee together. She manages to convey the awkward feelings between the two people who are chatting, the obvious feelings she still has for him, but also uses brilliant metaphor to convey this conflict of feeling in Reunion.

“You’re there in front of me looking like the longest, tallest coolest glass of water.”

David Constantine gave a reflective reading from his most recent book Elder. He read poems about aging and death, and mourning someone that you knew a long time ago. He talks of memories copying his teacher with school friends now passed on. He gives an unflinching look at both the past and all of our eventual deaths, showing us all the importance of fun as a young adult and remembering the dead for who they once were to us.

Our final reading of Kendal Poetry Festival was given to us by Liz Berry and David Harsent.

Liz read for us about both her love for her children and her struggle with post natal psychosis. Her beautifully chosen words create stunning images such as these, taken from her poem ‘spiritualist church’ –

“my soul rising from the X-ray of my skeleton like a white-veined moth.”

Her careful, considered writing is at odds with her horrendous experience of postnatal depression, and so she creates poems that are haunting, informing and beautiful all at once.

David Harsent was the final reader of this years festival. He read from both his latest collection ‘Salt’, and new poems he has been working on. Many of his poems have strong images of the sea; and as he was reading I noticed how tidal I found his voice. As it got deeper I felt the sea swelling around his words, and as he continued I felt another wave building. The poem that has stayed with me detailed the similarities between putting salt on a slug to kill it, and rubbing salt on a whipped mans back.

Thank you ever so much for coming to Kendal Poetry Festival this year. The dates of the next festival will be announced very soon, so please sign up to the blog or follow us on Twitter or Facebook to be kept up to date. It has been a pleasure to both read at the festival and blog about it. Thank you so much to Kim Moore, Pauline Yarwood, Katie Hale and Caroline Gilfillan for all of your hard work organising this festival; and finally a last thank you to the poets who have made this years festival incredible.


Five Minutes with Wayleave Press

Hannah Hodgson has been busy interviewing Mike Barlow, the editor and publisher of Wayleave Press.  Mike will be appearing at the festival to be interviewed by one of our Festival Directors, Kim Moore on Sunday 18th June at 10.30.  Mike and Kim will be talking about publishing and setting up a small press.  The discussion will be followed by short readings from three Wayleave Press poets, Rebecca Bilkau, Paul Mills and Ron Scowcroft.  You can book tickets for the event here.

HH: When and how did Wayleave Press begin?

MB: Wayleave Press started in 2012, with a self-published pamphlet collection by myself, ‘Nothing About to Happen’. I had a collection of poems I wanted to put together, but felt they were unlikely to get anywhere in a pamphlet competition (too imagistic, allusive and elusive). So I put them together and sent them out to friends and fellow poets. The poems were well received as was the quality of the production from the local printer, so I decided it would be feasible to do the same for other poets who wanted to have a pamphlet out there.

The first pamphlet I published for someone else was ‘Moon Garden’ by Ron Scowcroft in 2014. Since then I have published 17 pamphlets (including two of my own). These have been poets I know of or whose work I already knew, or had heard read or, on one occasion, had recommended to me by a third party.

Wayleave is primarily a pamphlet publisher. I do not have the funds or expertise for full books. Nor do I have the time or ambition. However, the exception was Elizabeth Burns’ posthumous collection ‘Lightkeepers’, which was done as a one-off.

HH: What is your role at Wayleave?

MB: I do everything, basically. Edit, layout, produce. From time to time I consult my partner about design matters (choice of endpapers for instance) and she’s very good at proof-reading, something you can’t do too much of.

The business emphasis is on poets themselves selling their own pamphlets, since that is the main and most effective way of getting pamphlets about. I run a website and do some basic marketing, but the poetry world is such that it’s poets themselves who are the best marketeers of their work.

I work in co-operation with the poet. Sometimes a collection can be complete in itself, edited and ordered so nothing else needs to be done. At other times I can be much more involved, selecting from a body of work, suggesting the order and editing individual poems. It all depends on what I’m presented with, what the poet requires of me and what the poems themselves suggest they need.

Although I’m open to preferences and suggestions for cover illustrations from the poets themselves, most covers have been from my own art works, something that poets seem to be happy with and which seems to have become a bit of a brand feature. The exception is two pamphlets from Elizaneth Burns which were illustrated by paintings by my partner, Jane Routh.

