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Poet of the Week – 17: Kate Noakes

TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—17: KATE NOAKES

Kate Noakes is a poet and non-fiction writer now living in London, previously resident in Caversham, Reading, for over thirty years. Her seventh and most recent collection is The Filthy Quiet (Parthian, 2019), which received enthusiastic reviews in Poetry Wales, Poetry London and from the Poetry Book Society. Alumna of Reading University, she reviews poetry for The North and cultural website, London Grip, amongst others, and acts as a trustee for London writer development organisation, Spread the Word. Real Hay-on-Wye, her personal take on that famous place, is forthcoming from Seren this year. She is widely published in magazines in the UK, Europe and beyond, and has been asked to read at festivals and reading series all over the country, most notably Poetry at Aldeburgh in 2019. Her content-rich website, which is archived by the National Library of Wales, is at www.boomslangpoetry.blogspot.com. Her poetic subjects vary from the environment, to contemporary culture, and autobiography.

Kate Noakes writes:

The Wall Menders was published by TRP over ten years ago. That doesn’t seem possible, but it is. The theme of this collection is the destruction of the planet, and hopeful suggestions for how to live harmoniously on it in the future. The volume is organised in two distinct sections: the worrisome and the positive. Distressingly, the topic has not gone away, in fact things have become a great deal worse, and my latest manuscript, entitled Goldhawk Road, and which I am busy editing, is threaded with rather bleaker poems on climate change, pollution, species loss and the like. It is hard to remain hopeful a decade later, but I try. My next poetry project concerns the lungs and breathing. I started work on this about a year ago, long before anyone had heard of Covid 19, but not before the BLM quote: ‘I can’t breathe’ came into common parlance as a protest slogan. This book focuses on my personal experience as a lifelong asthmatic and more recently a Covid sufferer (don’t worry, I’ve recovered, or at least I think I have). It’s not as depressing as it sounds, I promise.

The poem I have chosen from The Wall Menders is the title poem. The scenario is a former miner and his son building a drystone wall; the father being glad his son did not have to follow him down the pit. It is a father doing the speaking and not a mother as several critics have mis-interpreted it. That pesky ‘I’ in poems always causes trouble. I have not read this poem for years, until asked to write this piece. I am still rather pleased with its music and description.

THE WALL MENDERS

I see him now as a man:
my boy and I work together
making music of boulder and grit,
passing stones over this growing wall.

We fill the brief space between us
with small notes, flat, sharp,
coming closer in building a barrier
that forgets the contours of the fells.

I see him now in the air
and never-harming rain, a man spared
the heat of the pit. We make
our own small monuments.

We were here and we thought about
scored coping, lunkies for sheep,
made stiles and badger smoots
and paused for breath on the mossy clefts.

I might hear the gush of water
pumped from galleries and shafts,
whispers of re-hiring. But I’m too old
and spoiled by the open.

My boy lacks the skills of prop, board
and pick, spends his days
in this uplifting labour, his voice
quavering between whistle and hum.

[from The Wall Menders]

THE SICK SPRING

Thirteenth March, a Friday with which comes
a most lauded play, Stoppard’s last contract:
Vienna, and a family succumbs,
fortunes and losses in Leopoldstadt.

I am treated to the stalls by a friend
of a friend, a nice man I do not know.
His cancelled cultural holiday ends
with a short email critique of the show.

I give him scenes, chronology, pictures,
timings avoiding history’s clichés;
how I stepped into busy Leicester Square –
with foreboding that hurried me away.

And how I scurried home to a semi-death:
headache, sore throat, cough, and struggling for breath.

[uncollected]