July 26, 2021

S1 Ep14: "In one eye and out the other" with stand-up poet, Kate Fox

This week we're joined by the superb Kate Fox, poet extraordinaire. Kate shows us around the secret world of poetry, enjoys Dave's catchphrase (I mean, what right thinking individual wouldn't?!) and she definitely doesn't violently drown someone shortly after chatting with us. Plus, Kate reveals which famous comedy favourite she inspired to get on stage and tell some gags.


Music by Dano Songs

oh my god guys here we are it's another amazingly exciting episode i can't do it uh you were like a youtuber then that was so exciting yeah yeah it sounded right you sounded young and interesting i know but it is just another episode it's just another well it's actually i was gonna say it's another episode of us waffling on but it's not is it a fantastic guest so actually it is exciting let's do some of that previous section yeah kate fox joins us for a chat but who's she tom she is a stand-up poet stroke comedian stroke does lots of stuff on bbc radio and as we find out kind of all weird and wonderful things you never thought might have even existed yeah yeah we get to find out what it means to be a resident poet i guess it doesn't mean that you have to live in that building either which is what i thought it meant no no you can still you can commute i think can't you as a resident poet but yeah that's interesting and we find out are you ready listeners to find out which of the country's top comedians only became a comedian because of kate fox yeah that's a good tease forward that it is isn't it yeah she's trying to get people to listen so they won't know it's sarah milliken but when they listen they're gonna they'll be like oh yeah yeah that was the tease i'm liking that that's gonna work stay tuned to find out yes um yeah and we hear a few of the poems as well kind of live including her first ever poem that she ever wrote yes which was actually really annoyingly good i know it wasn't it yeah you kind of think all right yeah that's why you're doing what you do good stuff so yeah enjoy enjoy have a listen to kate and that's the rubbish intro isn't it

what was going on you said enjoy i should have slept in that dave i tried to add something on in fact there's nothing else to say do you know what i'm gonna do we'll just leave a little b and i'm just gonna say the word enjoy again and then we'll fade into it enjoy

so kate fox um that's just your name you're not actually a fox are you not actually difficult right good um thank you very much for coming on to the failing writers podcast we always have to apologize for people saying it's the failing writers podcast because we're the failing writers and we like to learn from other people that aren't yeah because you know balance isn't it's all balance but don't all writers feel like they're failing anyway all writers surely feel like that probably even jk rowling if she came on she'd be like to be honest i'm not all that i'm not doing that well well the great thing is even people like jk rowling have had failure you know well-publicized failures of sending it so many publishers and getting rejected so everyone's but you can't do anything without failing if you're not failing you're not doing the job for a player you're not reaching high enough i think that's right you always you're always reaching for something else as well aren't you you're always you're never quite in the camp you want to be in very true and i think the other thing is the imposter syndrome thing isn't it of getting that big and being that you know being so sort of famed and and worshipped and then you think oh i'm just writing words here this is ridiculous you think there's the odd sort of writer maybe like so i'm gonna name some writers but apologies to these writers if this is sort of libelous but there is some very confident best-selling usually no always male novelists who are like actually i'm the greatest american novelist usually americans so philip roth john updike i'm fairly sure they don't suffer imposter syndrome and salman rushdie probably doesn't suffer imposter syndrome um they're like no i am pretty brilliant but basically every writer i think that i know even the ones who have been making a living from it in some fashion or other for years and years often have that some quite deep-rooted level a sense of as you say they're imposter syndrome or well i should be doing better or what the heck is the point of words on a page anyway which is fantastic because it gives us such a large pool of people to interview so where do you feel there's loads of options where do you fall in that kate are you do you feel like you're just absolutely nailing this um no no but i suppose and we're asking we're asking a funny time because a lot of my work is as a performer as well as a writer so we do or i did have the satisfaction at least of if it went well anyway seeing an audience in front of me reacted to my words yeah in some way and luckily usually not by throwing bottles or tomatoes so i could at least go oh look the thing that i think i'm doing and wanting to make people react i can see that i'm doing it but then for the last 15 months i have not been performing the performance world hasn't really existed i haven't done many zoom performances and i have actually come out of that with this strong sense of beginning again feeling like an absolute novice performance and having no sense of how my written words are received so yeah this is definitely a very strange strange place you're craving that applause that immediate sort of you could do like as you're writing something just somebody somewhere just clapping every time you finish a sentence just to reassure you exactly i should have an app yeah you need you need an audience sound board on your phone well done kate you've written a sentence um no i think it's probably partly at the beginning it probably was a straight craving the applause and the validation of my existence and also the adrenaline of standing in front of an audience but actually yeah as time's gone on and the um adrenaline addiction has worn off it turns out what i used to like an audience for was to be able to test out my writing to be able to see where the energy in it was to see what people responded to and now i have had to as actually most writers who don't perform always had to do but i've had to learn this i've just had to rely on my own inner sense of what is working so that's probably a good thing ultimately but it's it still feels very new and a bit uncertain actually and do you find that you're quite good at predicting that on the whole think that you would get better at predicting it wouldn't you over time and but i'm not i am still often surprised by the things that an audience will pick out and actually so that still applies to a degree a book of my poems was published um in february it was originally meant to have been published in november and usually i would have done lots of readings and lots of performances around the poems in that book um yeah so and then i did a few zoom ones but then mainly what happened was people would email or message and say oh i was reading it and such and such a poem really struck me and it was never the poems that i thought were the standout poems or the ones you were those

