The Pen of Katie Hale
Twenty-three year-old Katie Hale is a writer and poet with more than a few ideas to spare. I spoke to her about the guerrilla poetry organisation [insert text here] – which she founded – as well as the exciting journey she’s been on since she was introduced to the works of Carol Ann Duffy
How did your passion for poetry develop?
I started writing poetry seriously after reading Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife for AS-level. It was the first time I’d read a whole poetry collection – not to mention one that didn’t rhyme. It made me think: this is something that I want to try for myself.
So I did. I wrote a poem from the point of view of a stalker and entered it into the Anne Pierson Award for Young Writers in Cumbria. I was worried the subject matter might be too dark or a bit taboo, but when the poem came second in the competition, it gave me confidence to explore the less spoken about, and sometimes darker, themes that really intrigued me. I went on to win the Anne Pierson Award in 2008 and 2010, which led to my meeting poet Jacob Polley, who mentored me for a couple of years. With his help, and with the support of my university writing group, I started sending things off to magazines. Of course, I had a lot of rejections, but being part of that network of writers helped me to persevere, and I started to get the odd acceptance letter.
Since then, I’ve always written, and I’ve always been part of a group of writers – something which I has been incredibly important in keeping me motivated to write when things aren’t always going so well. In 2011, I joined Barbican Young Poets, then in 2012/13 I did the Creative Writing (Poetry) MLitt at the University of St Andrews.
Who are the artists you admire and consider to have influenced you?
I’ve already mentioned being inspired to write by Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, but I also love Simon Armitage, Philip Larkin, and Coleridge (one of my favourite poems is ‘Kubla Khan’). On my Masters at St Andrews, I was lucky enough to be taught by Don Paterson and Jacob Polley, so they’ve both been a massive influence, as have the other three poets in my class. Jacob Sam-La Rose and Dorothy Lehane, who led the Barbican Young Poets course, were also very inspirational.
I read a lot of First World War poetry as a teenager, and I suspect that might have influenced me in some way – there’s quite a lot of destruction in my poetry.
You’re the founder of [insert text here] – tell us all about it!
I set up [insert text here] in February 2012, as a means of re-introducing people to poetry in unusual ways, as well as providing a platform for emerging poets to get their work seen and heard.
I worked with poet Dominique Dunne to produce a poetry zine, which we launched with a reading at Deptford Lounge, in May 2012. Then I moved to St Andrews for my Masters, where I worked with poet Elizabeth Mann to create a guerrilla-style exhibition on tables in a cafe. We also ran two big Arts Council-funded projects in summer 2013: Poetry by the Lake (an emerging-poets-in-residence programme at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, Cumbria) and Beneath The Boughs (a poetry installation in the beautiful and atmospheric grounds of Lowther Castle & Gardens, also in Cumbria). The idea behind Beneath The Boughs was that people who had gone to visit the castle gardens would stumble on this contemporary poetry displayed in unusual ways (on paths, dangling from trees, even on underwear hanging from a washing line)! I wanted to challenge people’s assumption that poetry is ‘difficult’ and ‘elitist’, so we also displayed poems by children from two local schools, and created interactive elements for people to create their own bits of poetry within the exhibition.
Through these projects, I was given the job of running New Writing Cumbria – an organisation for writers and readers of new work in Cumbria. As such, [insert text here] has had to take a back seat. But the intentions I had when creating it (of encouraging both readers and writers) are ones I can still see through with New Writing Cumbria.
What is your greatest accomplishment so far as a writer and poet?
This is a very tricky question. Having a poem published in Poetry Review felt pretty special, and completing my Masters has also been a highlight.
But I think that, even though it only involved one of my own poems, I would have to choose Beneath The Boughs. It confirmed what I have always believed: that you can’t write in isolation. We displayed work by some fantastic poets, and I was honoured that they sent me their work. Reading some of the feedback from visitors also gave me a huge feeling of success. But I think that the icing on the cake was hearing, from a parent at one of the schools where we gave a workshop, that her daughter had been writing poems every evening since. The idea that our work had inspired a love of writing in a child was priceless. Writing your own poems is all very well, but it’s nothing if it doesn’t communicate to other people.
What advice would you give to other young aspiring poets and writers?
There are the obvious two: read lots and write lots. Unless you read lots, and develop an understanding of what works in a poem, you can’t expect to write much good stuff yourself. And writing is a bit like playing a musical instrument: you don’t become a concert pianist without practicing.
But I would add another piece of advice: get involved in doing things. If there’s a writing group, join it. If there’s a magazine or journal, submit to it. If there’s an open mic night, go to it and read. And if there aren’t any of these things, then organise them yourself!
Where do you hope to be in the future and how will you get there?
I’m working towards getting my first collection published, either as a pamphlet or as a fully fledged collection, so that means continuing to submit individual poems to journals and magazines. I also have a travel blog, which I’m trying to bring up to scratch, and one of my goals is to be able to make a sustainable living out of those two.
I’d also love to be in a position to help and support emerging writers, as I’ve benefited so much from people who have helped and supported me.