HH: What would you say has been the highlight of your poetry career?

MB: I suppose I’d have to say winning the National Poetry Competition in 2006. That certainly gave me a boost. But these things pass. Being shortlisted for the 2004 Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize with my first collection ‘Living on the Difference’ and having a pamphlet ‘Amicable Numbers’ selected as a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice were pretty affirming.

However, there are lots of ways in which highlights pop up in the course of things. Sometimes (not always) you do a good reading and feel pleased, or you get a poem accepted by a particular good magazine. This sort of thing makes you feel your work is heard, appreciated and read.

And running Wayleave gives me many satisfying moments. I love getting involved in helping put a good collection of poems together well, and presenting them in a pleasing form. There’s a real buzz in picking up copies of a new pamphlet from the printers and getting them to the poet.

And then my partner Jane has just reminded me of a reading we heard at Stanza earlier this year, by Robert Crawford and Alice Oswald. The best reading I’ve ever heard and a wonderful combination of poets. We came away very excited, feeling an immense lift from it.

HH: What signifies a stand out poem to you?

MB: This is a difficult question to answer. For me it will depend on circumstances, where and how I come across the poem, my state of mind, how receptive I am to its particular music and ideas. I suppose the question comes from the competition culture of the poetry world, where a poem has to make an impact amongst hundreds of others.

I tend to respond more to bodies of work. For instance, I have a number of favourite poets whose work in general or particular collections stand out for me and who I return to frequently. Alice Oswald and Philip Gross are two examples.

But as for the particular question about stand-out qualities, I’d say I want a poem to have an air of self-confidence, a feeling that it’s arrived and says what it has to authentically. Imagery is important to me, and the flow of language, the music and rhythms of natural speech. What it says needs to be said in interesting and arresting ways with enough wordplay or play with form and allusion to make you want to read it again and continue to be able to mine it for enjoyment or meaning. There are many striking poems which are nonetheless ‘get-it-in-one’ poems which probably have a limited life in the reader’s mind. I favour poems with more dimension and depth offering a slower burn in their appreciation. Sorry, this sounds all very abstract.

HH: As a poet yourself what advice would you offer to young poets?

MB: I think I’d say read and listen continuously, write furiously but be ruthless in editing your work. Sometimes you can be very pleased with something you’ve written, but I’d say resist the temptation to consider it finished and send it out indiscriminately. The passing of time can do wonders for your critical faculties. And of course, we are all learning all the time; style and ‘voice’ is an evolving thing.

If, or when, you come across someone else’s writing that has, for you, that ‘wow’ factor, stick with it but don’t try and imitate, have confidence that your own ‘voice’ will take what it needs from the example of others.




Five Minutes With…Co-Directors Kim Moore and Pauline Yarwood

HH: I asked Kendal Poetry festival directors Kim Moore and Pauline Yarwood to take some time out from their busy schedules to answer some questions about what it is really like to start and run a poetry festival. I was Young Poet in Residence last year, and had the time of my life. Last years’ festival was an enormous success due to these two – so here’s to another successful year!

1. How did the idea of the poetry festival come about? It’s a huge project!
KM: I absolutely love going to poetry festivals, both as an audience member, and I really like reading at them as well.  I love that you can do a poetry-binge over one weekend, that you can catch up with people from opposite ends of the country in person rather than just on social media and you get to see poets that you might not get another chance to see again.  The other side to this is that a couple of years ago The Wordsworth Trust lost its funding for the Contemporary Poetry programme, which I loved going to, so it felt like there was a real gap in the area that needed to be filled.  I can’t honestly remember how the conversation came up though, maybe Pauline will be able to tell you, but it feels like it was one of those ideas that was passed back and forth between the two of us, and then just gained its own momentum as we got going on it.

PY: I’d been organizing the twice-a-year Brewery Poets readings for some time and thought that a poetry festival would be a good way of raising the profile of poetry in Kendal, bringing new poets to the area and trying to reach an audience that wouldn’t normally go to poetry readings.  It turned out that Kim had been having the same idea, so, with the help of Brewery Poets, we decided to see if we could do it.    At the beginning, I don’t think we thought of it as being a huge project – we just sort of cracked on with it.   I think we were surprised, and utterly delighted, that we got the first festival up and running in a matter of months, and even more delighted that it was such a success.