i've literally never thought about that poem since and now you're telling me that you know for that but yeah i wonder if maybe some people get better and better at predicting what an audience is going to like i suppose if you're writing to a formula you have to be able to predict whether that formula works and how it's going to land um but quite often i aren't so and maybe on also at the moment i think what people are responding to of course has kind of changed because of the weird times yeah you might be right yeah that's the beauty of subjectivity in a way isn't it i think as well you've got to go full circle sometimes haven't you and actually get to the point where you're not writing for the audience anyway you get that amount of kind of confidence that it's like well enough people will like it because this is good and you kind of take it away from trying to predict what other people are going to think exactly and generally i think a lot of the writers and the poets and the performers and the comedians actually that i most admire are the ones who have always had a strong sense of you know study i'm just gonna do what i'm gonna do if the audience follow me great if they don't tough [ __ ] um and i've had to really work to come to that place and i'm still not really at that place but but much more so but then the thing for me is i work to condition them yeah because i've always like i'm a regular on radio 3 spoken word show that ian mcmillan horse the verb um every six weeks they'll ask me to write something however that is brilliant show for me to be working on because i don't think they're so eclectic and they're so open and they're just across all genres of word um and it's kind of given me permission to so one week i might write a poem for them another week it might be a comedy sketch um they generally want me in to do lighter things and kind of cheer the show up if they've got some existential philosophers on and um someone who does classical music on radio 3 then i'm the i'm the clown in the mix um but still i can get to do more what i want to do and that's been really good for me actually i love the idea of them sat in a production meeting going right we've got all this stuff wow this is a really boring episode we got here isn't it what right funkate exactly almost literally because they did one on time the other week and i ended up writing an imagined book club session where deep sea wood lice and horse flies had to read a book and because they experienced time completely differently um they were reading the books very differently um and that it's almost yeah it was emergency slightly amusing poet voice needed here tightly i imagine imagine they went you know what kate we haven't got that feature in the show so far so bizarrely exactly we've never had we need more deep sea wood lice in our lives so kate what makes up the main bit of of what you do then what's your what do you call yourself if you like what's your job title my job title generally i will say stand up poet um to reflect the fact that i'm uh yeah perform as much as right um but then i mean if you again if you look at the last year actually what i've done is i've written a non-fiction book for a publisher and i've written a play for a festival i've written this book of poems and not really performance poems um and presented a pic of the week um for radio 4. so it turns out i do more than i thought i did and maybe i'm a bit stubborn to keep saying that i'm a stand-up poet i could just say i'm a writer and a performer or something but yeah but that's kind of at your core if you're like then that's yes definitely that's where you would retreat to if everything else what's the difference between a poem that's that's a performance poem and a poem that just goes in a book for me definitely a performance poem tends to be funnier tends to have rhyme tensor of rhythm tends to be instantly memorable um and it's a bit more surfacy and a poem that goes in a book for me usually is shorter doesn't rhyme not as memorable um so just slightly worse when i put it like that just worse it's not as right right good i think i could write poems for books yeah so poems that you don't want to read you put them in a book for other people exactly perfectly summarize i think there is a difference so isn't it you kind of with a performance thing you you're performing it once you're not gonna run over it again and point out some bits that were quite funny or did you remember this bit whereas obviously in a book you're there able to re-read the pyromania to find a different depth or see what that is or oh that's referencing back to the start let's read the first verse again or whatever i guess yeah and and actually the reason i'm a bit ambivalent about that is as a reader um i just read i read so quickly and i i don't remember her for what i read i just gulp it down i'm a kind of gobbling reader you're a greedy reader yes a greedy reader that sounds better i think i i read like that um because i don't particularly enjoy reading so it's kind of like well how fast can i read to get to the end of this yeah that's really oh it's just in one eye and out the other

