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A wry and witty people-watcher, Kate Fox’s poems lighten a dull day, as DAVID WHETSTONE reports
KATE FOX worries about how she and her poetry get defined. Is she a performance poet, a spoken word artist or not a proper poet?
Soon after reading her author’s note at the start of Fox Populi, a collection of her poems just published by Smokestack Books of Middlesbrough, I’m inclined to let her worry about it all by herself.
Because then I’m laughing too much to be bothered about definitions and how they might be tweaked to accommodate a woman who is a bit of a one-off as far as words are concerned.
Bradford-born Kate combines a stand-up’s comic timing with a poet’s instinct for rhythm and metre.
If you have read her columns in The Journal on a Friday, you will know she also has a highly-original outlook on the world. Unless she’s in the Great North Run – which she was once, writing and spouting poetry as she went – you won’t find her following the crowd.
Funnier than Wordsworth and less obtuse than Eliot, Kate’s more Milligan than Milton. There’s wisdom sandwiched between the jokes and a side garnish of gentle outrage.
First up in Fox Populi is Our Ends in the North, an affectionate skit on Northern toughness and the Apocalypse.
Northerners don’t like to make a fuss, she declares, “though sometimes, I admit, we make a bit of a fuss about how we don’t make a fuss”.
It’s the end of the world. “But just because it’s Doomsday, there’s no need to make a big song and dance about it.
“On the second day I was on the bus
when there was a bang and all the lights went out –
and there was a chorus,
of ‘Call this an Apocalypse? I felt nowt’.”
There are autobiographical flashes, as in Heirloom, which deals with her relationship with her father and half- brother, and sombre interludes, as in There is an Enemy, recalling the bleakness of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
But even when it isn’t centre stage, you can sense the intelligent humour twitching in the wings.
You can see how The Railway Children, a poem recalling the horrors of being a captive train passenger, came out of genuine annoyance.
But recognition of her predicament – noisy people in the quiet carriage and Leanne and her trolley who “will be leaving us at Leeds” – makes you utter silent thanks that she suffered to make us smile.
A larger-than-life force is Kate Fox and I mean that in a metaphorical sense, although she does send herself up a bit, size-wise.
From the poem You Don’t Look Like a Runner: “You are ... well you’re hefty. You’ve got wobbly bits and breasts.”
And in a heart-felt poem called Small Girlfriends, there’s a refrain which goes: “While I’m five foot seven with size eight feet.”
It’s not really that big, is it? I’d like to say Kate should stop worrying ... but then again, it’s her worrying that cheers me up.
She frets so that we might feel a little better about stuff in general.
:: Fox Populi by Kate Fox (Smokestack Books, £7.95)