HH: If you had to put a number on it, how many hours would you say you have spent planning this years festival so far?

KM: Ha! I wouldn’t like to put a number on it! Now that the programme is up and ticket sales have started, I would say I spent on average an hour every day on the festival, either blogging or editing/proof-reading the blog and keeping up with the social media side of things.  When we were writing applications to the Arts Council and the other charities that have kindly agreed to fund the festival this year, Pauline and I would meet for four or five hours at a time, probably five or six times in total, and that was just to get the application forms filled in.  I spent the whole of a six hour train journey down to Swindon writing the copy for the website, and I’m sure Pauline spent just as much time editing that copy down to fit it onto the brochure!  There are so many jobs that people probably don’t think about that need doing.  We’ve had a few five-hour proofing meetings for the website and the brochure with our brilliant website designer Claire Steele as well.  Then there’s meetings with our venues, Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Kendal Library, meetings with Waterstones who are supplying the books this year, the list is endless! I knew it would be hard work putting a festival on, but I don’t think I quite understood the time that it takes.

PY: It’s impossible to say, but it’s a lot.   There is usually something to be done every day and some days are totally handed over to festival things.   I could count the emails that have sped between Kim, Claire Steele (our amazing web and marketing designer) and myself on a daily basis since last October – but, in the current run-up to June, there isn’t time!

HH: What were your personal highlights of last year?

 KM: There were so many! Seeing the rooms full to bursting for each reading and the atmosphere over the whole weekend was just amazing, and slightly addictive, which is why we’re doing it all over again this year.  I suppose the real highlight for me was seeing the Dove Cottage Young Poets standing on stage and peforming their work alongside the invited Festival Poets.  The inclusion of the young poets just gave the festival a completely unique feel for me.  I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite out of the Festival Poets though – every single poet was invited because we loved their poetry, and one or both of us had seen them perform and knew they would do a brilliant job at the festival.  I must say however, that the genius programming moment was putting together Clare Shaw (passionate, heartfelt) with Hilda Sheehan (surreal, playful).  On paper, it shouldn’t have worked, but in person, the reading was electrifying.

PY: My personal highlight was on the first evening.    Introducing the discussion between Jane Routh and Andrew Forster, I said ‘Welcome to the very first event of the very first Kendal Poetry Festival’ and a huge cheer went up.  It was such an unexpected response and it set the atmosphere for the whole weekend, which was fabulous.   I think Kim and I relaxed at that point, knowing that people were really looking forward to everything.

HH: If you could have any poet alive or dead come and perform, who would it be and why?

KM: I would love to have Sharon Olds at the festival.  She is one of my favourite poets – once I drove from my house to Sheffield (about three hours drive) just to see her read for 20 minutes.  Then I drove all the way back again and had very little sleep before getting up to do a full days teaching the next day.  So I would love to have her read in Kendal.  But for poets who are not alive anymore – I’d like to have C.P.Cavafy – he is one of my favourite poets to read in translation.  I don’t know how he’d be in performance – but sometimes you have to take a risk on these things!

PY:  Can I choose one dead and one alive?    Firstly, I’d choose Louis MacNeice because I’d love to hear him read his poem ‘Prayer before Birth’.   I love the speed, pace and rhythm of this poem, and I especially love that, although written in 1944, MacNeice’s political and philosophical themes in this poem are still so appropriate today. I’d also choose Tishani Doshi who is of Indian and Welsh descent.   I have only heard her read once, from her collection ‘Everything begins elsewhere’ and I’d love to hear her again.   She blends her experiences of two cultures in beautiful, lyric poems that simultaneously have strength and softness, weaving from memory, dreams, place, loss.  Quite mesmerizing.

HH: If you could give one tip to anyone looking to start a poetry festival what would it be?

KM: Find a friend who you can work with, who has different skill sets to you.  I think this is really important so that you can divide jobs up, and so that the other person can pick up the slack when life gets in the way.

PY: Make soup, get in the scones, jam and cream and start planning.   It’s exciting!

