At Penzance Poetry Parlour with Katrina Naomi and Helen Mort
I’m writing this from the back seat of the poet John Foggin’s car. Another poet John Fennelly is in the front seat. I’m telling you these spurious details because John Foggin will be FREAKED OUT when he reads this later and finds out I’ve been writing this whilst he was driving along. I’ve been in St Ives for the last week running a residential course with the poet Helen Mort and 17 participants. I haven’t posted a Sunday Poem on here for a couple of weeks – life has just got too busy, and something had to give. So the Sunday Poem has for now got a dust sheet over it. Since I last wrote on March 19th, which was by my count 25 days ago, I’ve spent 13 of those 25 days in hotel rooms rather than my own house. I was wondering when I got to St Ives why I felt so tired, and now I know!
It has been a lovely week – a really talented group of poets to work with first and most importantly, but there are other things that make the week feel a bit magical – getting to work with Helen Mort was another. Not only is she a brilliant tutor and poet, she also runs, so I had company this time on my excursions round the country roads of St Ives. And the weather has been amazing – which was just what I needed after the miserable cold and rain we’ve been suffering up north. It is so mild down here! Apparently Cornwall has had bad weather as well, but it all cleared off for our arrival.
The week started on Sunday night for Helen and I, as we had a reading at Katrina Naomi’s Penzance Poetry Parlour. It’s the first time I’ve read in someone’s living room, with maybe twenty or thirty people crammed in, sitting up the stairs or on cushions on the floor once the chairs were full. It was such a lovely evening – Katrina is a marvel and it is a testament to her warm personality as well as her poetry that she has managed to gather such a wonderful community of poets around her. One of my poetry heroes Penelope Shuttle was even in the audience – a long time ago when I was first starting out Penelope gave one of my poems a fourth prize in the Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition, the first ‘prize’ I ever won! Her work has always been important to me so it felt amazing to have her in the audience.
Apart from running this residential course then, one of my trips away from home was a trip down to London to record an episode of Private Passions.I’m saying that as if it is an ordinary, usual thing to do when clearly it is not! I’d better not reveal my music choices as the episode will be aired (I think) on June 10th. It was actually nowhere near as nerve wracking as I thought it would be. Maybe I’m getting better at doing things that are out of my comfort zone. The Private Passions team were so lovely as well, and made me feel at ease. The studio where the recording takes place is quite small, and I sat directly opposite Michael Berkeley with the producers to the side in another room, so it does feel more like just having a chat than being on the radio. The producer, Elizabeth Burke, was really lovely, and this probably sounds a little strange, but I felt first of all as if I’d known her for years, and secondly, I was – I don’t know quite what the right word is – moved? inspired? by the way she carried herself as a woman, how she obviously had authority and expertise, but wore it lightly. Watching the way she interacted in the studio made something shift in my head – I am full of admiration for her. I don’t think I’m explaining it well, but I think that is because I haven’t articulated it to myself yet.
I then got a train back to Manchester and stayed in the Britannia hotel, which is an experience in itself. I arrived and was given a key for a room which had a single bed. I’d paid for a double, and one of the things I look forward to being away from home is to have a double bed, so I trotted back downstairs to ask for double room. There was already a man shouting at the staff and saying ‘this is like bloody Fawlty Towers I’ve already had my room changed five times etc’ so I wasn’t holding out much hope. The rather harassed staff member apologised and gave me another key. Off I went to the top floor this time, a double room, but the stench of stale cigarette smoke that hit me when I opened it was so overwhelming I quickly closed the door. Who knew that hotels have designated smoking rooms now? Not me. I wearily made my way down in the lift again and explained that I couldn’t sleep in this room because of the smell, and the same even more harassed staff member apologised again and upgraded me to an executive suite! And all without shouting.
I had to stay over in Manchester because I had a full day of tutorials with undergraduate students the next day and then from there I had to get the train to the airport to go to Gdansk in Poland to read at the European Poet of Freedom poetry festival. Poland was wonderful! And Gdansk is a beautiful city. I love reading at these festivals, but if there is any stress, it’s always being a stranger and having to get to know people or connect with people. However, my translator Krystyna was there and another poet Sigurbjorg from Iceland, who I’d met in Croatia two years ago at another festival, so it felt more like going on holiday with friends with lots of poetry thrown in. I met some lovely poets there as well who I won’t name because a listing of names is rather dull but Alice Oswald was there, and she was her usual brilliant self – I think she is such a wonderful poet.
Another exciting thing to happen this week is that I had my portrait painted! Or at least the sketches for the painting. The amazing artist Claire Eastgate is painting contemporary women poets from all over the UK, and these paintings will form an exhibition called ‘Painting the Poets’. Claire came and stayed at my house the night before and we had some amazing discussions about the female gaze, which I will probably blog about separately. People often said to me before starting the PhD that it would be conversations with people that would be really important and formative for your research and I didn’t quite believe them – I couldn’t understand how a conversation could be more important than reading a book for example or an article. A year and a half in to the PhD, I get it!
Last week I also had another meeting about my poetry with Michael Symmonsn Roberts, which was really useful and positive. After my mock viva, one of the recommendations was that I have a third supervisor to oversee the creative/critical connective part of the PhD which is really the part I’ve been struggling with, so Nikolai Duffy is now part of my PhD team, and I’ve arranged to meet him on May 4th.
These last few months have been so busy it has been a bit of a wake up call. I’ve decided to really start cutting back on the work I’m doing from this summer onwards really, and try and keep this last year clear for mainly PhD stuff. We will see how easy I find it to stick to that resolution!
I haven’t got a Sunday Poem this week, so I’m being rather self involved and leaving you with one of my own, which was recently published in The New Statesman. I will say, before you click on the link, that this poem comes with a trigger warning – it is about date rape, so please proceed with caution. I was shocked recently, and then not shocked, to read that 1 in 3 women will experience rape or sexual assault during their lifetime. It breaks my heart when I think about women carrying around this pain inside them, trying to act as if nothing has happened.
And if you are wondering, and maybe about to write ‘men experience sexual assault and rape too’ and ‘why aren’t you writing about them Kim’ then I would respectfully ask you not to bother. I know that men experience this as well, but I am choosing to write about women and I’d like to quote the great John Berger from ‘Ways of Seeing’ here – ‘To look is an act of choice.’ I am choosing to look at women and their experiences, and my experiences of sexual assault. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about men, but I am making a political choice. Interestingly, John Berger also writes that ‘It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain the world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it’.
The poem in the New Statesman recounts a story that was told to me a long time ago. Although I carried the story for nearly twenty years inside me, and never forgot it, I didn’t look at it, I didn’t see it until I wrote this poem. I stuffed it down as small as it would go in my own memory because it frightened me. I am choosing to look now, I chose to look through the act of writing the poem, although I didn’t understand what I was really looking at until I finished writing the poem. Our course this week has been about the ‘unsaid’ in poetry, and it felt like the ‘unsaid’ in this poem was something I had to discover, and which I only discover by the end of the poem – not that these things happen, but that these things are a lesson which the world teaches women which then act as a form of control.
If you would like to read the poem, please click on the link below.