nice that might be the title of this i might use that as a title for this episode

that's lovely that's now the title of the point that's the performance poem title of the podcast good line dave well done get it on a t-shirt my work is done and we thought you peaked when you came up with the catchphrase the other week they just keep coming what was the catchphrase how did you like it so dave's catchphrase how did you like it well how do i put this we all love a catchphrase a good old-fashioned catchphrase a funny little calling card that everyone holds there a few little words we all want to hear who couldn't love bart simpsons eat my shots man or the chuckle brothers to me to you we are a fan and if you're old enough you'll know step 2 was indeed a dirty old man mr humphries from how you being served was always free and you'd always get it nice to see you to see your nice from old bruce but when they heard dave's catchphrase i'm afraid the feedback was not all that victor meldrup doesn't believe it baldrick has no cunning fan and arnie most certainly won't be back such wonderful phrases you'd say i'm never tired of hearing that so what a shame they've chose how do you like it because well it's just a little bit crap but you've got to say it like that as well you got to say it like a high-pitched 1940s

so kate i was going to ask you what is that book called that was published back in february it's called the wow oscillations and and i feel i feel like i might need you to read your favorite out of it do you have it handy i do have it handy because um i realized from some of your other podcasts that you had people read actual words and stuff and i was like ooh to do oh to read my favorite yeah what's your favorite hold on a minute no this is the failing writers podcast read the one in there that really shouldn't have got in but made the cut because you had to make up your numbers which one i think shouldn't have got him but i have to say actually this book so normally honestly people aren't that bothered about performance poets poems in a book they just get put in no one edits them it's just like oh there's your poems but for this one i had a brilliant editor um she called jyn come in she's the the woman who runs nine arches press which is this indie poetry publisher that's become a pretty big indie poetry publisher and um she sort of knows what she's doing and she properly edited every comment every full stop would be kind of like oh should this that be there and although it was not a level of editing i would normally pay to my work it just felt like the amount of love and care and attention that someone had actually given it and so i have to say to be here to be honest thanks to jane anything that shouldn't be it is being winnowed out but i'm going to read a poem um called sea swimmers because um i've just been swimming in lakes all around um windmill and uh water and then swimming yeah swimming's a thing so there's so what you're sadly not getting is a much funnier poem that's in my other book that's not to hand that's called two women swimming breaststroke in the pool and it's about how there's always two women talking and doing breaststroke in every single pool you ever go in and i will just tell you the last line of that poem that you're not going to hear so out of context um and as i'm behind the two women in the pool i sometimes wish they'd [ __ ] drown um and people people enjoyed the subtle twist there it sounded like it was going to be such a lovely affirmation of two women joyously swimming together perhaps a feminist appreciation of the beauty of sisterhood i mean we're big we're big on analyzing poetry on this podcast and um yeah i mean it's it's interesting for me there and i'm feeling like there's a bit of a subtext in that about wanting them to drown there's definitely something going on right you've picked it up yeah as if they're as if you want them to to drown yeah it's it's amazing how you've got into the subtleties it works it works on many levels

see now we've done that and now this one that they're probably oh does it work that sounds really fun i bet all your poems are fun read is this another one no he probably won't be disappointed

okay we used to go in twos and threes heads bowed black robed like nuns on the way to matins everybody sees we are curing ourselves of something but say only they could never face the cold that we are brave and mad we love to hear this as much as they love being allowed to say it the sky is usually iron and pewter now the water only a degree or two colder than august we have to enter singly under this week's rules layered in our obvious need for getting the shock of immersion again and again and again ah this is this really needed more drowning that one that was beautiful very nice i liked it it was good dry orbs are very in dry rubs have become this garment that is a dry road what is that what is that yeah oh did it hold up okay so it's basically it's basically like wearing a sleeping bag um essentially um it's kind of got fleecy inside and then a kind of sleeping bag duvet covered i don't know what that fabric is called but you know what i mean like a slippy fabric on the outside it's really good it's got hood and you see all this so the swimmers go in the sea or the lake or whatever when they take their dry robes it's heavily branded dry up to the point that in some places they actually have signs up saying no dry orbs here and that's where they put them right yeah because they're what they mean is no big gangs of swimmers all just having one coffee for ages after they've swum and dripping on the floor of the cafe is what they mean that's not in most places it's just some unfriendly plane yeah it's a thing honest wow there's like a massive swimming subculture that we've been missing here isn't it yeah i'm learning a lot today i've got a i've got gangs of swimmers roaming the country causing havoc with their driver