Five Minutes With…Kathryn Maris


Our next 5 Minute Interview with Festival poet Kathryn Maris, interviewed by our Young Blogger-in-Residence Hannah Hodgson


Kathryn Maris has two collections published. Her most recent collection God Loves You was published by Seren in 2013. A selection of her poetry will appear alongside the work of Frederick Seidel and Sam Riviere in Penguin Modern Poets 5 (July 2017).  Her third collection, The House with Only an Attic and a Basement, will be published by Penguin UK in 2018.  Kathryn will be running a workshop on the Saturday morning of the festival exploring ‘The New Fragment’ (only 6 places left!). She will also be reading alongside Tim Liardet in the Saturday night Main Reading.

How do you get yourself into the right place or ‘zone’ to write in?

The ‘zone’ gets into me, not vice versa, so I don’t have an exciting answer to that question. Potentially I can write anywhere, but equally I can be at a residency or artists’ colony with ‘ideal’ conditions and not be able to write. Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve had some luck on trains.

What is the last collection of poetry that you read and what did you think of it?

I have just finished Widening Income Inequality by Frederick Seidel. I love the ugly and almost vaudevillian performativity of his work, and the offensiveness that is simultaneously gratuitous, meaningful, political and self-aware.

Do you have any writing essentials e.g. a posh pen/notebook?

I haven’t used a posh notebook since the 1980s or 90s when, thankfully, word processing and personal computers were invented. Derek Walcott, my professor at Boston University, was against typing one’s poem in the first instance because he believed you weren’t truly ‘writing’ if you were using a keyboard. I’m not saying he was wrong, but—at least for me—typing is a way to access my imagination. As Nietzsche said, ‘Our writing tools are working on our thoughts.’

What is the strangest place you have ever written a poem?

Once at a social event with a lot of bankers, I locked myself in the public loo and wrote ‘Gangster’ (using paper and pen on that occasion). My exit from the party wasn’t a gesture of protest or boredom, I just had an idea and a ‘music’ I didn’t want to lose.

 What tips would you give to someone who is new to writing poetry?

Assuming you want to be published in conventional platforms, find a way to be able to absorb and manage the copious rejections you will receive, in various forms, for as long as you continue in poetry; and, though sometimes bad things will happen through unfair circumstances, don’t fall into the trap of believing you are special or singled out when you don’t get that thing you wanted (and the opposite is true, too, because there is arbitrariness also involved in ‘success’). With this in mind, read as though your life depended on it, and prioritize your actual writing over and above the life you think you want your writing to have in the world.


Darling, Would You Please Pick Up Those Books?
Kathryn Maris

How many times do I have to say
get rid of the books off the goddamn floor
do you have any idea how it feels
to step over books you wrote about her
bloody hell you sadist what kind of man
are you all day long those fecking books

in my way for 3 years your acclaimed books
tell me now what do you have to say
for yourself you think you’re such a man
silent brooding pondering at the floor
pretending you’re bored when I mention her
fine change the subject ask “Do I feel

like I need more medication” NO I don’t feel
like I need more medication
 it’s the books
don’t you see don’t you see it’s her
why don’t you listen to anything I say
and for god’s sake books on the floor
are a safety hazard remember that man

from Cork who nearly died fine that man
fell over a hurley not a book but I don’t feel
you’re getting the point the point is that a floor
is not an intelligent place for books
books I have to see and books that say
exactly where and how you shagged her

what shirt she wore before you shagged her
I can write a book too about some man
better still about you I can say
something to demonize you how would you feel
about that ha ha why don’t I write a book
about how I hoover your sodding floor

and how you’ve never once hoovered your floor
why can’t I be a muse why can’t I be a “her”
what does one have to do to be in a book
around here do I have to be dead for a man
to write me a poem how do you think it feels
to be non muse material can’t you say

you feel for me what you felt for her
can’t you say I’m better than that woman
can’t you get those books off the floor?


Andrew Forster at Kendal Poetry Festival

Ticket sales are going very well, and very fast! Quite a few events have sold out – the Friday night Main Reading with Helen Mort and Mir Mahfuz Ali, the Saturday Afternoon Main Reading with Clare Shaw and Hilda Sheehan and there are no tickets for the Poetry Business workshop with Peter and Ann Sansom or for the workshop with Hilda Sheehan.  We currently have a few tickets left for the Saturday night reading with Peter and Ann Sansom and only 3 tickets left for our final reading of the festival with Greta Stoddart and Fiona Sampson.

