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?

 

Five Minutes with…Katrina Naomi

Katrina Naomi (interviewed by Hannah Hodgson)

 

Katrina has a PHD in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths university. Her most recent collection, The way the Crocodile told me, was released by Seren in 2016. Katrina will be reading alongside Malika Booker during the Saturday afternoon reading, you can buy tickets HERE. She will also be running a workshop for us on the Sunday morning of the festival on ‘Sustaining A Poem’. I will also be reading as a young poet during this slot, and I am really excited to be reading alongside Katrina and Malika.  I asked Katrina a set of questions for our five minute interview. I hope you will find her answers interesting, I certainly did.

 

  1. If you could only write poetry on one theme for the rest of your life what would it be and why?

Oh that’s tough! I’d hate to feel restricted to just one topic or theme for my poetry. I know that I write a lot about people and that often my poems are quite dark. Other poets often ask me if my poetry is shifting since I moved to Cornwall, I’m not sure, there’s some new themes emerging but still a lot about people and I can’t ever see my poetry becoming too light and fluffy…But still, I want to feel that freedom to write on anything I want. So I shall!

 

  1. How do you motivate yourself to write?

I tend to write a lot. I write most days. If I am stuck for a subject, then I’ll read someone else’s collection until something clicks with me and then I’m away. I also find walking and visiting art galleries useful for prompting ideas. But motivation isn’t much of a problem with me, happily.

 

  1. Do you belong to any writing/ critique groups? Do you think that they are a useful way of developing writing? 

Yes, I do and I wouldn’t want to be without them. I’ve always been a member of a poetry group or two, and I think it’s essential. All poets need honest feedback on their work. Being part of a group that just encourages you is fine when you’re starting out as a poet but after a while you need a group that’s really going to critique your poetry. You need to know when a poem really isn’t working – and then you can go away and try and fix it. So don’t just stay in a group that says, ‘Oh that’s lovely’ to your poetry. You need to step outside this and take a few risks.

 

  1. What was your first step into poetry?

This came about when I went on my first writing course. It was a short story writing course, because that’s what I was writing at the time, and the tutor asked us to write ‘something from the heart’. It turned out that I’d written a poem. Nobody could have been more shocked than I was. I’d always thought poetry was elitist, I hated the poetry we’d done at school and wanted no part of it. The tutor suggested I join an adult education class to read poetry, which I did. The first poems that were brought into that adult education class were by Sharon Olds and Mark Doty and I remember thinking, if this is poetry, then I’m all for it. I was hooked. I began reading poetry and began trying to write it.

 

  1. Have you got any tips for emerging or young poets?

Yes, read as much and as widely as you can. Read contemporary poetry. Join a poetry critiquing group. Subscribe to a poetry magazine or two if you can afford it. But the most important thing is to read. And further to this, copy out those poems that really excite you. I think typing up someone else’s poem helps you to see how it’s been put together. And keep going. Don’t give up. You will get rejections, we all do, everyone does. Just keep reading and writing, and if you really mean it, you’ll get there. And good luck.

 

 

 

Gin and Ice Cream by Katrina Naomi

 

Even after all the gins, all morning,

you still can’t say the c-word.

 

Over a weekend, I try to discuss your daughter/

my mum, but your soft blue eyes fill.

 

You ask me to water the roses,

stabbing at the crust of a lemon cheesecake,

 

scooping out the last of the ice cream.

The petals drip. We won’t talk of this again.

 

When mum comes round you hug her so tight

to the mismatched buttons of your pink housecoat,

 

the air stills. We watch her, like royalty,

searching her eyes, her movements.

 

We smile hard, draining and weighing

each of her words:

 

oedema, tamoxifen, oncologist.

Her stay, as always, is brief.

 

After she leaves, I raise a silent toast

and together, we finish the bottle.

 

Five Minutes with Chrissy Williams

 

Hannah Hodgson, our Young Blogger-in-Residence will be conducting a series of five minute interviews in the run up to the festival.  Under the spotlight today is the fantastic Chrissy Williams, whose long-awaited first collection Bear will be published by Bloodaxe on the 25th May 2017.  Chrissy will be reading on Saturday 17th June at 11am alongside Inua Ellams.  You can book tickets for this event here.  She will also be running a workshop, inspired by the Julian Cooper Exhibition at Abbot Hall Art Gallery on Saturday between 5pm-6.45pm – tickets can be booked here.

Congratulations on your new collection! How does it feel to have a collection coming out?

Thank you! It feels pretty exciting! I’ve had various pamphlets published over the last five years, but BEAR is going to be my first “full collection”, so it feels like a meatier, grizzlier proposition. It also feels pretty terrifying, but a good kind of terror I think.

How long did the process of acceptance for publication to seeing it in book form for the first time take?

I sent my manuscript to Bloodaxe in December 2015, and the editor Neil Astley sent me an email the following March saying he would like to publish it. The finished book will come out at the end of May (though I should get some advance copies through in the post imminently!). So overall it’ll have been a little over a year since it was first accepted. I think that’s pretty fast for poetry, from what I understand.

What would you highlight as the main themes in your collection, and what would you say inspired them?

The individual subjects of the poems include all sorts of things – Angela Lansbury, bears, Groundhog Day, constellations, David Bowie, Trump… but then none of them are really “about” those things exactly. They’re using them to talk about something else, something about mortality, and sadness, but also hope. I don’t know how useful thinking about themes is for me to be honest. I do try to approach poems in a playful way though. (Maybe playfulness is the main theme, if you want?) I get inspired by different moments or thoughts colliding in my head in an unusual way. That makes me want to write something that then juxtaposes them, hopefully in an interesting way.

Where did you first get a poem published?

In a small but welcoming magazine called Dial 174, which gave me the confidence to keep going. I still remember how excited I was – a total stranger had read my poems and liked them enough to share them with other people. It was thrilling. The second poem I had published, or rather the second two poems, were in The Rialto, which came back with two twenty pound notes paperclipped to the magazine as payment. I thought I’d hit the big time, and bought my friends a round of drinks with my hard-earned poetry cash.

Have you got any tips for emerging writers?

You’re never not “emerging”, so don’t worry about that. You’re a poet and you know it. You’re constantly in a state of reading and writing new things, and trying to figure out what to do next. I would say that growing a thick skin about rejections is a useful thing to learn. And that if people take the time to critique you, they’re normally trying to help you. Also that it’s not so much about trying to “write the perfect poem to impress editor X”, but more about figuring out how to write the perfect poem by you, that no one else could possibly write. It’s also about learning that there’s no such thing as perfection, of course, but if you’re not aiming for it, there’s probably something wrong.

Thanks Chrissy! Below you will find a poem from Chrissy’s forthcoming collection BEAR which will be available to buy at her reading at Kendal Poetry Festival, or you can buy it before hand here direct from Bloodaxe.

JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION
in the Spring – by Chrissy Williams

We lean into the soft brake BLUES
as you flip the indicator on
JON at the corner where four roads meet
in front of the old farm. SPENCER
Mountains slouch behind, BLUES
reluctant to shake out their white pleats
JON despite the strength of this early May heat.
At the shady crossroads tall trees SPENCER
lean in to watch our tiny car arrive, BLUES
then all decide to pollinate at once.
EXPLOSION Every seed they have swims in the sky,
EXPLOSION so many flowers curling down
EXPLOSION toward the acacia snowglobe ground.
The breeze whips a yellow flood JON
in through the window SPENCER
across our knees BLUES and my cousin tells me
how wonderful the flowers are
battered, fried, then eaten whole.