forget about the stabbings and stuff in london this is where the real problem with society lies the dry robots wearing a massive sock and wishing each other ill sounds like a great community i don't know about anyone else but um with the dry root mention of dry robes as soon as you started explaining what they were all i could see was it on a dragon's den pitch i'd be shocked if that wasn't started life on a direct it just sounded like something they do and then they've managed to entice the least appropriate person out of the panel to get in one on the show you can see drunken banner tied in it now yeah i'm stuck i'm stuck in here i can't get out i'm i'm not right at all for that reason i'm out

you're listening to the award-winning failing writers podcast potentially award-winning maybe in the future possibly as of the current time this podcast unsurprisingly holds no awards whatsoever it's okay i've got a very serious question for you what uh what do you need curing from oh yes what do i need to carry from oh for the usual stuff for

dysfunctional family

miserable no actually my childhood was all right actually on the whole apart from my family um and divorce death the usual things that occur by the time you're 45. where did you grow up kate where did you grow up oh grew up in bradford in west yorkshire lovely bradford yes um at the time of you know i always i would love to write more actually about because bradford is this amazing city this beautiful city the building's gorgeous um it has this amazingly interesting sort of diverse ethnicity you've got loads of people from bangladesh and pakistan um and it's a whole vibrant place but actually growing up there in the well i was born in 1975 there is of course this kind of weird darkness there as well apparently you've got the yorkshire ripper and partly there's this other undercurrent of darkness i've only ever heard it captured by do you know um david peace's red riding trilogy also was books and he really captures that oh that just weird sense of something buried under the carpet in the west yorkshire well jimmy sadly not berries under the carpet it probably should have been um but for that whole era it's very um that there's something and i don't think i've ever captured by my writing particularly although it kind of does inform what i do um and then i know everywhere is interesting to go but i do think there's something about the west yorkshire or the bradford of the 80s that could be investigated even more actually well i went to university in bradford so um yeah it's a beautiful place but it's quite unique it's a special sort of vibe doesn't it do do you uh still live there or do you go back there a lot and i was i went back there when my stepmom was still alive quite often i was back there on saturday funnily enough um for the literature festival which has become this brilliant thing that actually is huge and reflects bradford and um i don't know if you know the the poet john hegley comic con who was probably more known in the 90s so he went to university in bradford as well um and he was on at the same gig and i often bump into john and it was just so nice to see him and chat about curry and he was also of course having that bradford's two you've had a lot of bradford curry's what do you do oh i've had many many a curry in bradford what's your what's your favorite curry house do you have one my favorite curry house is that oh it's the cashmere near the atlanta oh yeah yeah yeah yes no tablecloths no napkins nothing soft like that you just walk in there and they just whole curry at you no plates yep yep just walking yeah exactly yeah open your mouth

did you did you write poetry as a kid then was that your starting point was that yeah yeah fully it was just a thing of making up deaf rhymes in the car i'm a little flying here i go splattered through the car window all my bloody guts pour out i am dead without a doubt not a very nice way for me to die but i'm only a humble fly my friends and family will wonder where i've gone it's good job i've got my labelled undies on first poem ever brought there in with the deep subtext i was going to ask whether the stuff you wrote when your kid was rubbish or not but that was really good that answers that question yeah that's quite sickening isn't it it's because it's weird though but it was because i did it in the car i was one of three children and um if you're one of three in car journeys usually there's a constant fight as to who gets to sit in the middle or who does the awful hierarchy yes yeah yeah so you don't want to sit in the middle i always had to say in the middle even though i was the largest child by the time we've kind of grown up a little bit um but because i was the youngest well that's not right you did it in the middle large that was just to avoid avoid balance issues though wasn't it tom yeah yeah because there was one time when i was allowed to sit behind my dad and we just we drove around in circles for about 20 minutes yeah he couldn't write the car it's an excellent picture too

