INTERVIEW: Kate Fox | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Kate Fox’s fifth collection of poetry, The Oscillations, was predominantly written throughout lockdown and reflects upon the unprecedented changes we underwent, while dealing with themes Fox often ponders throughout her poetry.

One of the most prevalent themes in Fox’s work is her Northern identity, and she talks candidly about the preconceptions that surround ‘the North’. “I feel like there are two very separate ideas here. The way Northerners see the Northern identity is one thing, it’s a cultural way of life, with a charm and flair attached to it. The way the Northern identity is seen by Southerners is another matter; Southerners can often use Northerners to promote Southern ideals – the North becomes a tool to advocate the old-fashioned ideas of a ‘smarter’ or ‘cleaner’ life down South. They need us. In many ways, we need each other. We’re opposing forces that can work together. What I found a powerful moment during this pandemic was Andy Burnham stepping up and raising his voice. It has been a long time since the North has had a mouthpiece to catch attention and raise so many key issues.”

As reflected on throughout The Oscillations, the North of England has been cast in a dark cloud during the pandemic, leaving it to the residents to raise their voice. “When I do stand-up gigs and read my poetry to an audience, I can’t hide the fact I am Northern, my voice is a dead giveaway! I speak with a very strong Northern accent and it’s not something I can escape from, so instead I chose to play with it. As a female poet I guess I am already challenging certain stereotypes, but I do feel I need to utilise my platform and address the Northern image and challenge the preconceptions people have. I do have issues with the stereotypes, and it is nice and necessary to be able to stand against them.”

Ruminating on the rippling effects of the pandemic, The Oscillations in a beautifully real and human depiction of the experiences it thrust at the world. Originally planned before the fierce outbreak, the book had to be adapted, as Kate remembers: “The emotions attached to the original poems had changed, as had the world. Our relationship with ‘normality’ had changed and it’s reflected in the book. I kept the poems that had the greatest weight and truth to them.” Breaking the collection into ‘Before’ and ‘After’ sections, the earliest poems now read as a wistful meditation on the gifts of connection and the world. The poems that touch on the pandemic do so with a delicacy and poise which reads as cathartically accessible and human.

My poems always ask, ‘how close can we all be together’, and now more than ever that is an important question to be asking

For me it was a very unusual, yet fun experience,” says Kate, while reflecting on the emotions connected with exploring such an affecting muse. “Often when I write, I’m writing from the perspective of a minority, yet now suddenly I am living in a situation that is affecting everyone. There’s a binding sense of community that’s occurred now we are living through this one trauma together. The challenge was, since it is a trauma, it’s not something everyone wants to dwell on or remember. My poems always ask, ‘how close can we all be together’, and now more than ever that is an important question to be asking.”

That essential question is fleshed out in detail across The Oscillations beautifully, as it puts words to the worry and confusion that swooped the globe. As the poems touch on loneliness and loss, there is hope. As poignant as the poems can become, there is a catharsis to be had in the warm understanding that Kate provides, walking through the pain with the reader.

Honestly, I couldn’t not write about it. I always have an urge to connect with people and as a comedian I’ve often shied away from showing vulnerability on stage, yet what you find is that vulnerability can be instrumental in building connections. Embracing the frailties can be so crucial, especially in these times.”

By balancing her welcoming and friendly voice with her literary prowess, Kate can articulate the emotions of a nation into the lyrical expressions she presents, elevating the miserable images of the pandemic into something expressive and profound. “I did a collaboration with the photographer Colin Potsig that we called 12 Days of Lockdown. It had a series of his photos, set to a poem of mine. I would often draw inspiration from what he sent me; I would see a tree stump with roots growing out and it would spark an idea in me that would unfold. Walking around I would see things, like police tape marking off public benches, and it would weigh on me. I’m not often a visual person, but the images of lockdown had really stuck with me.”

The poise demonstrated through the poems, which weave the mundane and the overwhelming with such ease, is a skill Kate has acquired through her career, saying “BBC Radio 3 has a show called The Verb which I love to appear on because you’re able to mix references and talk freely about everything you want, balancing aspects of pop culture with the more studious and literary parts. Reflecting that balance in my poetry has been fantastic. It certainly helps that on The Verb you are in the company of the great Ian McMillan, who personifies that warm, funny Northern soul.”

The Oscillations may delve into the dark and daunting themes of the pandemic, yet there is a pleasant humanity that emanates from the collection, resulting in a monument to the enduring human spirit.

Oscillations by Kate Fox is published on 18th February via Nine Arches Press

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