It it is likely that there will be very few tickets available on the door.  We would strongly advise buying tickets beforehand if possible.  Ticket sales from The Brewery will finish at 5pm on Thursday 23rd, so please buy your tickets before then! After this time, you will have to take your chance and queue up at the door for each event, to see if there are any returns.

We’re really excited to have a poem from Andrew Forster to share with you today.  Andrew is appearing at the festival alongside Jane Routh on the 24th June at 5pm.  Andrew and Jane will be discussing the place of nature poetry in a time of environmental disruption, which seems particularly apt after the floods that Kendal has suffered recently.  We’ve had to move this event to a larger room, but there are still only ten tickets left – so if you’re going to come, and haven’t booked your tickets yet, please do so soon!  You can buy tickets for this event here:


We asked Andrew to choose a poem to feature, and to send us through some thoughts on the poem.  Andrew said

This poem is one of my first attempts to write a poem based on a political idea. I wrote it at the time of the debates that led to the banning of fox hunting, when the Countryside Alliance was emerging as a strong voice. Sadly it still seems to be relevant with repeated calls for the repeal of the ban, and foxes often getting caught up in drag-hunting. I wasn’t sure how to tackle the subject poetically. Straightforward polemic can often feel flat, or seem like it’s preaching to the converted. My answer was to fall back on personal experience. A Sunday afternoon drive around the Scottish Borders gave me this poem.

The following poem is from Andrew’s second book Territory, which was published by Flambard in 2010.  Andrew’s books will be available to buy during the festival.



I steer around them. Too many

to be an accident: messes of russet feathers

gummed to the tarmac with blood


as though a car or truck had mown

into a cluster of them. Perhaps

there were several drivers, keeping score,


swerving to pick off stragglers

who flitted desperately, trying

to get back to where they came from.


Around a bend the road is clear

until I’m halted by a policeman’s hand

warning me of the huntsmen,


dismounted, milling in the quiet road.

One, in red tunic, wielding a horn,

whispers to the officer who waves me on.


Beyond, horses roped to gateposts

stamp and whinny, while a line

of tweed-jacketed men on the verge


laugh and jostle each other,

their urine arching into the grass,

glittering briefly in the weak light.


Thanks to Andrew for letting us publish this wonderful poem here.






Two New Poems by Helen Mort


We are very excited today because the lovely Helen Mort has sent us two new poems from her forthcoming collection No Map Could Show Them.  Helen will be launching her collection at the festival, and we asked her to say a bit about the two poems she has sent through.  She says:

“Over the past few years, I’ve been writing a sequence of poems addressed to pioneering female mountaineers from the late 1800s to the present. As I wrote, I became interested in writing to other inspiring women too and these poems come from a sequence dedicated to the memory of Hull’s Lillian Bilocca, the subject of a brilliant book called ‘The Headscarf Revolutionaries’ by Brian Lavery.  In 1968, three trawlers from Hull’s fishing fleet sank in rapid sucession in stormy conditions.  Fishwife Lillian put down her filleting knife and embarked upon a campaign for better safety, marshalling support from the docks of Hull to Downing Street.  She succeeded in changing the legislation, but along the way she was sacked from work, blacklisted by the fishing industry, mocked for her accent and sent death threats.  The second poem tries to send up the way the newspapers treated Lil, emphasising her weight rather than her actions.  The sequence about Lil appears in my new book ‘No Map Could Show Them’ which I’ll be reading from in Kendal.”

Big Lil
i.m. Lillian Bilocca and the Hull triple trawler disaster, 1968.

Lil’s dream

I dreamed Hessle Road was a river
thundering by night to the North Sea

and all the men I’d tried to warn
were channelled from their pubs and houses

fists still clutching glasses, papers,
kitchen knives. I lay down in the waters

like a boat, but I was buffeted,
I zig-zagged after them, face-down,

my body bloated in the stream. I could still see
and knew the shoals beneath weren’t fish

but scraps of hulls and decks,
dead radios. The riverbed was lined

with messages, scribbled goodbyes
to everything we’d not yet lost

to all we could not carry, would not need
where water planned on taking us.


What the papers said

We’ll fight for our lads said 17-stone Lil,
proud on the docks like a 17-stone anchor.
Each ship needs a working radio, said the fishwife,
raising herself to her full height
and full 17 stone.