i was going to say though about sort of um about poetry as a kid because a lot kids tend to be into poetry because we like things that rhyme and then a lot of people sort of i don't know sort of lose interest in it as they get older so what is it that sort of kept you kept you going kept you interested in in poetry sort of through the years i just i love words i love playing with words and it's so um bizarre and good that it's been possible to make a living out of doing it i just landed i know there are lots of other ways to be you know you can do podcasts so you can be a a radio copywriter they're great ways too and they're they're things as you know um but um i just kind of carried on doing it and just i had this compulsion as well i wanted my words to be heard but i felt really shy about it and i didn't know how to make my words be heard or to share them and so what for me performance was my way in because i went to these open mic nights i went to one in bradford actually very early on and wrote a poem during the night and then performed it same when i was working as a radio journalist at rutland radio of all places there was an open mic night and i wrote one during the thing and it was always just this very shy tentative thing that i was doing almost like am i allowed to do this am i allowed to actually get up to do the cardinal sin in the eyes of my mum which would be showing off oh don't show off um and and actually that gave it a bit of a freeze on yeah because i wasn't allowed to show off but actually there i was getting up and people were laughing so it was like oh don't do this oh but do do this um and then when i lived in newcastle in order to because i was a radio journalist um then i there was actually quite a thriving scene a poetry scene and he could just sign up for these nights and then quite soon people started saying oh well i'm running a festival can you come and do a gig for 50 quid or you know i'm running this other night can you come and do some poems for a hundred quid eventually and it just sort of took off from there and i found this whole generally arts council subsidized sector um where you could legitimately share your poems and i still have this device in my head going don't show off oh don't show off that's bad um but i have somehow overcome that because uh i'm showing off for money so that's somehow allowed wow so there's like this whole little underground world that nobody knows about unless you're into poetry or you're a or you are a poet exactly exactly and i just stumbled across it really um and it was tied into the world of stand-up comedy like i was a really quite [ __ ] stand-up comedian joined the club oh join the oh you old were you on yeah what are the words but there's a thing isn't there connecting to failing writers if you've actually gone if you've done stand up that that's still to other people anyway it they're like wow that's so impressive that you ever did that at all and it kind of is this yeah not if you'd heard dave say i'm scared yeah no not not so much but actually but people sort of eventually did this god imagine if you and dave had been on the same bill i would have been let people like this is the worst gig i've ever been to when are the comedians coming on oh [ __ ] no it all rolled but it did fit me i'll tell you what the [ __ ] stand up comedian is is a good stand-up poet in this end zone if you have any of the skills at all of stand-up comedy that's generally better than many performance poets who have never learned any of those skills and don't really believe they need to and for me i was like well i think i vaguely need to have a sense of a punchline and a big sense of timing and connecting with an audience right it was a good so it was a good grounding in it it kind of gave you definitely right yeah yeah you do deliver a poem well gotta say really gonna say something really sarcastic then i do yes i do we're not we're not always you know sarcastic and glib about everything sometimes there's a genuine comment that just really freaks people out there's silence after that what you're being nice

this is the failing writers podcast but don't let that put you off keep listening

i've got i've got a really antagonistic question okay why do we need poetry oh why do we need poetry um do you know before the pandemic i might have said that often poetry is a middle-class luxury um and it's a it's a way by which people sort of show off their their refined cultural tastes and thus delineate themselves in the social hierarchy but now to be honest i would actually say oh it turns out um we need we genuinely need not all of us not all the time but sometimes some of the time we need the ability to see and share and think and read things in the language that's not the normal language of the everyday we need to go beyond and underneath prose because sometimes there are feelings and vague fears and anxieties and hopes and joys that just don't hack it in the language of the shopping list or the political speech they need a heightened language and a charged language and and actually without access to that sometimes i would even say um we might suffer because there might be things that we really need to express that we just can't and poetry can leap in and fill that gap so before i was not really an apologist for poetry actually um and now i've seen its use i've seen its needs um although at the same time i would also then end by saying poetry not just for pandemics for life um that is a brilliant thing yeah i would totally agree with that i mean not just not just in the sense that it is a it's a cathartic process isn't it writing yeah yeah you know writing especially writing poetry i think for the reasons that you say yeah but uh absolutely actually reading it as well yeah and and that whole idea that that subjectivity that you were talking about before you know not every poem is for every person but sometimes you find a poem you think oh my god that person is speaking specifically to me they must have written it for me they must have known me somehow yeah and yeah and actually and i know that we do get that with novels but but maybe in a less sort of um again heightened way because with poetry it's words that you can probably they're short enough there's few of them enough you can take them with you in your head or carry them around with you on your phone or in your pocket and you've kind of got them to to run through to run over you can take them into your own body i mean this poetry originally was written around campfires by people who were probably they didn't have pen and paper at that point it was the oral tradition they were right into the rhythm of their heartbeats and then maybe there were drums and certainly around the campfire people's heartbeats started going in rhythm as they still do at a poetry reading now and um there's just something very intimate elemental about it and it's very physical it's very visceral um and uh yeah most poetry is not for most people but there was a poet called adrian mitchell one of the liverpool poets in the 60s and he said most people ignore poetry because most poetry ignores people but actually i think that's less and less true lots of poetry connecting with people and as a poetry editor said the other day you don't i mean she reads poetry for a job but there's just the odd gem that she really needs as a poem to take with her and everything else she can kind of take it or leave it but those gems as you've said once you've got those poems that connect with you well that's really good and if if i've ever and i know i have actually so this is where i'm going to pick myself up and say you know no jobs jobs are good in i did part of my job i know definitely at least some of my poems have connected with at least a few people in a way that that one of them can be that poem for that person that'll do me that's all because i think as we like way back at the start of the podcast we we read a bit of our teenage poetry um and i used to write i used to write quite a lot and i like i sort of fell out of it because i've always kind of found that the lack of sort of strict rules and structures it's both sort of liberating and terrifying at the same time so we've discussed when you're writing a novel whatever there's certain structures to character and three-act structure and there's certain ways of doing things you can fall back on but with poetry you can kind of do whatever you want can't you you know any you can make a poem out of anything and that's sort of quite freeing i can do whatever i want but at the same time how do i know if i'm doing it right or not absolutely do you ever have that sort of feeling well except i think that a lot of poetry it has that potential to have structures and freedom within the structures so a lot of poets for example will still write sonnets a classic 14 line poem that came about as well from the italian for little song you're meant to be able to encapsulate something just in 14 lines with various rhyme schemes often a rhyming couplet at the end of it that sums up whatever you were talking about in the previous 12 lines and the discipline of having to do that and having to marshal what might be your massive thoughts about something into this little little little form and try and condense it and compress it so that it's kind of you know it's diluted orange squash rather than the whole jug of orange that you're sharing mountain um oh that was a nice similar it wasn't it was almost like i'm a poet anyway um yeah the discipline to do that is available to you in poetry actually so i love all the while i do like kind of three verse at the same time yeah i'll i like a sonnet or a triolet or a haiku even the 17 syllable form which um john john cooper clark's famous haiku to sum up her subject in 17 syllables is very difficult

