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

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Two Countries is Katrina Porteous’ second full-length book of poetry which explores the people, land and history of North East England and the Anglo-Scottish Borders.

Born in Aberdeen and having lived most of her life in North East England, it would seem obvious that Porteous finds herself writing about the places she calls home. Living in the borderlands of North East England is an “area far from the centres of power, either English or Scottish. That distance encourages independence of spirit. I also live close to the sea, another sort of edge. Interesting things happen at edges.” Beautiful poetry happens at the edges.

North East England is home to beautiful expansive landscapes, many of which are explored within Two Countries. The book opens with the section The Wall, Hadrian’s Wall of course. A wall that stretches 73 miles, east to west, Wallsend to Solway Firth. A wall built originally to separate is brought together within This Far and no Further, a poem which, above all, explores the people brought together under the commonality of foot and mouth tearing its way through farms of the region. This Far and no Further is a perfect display of Porteous’ ability to capture every aspect of community life – their voices, their stories and the places they call home all carved to perfection in the medium of poetry.

“I think of the poems as a medium for their anonymous individual voices to find expression, as if I was a singer, interpreting someone else’s songs,” Porteous says.

“The emphasis was all about ‘moving on,’ but I found people hungry to remember”

Moving from Aberdeen to County Durham at age 7, Porteous felt immediately like an outsider – making her “sensitive to the way language accent and dialect shapes identity and belonging.” Poems across the collection make use of the Northumbrian dialect, a one which Porteous is drawn to “the sounds it makes, its music.” The use of dialect adds a subtle richness to the poems, truly placing us in the landscape and the lives of the people that shape it.

Turning the Tide was a massive project which took place on the beaches of Durham to clean up pit waste. In a region shaped so heavily by industry and brought together in communities of working class the project removed the physical reminders of the mining industry, making it even more important to be reminded of the history of the area and what the mine closures did to these closely knit communities: “The emphasis was all about ‘moving on’, but I found people hungry to remember.”

Two Countries is a brilliant read for those either who are from the North East or have spent time in the North East as it captures the culture perfectly, it will leave you feeling at home no matter where you are. For those of you not from the North East, read it and be amazed at Porteous’ ability to paint a beautiful landscape with her words.

In the words of Katrina Porteous herself: Two Countries is metaphor. The poems are about differing perspectives. They explore the rural in a culture largely dominated by the urban, the Northern in one dominated by the Southern, the silent ‘edges’ in contrast to the powerful ‘centre’. I’m interested in the relation between pre- and post-industrial, traditional and modern, oral and written, and – especially – ‘natural’ and ‘human’. These perceived polarities co-exist everywhere. What matters are the conversations between them.”

Two Countries is out now and is available via Bloodaxe Books.

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