Lil is meeting Harold Wilson next week
and at 17 stone, she’s bound to make an impact.
The 17-stone Hull woman has called for a reform
of fishing laws in her distinctive Yorkshire accent,
standing at 17 stone and 5 foot 5.

With 17 stone behind her, she’s looking squarely
to the future. I’m proud of her said her husband
10-stone Charlie, gazing out to sea.


Helen will be reading on the 24th June at 7.30pm with Mir Mahfuz Ali and Dove Cottage Young Poets Chimwemwe Chirwa and Emily Humble.  For tickets, please ring The Brewery Arts Centre on 01539725133 or go to The Brewery Arts Centre website

We’ve got about a month to go before the festival begins, and preparations are going well.  There are just 2 Weekend Passes left for the Festival.  A Weekend Pass is £33 and will get you into four Main Readings and three Talks/Discussions at the festival, saving you a total of £11.

The Poetry Business Workshop on Saturday morning has now sold out, but there are four spaces left on Hilda Sheehan’s free Sunday morning workshop, which will be based around the Laura Ford exhibition at Abbot Hall Art gallery.

Spaces are limited at the gallery, and although we have plenty of tickets left for individual events, it would help the organisers and the gallery hugely, if you are able to buy tickets in advance.  If you would like to come to the launch on Friday evening, please book a free ticket.  This will really help us with knowing how many people to cater for.

Even it up Poetry Challenge: The Winners!

We were really excited today to learn that our Young Poet in Residence, Hannah Hodgson was a winner in the 15-18 category of the ‘Even it Up Poetry Challenge’, run by The Poetry Society.   The theme of the competition was writing about global inequality.  You can read more about the competition by heading over to the Young Poets Network where you will find all of the winning poems.  Congratulations to all the winners but especially to our Hannah!

Clare Shaw at Kendal Poetry Festival


When we applied for Arts Council funding last year, our venue, the Abbot Hall Art Gallery had a small cafe on site.  However, Kendal  suffered terribly in the floods, and the cafe at Abbot Hall is now unusable.  Pauline and I have been working hard to research alternative arrangements for food and Blackwells have come to our rescue, offering to deliver freshly-baked cakes and tray bakes for visitors to the festival over the weekend.  We will also have a tea and coffee urn on site, staffed by some enthusiastic and willing volunteers.  The venue is very close to the town centre, with plenty of restaurants and cafes within walking distance.

As part of the run up to the festival, we will be featuring poems from the poets that are appearing at the festival at regular intervals on this blog.  Our first poet on the blog is the wonderful Clare Shaw, who will be reading at the festival with Hilda Sheehan on Saturday 25th June at our 2pm Main Reading.

One of the most enjoyable experiences of putting together a poetry festival was deciding which poets we would like to make up our ‘dream team’ for this first festival.  Clare Shaw, described by the Arvon Foundation as ‘one of Britain’s most dynamic and powerful young poets’ was high up on both of our lists as someone we had to invite.

Clare is currently working on a new collection, and has generously allowed us to pick a new poem to feature on our blog this week.  As flooding has been at the forefront of our minds in the last week as we chased down alternative catering arrangements for the festival, we decided to choose a poem from a sequence that Clare is working on called ‘Measures of Impact’ which explores the impact of flooding.  Living in Hebden Bridge has meant that Clare has had terrible floods of her own to deal with.

We think this is a wonderful poem, conjuring up both the anger and the weariness felt by having to deal with flooding over and over again in the last couple of years through its use of repetition and the litany of the names of rivers.  Anybody that saw footage of the floods and the people affected by them will know exactly what that line means ‘Enough of friends with shut-down faces’.   Apart from anger and weariness, the poem also illustrates perfectly that feeling of waiting and watching to see if more rain was going to fall.