yeah sport structure and freedom i think so yeah yeah who first inspired you um you know you you you mentioned uh your your little poem about the fly where would that have come from would that have been from stuff you've read at school or did you read poetry at home or what uh what sort of got you going in the first place yeah so there was poetry around at school and a little bit at home and that so my mum although she never really she didn't she definitely didn't say that she ever used to write poetry herself and but it turned out long story short but when i phoned my biological father who she'd had an affair with when she was his secretary as you do very 70s and he said that she had written loads of poems to her dad and actually i found these poems wow after my mum died and there were these funny rhyming poems that she'd write him on his birthday but she never said like so i'd be sat there when i was you know between 8 and 14 just kind of doodling away really inspired by just loving the words loving the poetry at school loving deaf nursery rhymes and um yeah it was odd it was this thing it's almost like a quirk of the brain that we shared even though she didn't let on and then i loved so growing up in the 80s on the telly you would have people like richard digence if you remember him but he was a kind of funny folk singer type thing and then he had jasper carrot who would do songs as part of his yeah comedy funky moped exactly and then a bit later on some of the earliest um stand up that i saw because i would always watch the bbc new at comedy competition it will be on really late at night like on bbc two and i remember corki and the juice pigs um i think they were canadian musical actually just loved them kind of a precursor to flight of the conchords um so kind of for me it was always music and rhythm with comedy was the thing i most loved but the thing is like i'm not i'm quite clumsy i mean it turns out i have an all-right singing voice it's acceptable and had i had the discipline to you know learn the ukulele the guitar probably i'd just have become um a singing comedian actually but i didn't so all that all i had was poems then and then later on i actually i met john hegley very early on and there's all these funny do you remember well i said you remember but he's very much around now mary lachlan young who was the million pound poet so called because in the mid 90s he got a record deal for a million pounds for his funny performance poems and he dressed a bit like byron the poet and popped up in classic 90s films like about a boy um anyway he is now on the circuit that i'm on now but at that time he was this kind of press phenomenon and i was just like look it's the thing you can do comic book oh and pamez although i didn't identify with pamez even though of course pamez is who i most got compared to when i started out because i was you know a woman doing funny poems with a regional accent um but um yeah it all that was around me and then eventually i then read more miserable poets like leonard cohen and sylvia plath and ted hughes and kind of subtly and much later developed the kind of oversight to my poetry as we've already established the worse and less have you ever ever had anyone being like snobbish towards the kind of poetry that you do have you ever had any sort of i don't know do people sort of i don't know whether you're on twitter or anything like that are people funny about you know dividing up poetry like there's you know there are certain people who shouldn't be poets because they're not taking it seriously enough or have you ever come come up against that yet it's not worthy enough definitely and actually it's it kind of i suppose it's a bit more subtle than people on twitter going you shouldn't be a poet you're not a question um genuinely it's more subtle but actually it's that um so those of us who do performance poetry particularly those of us who are funny generally there are certain types of gigs we will get offered and certain types of publication opportunities which for a long time was no publication opportunities actually no one published funny performance poets um and i think we were just kind of aware of it and then a few of us um saw mary lachlan young and matt harvey and luke wright um we got offered jobs on this radio for show called saturday live where we wrote basically topical funny rhyming poems throughout the show and that did attract some there's a particular radio critic um who would just she whenever she mentioned saturday live she'd be like are these awful comics um less subtle than someone on twitter um but so in a way it was like we knew our place but our place seemed pretty all right because at that time like in there you know the late mid not then you know 2010s we were getting gigs like i was probably messages for the glastonbury festival that was part of visitors for the great north run so it felt like whatever you didn't get in terms of publication or kudos or the poetry society taking any notice of you at least you were getting interesting fun gigs but now i was going to ask you what does that involve like being a poet in residence uh for an organization yeah it depends on what the organization wants but often you just kind of they want to wheel you out at their press conferences so they can go look we we do look we have a poet we're cultured but we're not she's a poet we're not a culture say something poet she'll read a poem in a minute exactly there she's done

sometimes they do actually lead to slightly more like i love the fact that you're so cool with that as well okay that's so wonderful

sometimes there is a nicer thing like an ongoing relationship like actually the great north run so i was probably in residence for them in 2011 and i think for them it was also a bit of a look really cool we've got poetry residents and but they um in the end i kind of got really into running and i did a chill i started no a family show about running which they supported the next year and now it's their 40th anniversary and they've kind of come back to me and got me to do a poem about um covid and the run because they're doing the documentary about these 40 years and then the run people have kind of picked that up and going oh hang on that genuinely does encapsulate what we were hoping to see around this year's run which is still taking place but a bit against the odds and they've pulled me back in again and actually that is really nice because that feels like that's genuinely come out of because of the poetry that i wrote if you know what i mean and they've gone yeah yeah this is what we wanted to say and it's a bit of a you've touched yeah you've probably touched them like you've probably probably properly got inside the head with it and they've actually it's actually changed it's changed and that's probably because of the existing relationship and the fact i did do that run and i did think about all the people doing the run you know 10 years ago and it's still being in my head so there's something a bit more i mean that if you could have that more often as a poet for hire where you are i suppose i have it with the verb as well on radio 3 where i'm kind of i know what the values of that program are and i can tune into them and i know what they want from me as well i am their light relief but with a touch of cleverness i suppose thrown in um and that's you know that's okay but that's easier i think when because a lot of the writers that you talk to a lot of the writing you're talking about is people setting off on a blank page into the dark writing a book project um or other long-form project not knowing where it's going to go and actually i think that is so much braver than what i do which is having these shorter term things which often get feedback and are often commissions so yeah i don't know if i would have the courage to just throw something out there and hope that it landed i couldn't i don't think well i'm here what i'm hearing then to to break it down to sort of analyze what we've said there what you're basically saying is that poetry is quite easy and uh you can kind of get away with murder if you want and get paid for it well that's cool

yeah although it turns out as long as as long as you're actually very good at it there's a little little caveat at the end you do actually need to be good at it yeah yeah it's always that big isn't it always to succeed jesus boxes are getting ticked and then all of a sudden but you've got to be talented i can see that dave was like on the edge of his seat there he was about to punch the air and then suddenly

i just heard the words easy paid doesn't even have to rhyme i'm like what hi on god yeah it does have to be good damn when i write a poem i don't know where i'm going i just thought words are flowing from me head squiggity plop sometimes they're immortal sometimes they sound awful but mostly i just lose the thread so what are your next projects kate what what's on the horizon oh okay so kind of well two big things one doesn't seem to have been officially announced but i think if i say he it's here it's all oh my god we've got an exclusive boys what carry on kate do you think we need a fan so what's the big announcement kate thank you for coming on what is the big announcement the big announcement is that my show where there's look there's bras which was my show about northern women um one as you might have forgotten ones you might have heard of ones you might never have heard of from helen sharman to betty boos rides to hilda of whitby um that show um a publisher um so i i'm only going through properly with this arsenal if i said no i'm gonna be vague i'm gonna be vague and tantalizing i'm gonna say a major national publisher which has a base newly has a base in manchester which is unusual and interesting and this major national publisher approached me in the autumn and said oh you've probably had um lots of publishers ask you about your show about northern women and i was like yes yes yes lots of publishers fending them off fencing them off with a big stick bracket no one's publishers at all obviously none um but they were like yes anyway so um if you possibly if there's any chance you would write a book of the show we'd be very interested um and i was like yes lockdown project and also um you know national publication at last which i think i had always wanted but not known how to get um so i wrote that book between january and march and i think it's coming out all being well i don't know timetables might have gone weird but i think early next year february next year and i also wrote a play about um imagining a meeting between bernard manning the comedian and ted hughes poet and as you do and the ted hughes festival is has commissioned that and we are going to um rehearse it in september this year corvid regulations and who are you gonna play ted or uh