Clare says

“Living in an area that has flooded repeatedly and disastrously means that floods have entered my consciousness – and my poetry. Its hard to imagine the damage that floods inflict – and they function as a powerful metaphors for personal trauma.   “Measures of Impact” is a sequence of poems based on meteorological scales – such as the Beaufort and Mercalli – which measure natural phenomena according to the impact they have on people and the natural and built environment.  It follows the interwoven narrative of two catastrophes – a flood, and the end of a relationship”

 “Measures of Impact” by Clare Shaw
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Introducing Hannah Hodgson, our Young Poet in Residence

Our programme went live just over a week ago, and we’ve been really pleased by the reaction and messages of support that we’ve received over the last week.  Sales are going really well.  The Poetry Business Workshop on Saturday morning has now sold out, but for those of you who didn’t manage to get a ticket for this workshop, there are still tickets left for Jane Routh’s ‘Tuning In’ discussion at 11am.  If you are a hardened poetry festival fan who likes going to everything before passing out from exhaustion, then have a look at our Weekend Passes, which will get you entry into all four Main Readings and the three Discussions.  There are only 15 of these Weekend Passes left, and we won’t be releasing any more once they have gone, so please book quickly if you would like to take advantage of this offer.

One thing that we believe makes our festival unique is the inclusion of young writers throughout the festival.  Members of Dove Cottage Young Poets meet once a fortnight to read and discuss poetry and write their own poetry with Kim Moore, one of the Kendal Poetry Festival Directors.  The group is funded by The Wordsworth Trust and this year they’ve already performed with Ian McMillan at the ‘Picture the Poet’ exhibition.

We believe they will bring a unique energy and enthusiasm to the festival, and at least one Dove Cottage Young Poet will be performing at every Main Reading.  If you’re wondering what young people write about, we can tell you their subjects range far and wide.  They’re writing about sexism and feminism, politics and relationships, family and the impact of the media.

When we were putting together the programme for the festival, we considered giving the Dove Cottage Young Poets a separate event but we decided we wanted them to feel part of the whole festival, and part of the wider writing community in Kendal.

This is one strand of the festival that we’re really looking forward to developing and growing over the next few years (assuming we’re crazy enough to do this all again!)  We asked Dove Cottage Young Poets to send in an application to be our Young Poet-in-Residence this year, and friend of the festival David Tait read through their poems and personal statements, and after much deliberation selected Hannah Hodgson, pictured at the top of this post.  Hannah will perform at the Launch of the Festival, and will also perform alongside Clare Shaw and Hilda Sheehan on Saturday afternoon.  She will also receive mentoring from Clare Shaw as part of her residency.

In the judges report David Tait said:

Hannah Hodgson’s poems here are sparsely furnished, small artefacts with odd yet particular details: alphabet spaghetti, a wish that the brain could talk, words slipping through a back gate, Alzheimer’s and what a ring should and shouldn’t mean. I like that the poems tackle big themes but remain small. Each word is weighted just so. There’s a lot of potential here.

We asked Hannah to send us a poem to feature on the blog and to write a couple of paragraphs talking about what inspired her to write the poem.  Here is Hannah’s poem, followed by her own words on the thought process behind the poem.

Hair – Hannah Hodgson

I am a farmer with a plough,
as strands fall like beads of perfume. I notice
it balling up on the brush, and take these
tumbleweeds to see the doctor.
They check my scalp, and I feel like a
weeded garden patch. Each morning I notice my
ponytail shrinking like a sun set, and wonder
how many of us there are. How many
stare at combs like exam results. How many
feel like autumn trees.

The inspiration for this poem is actually very personal. I have an ongoing chronic medical condition that means I have fluctuating health. Recently I had a dip. I noticed that my hair was falling out as I brushed it or as I styled it. Thankfully, this has stopped now, but it did get me thinking. No matter how much you say you aren’t bothered about how you look, you really do. It shocked me that the fact  my hair was falling out upset me more than the fact I was so unwell.

Hair is something that is so personal. You can show your personality so easily, cut it and shape it however you want to, curl it, straighten it, dye it. You can even challenge stereotypes with it. I am toying with the idea dying my hair with pink streaks for the summer. Everyone I have told has been shocked, even going as far as saying it was so unlike me. My hairdresser even refused to do it for me, saying she didn’t think I was ‘that kind’ of person. What does that even mean? My hair belongs to me, and your hair belongs to you.

Losing some hair really put into perspective the emotional impact of illness. People with cancer or alopecia go through so much physically, but also mentally. I think sometimes this part of illness – the personal part – is often ignored. Who would have thought that something as simple as brushing your hair would be a the most anxious part of your day? I never understood how it felt to have that part of your personality under threat until it happened to me. I wrote this poem to try and give people who suffer from hair loss a voice.