well neither but i'll tell you what ted and bernard are not played by men that's all i'm saying excellent exciting yeah so but neither of those things so neither of those things are being a stand-up poet thing that's fantastic okay totally very exciting looking forward to the bernard manning ted hughes one yeah interesting i'm not i'm not saying my thought fox is fat but like the best congratulations you can use that if you want use that have that as you can see yeah

where would we be able to see that well um we're gonna um so um this venue called cast in doncaster and we are doing a thing where we will go for a week to their rehearsal studio and so me two actors and a director are gonna work for a week and then share something at the end of that week and it will be made it'll be on zoom streamed as well as um in person and then hopefully we will deter it so of course as you can imagine all this sort of stuff a bit of being up in the air at the minute isn't it but somehow somewhere it'll it will get out there and it's the most it was just a mad idea a mad idea that i had and was very enthusiastic about and i was very enthusiastic about it to the right person in the right place at the right time because it was um a producer of the ted hughes festival after he'd just come out of my show and i was like i decided i'm not didn't i imagine if ted here was a bird man because he could have met you know and went off for a big monologue and instead of backing away like gingerly and pretending not to have seen me um he actually went flipping it that sounds interesting we'll get some outsponsor money and you can do that and i was like whoa how can that be allowed that the mad thoughts of my mind can turn into a thing so kate do you you must have a website that people can do presumably you've got a newsletter or something uh that people can sign up to to find out why you know well yeah i should have a newsletter i don't i can't do that it's a good job the last 15 months would have been i'm feeling a bit existentially traumatized by my occupation today any thoughts on that newsletter people and but my website's katefox.com uk i'm quite active on twitter at katefoxwriter and i'm sort of active on instagram but all i do on instagram is post pictures of places where i've been swimming basically instagram isn't it i think dinner and places people have been swimming kate we've got a massive we've got a massive favor to ask you we were planning to write a poem for ilkley literature festival uh do like a little poetry competition yes and uh we thought we might enter that uh as a little uh as a little task um we were going to ask you a if you could give us some pointers uh how how we can win this poetry competition because we want to win it we don't want to just enter it oh sorry not win it i was going to what i was going to ask you is could you just write mine for me carry on giving the tips to the other two yeah come on what do you two want to know so that's that's part a of the favor i'm afraid it's got a part b as well part b is that would you possibly come back and judge them oh i love that forest yes i totally will sketch i'll tell you all right yes i'll do the tips i'll do the judging and i'll tell you what though do you want the tips now or is that separate yes please yes now okay well actually do in that who do you know who the judges of the poetry competition are because that will depend on what my tips bribery i like what you're thinking yeah so we yeah i don't shall have a quick look and see if have a quick look because because because poetry competition i'm assuming it's kind of pg page poetry and they're wanting something more like my sea swimmers poem rather than my i wish they'd [ __ ] drown breaststroke oh i hope not i'm guessing possibly uh it just says judging will be fair and unbiased that sounds like the the lady dot protest too much that why didn't he you shouldn't you shouldn't have to say your judges would be unbiased it's true that should go without saying something's gone on there hasn't it poetry world is a very small murky murky underworld poetry we definitely won't pick somebody that we're related to we'll basically give it to me daughter oh there is there is a bit here sorry just let me read you this because that might give you a steer last year's winning poets were praised for their powerful imagery disciplined use of form and language well sounds quite serious isn't it emotional subject matter and for demonstrating the magic that poetry can do and it has to respond to the theme of the return the return oh all right well now that's good that you've got a theme that's half the battle then do you okay so okay my top tips would be okay so think of something that genuinely either really excites you really makes you happy really angers you or really saddens you like so not just something you're ambivalent about if you were writing about a vegetable and you just quite like asparagus don't like asparagus whereas if you love broccoli or hate broccoli with impression right choose the broccoli not the asparagus that's a metaphor but also i'll tell you what i wish i wish the theme was mushrooms now because that's inspired me oh well mushrooms do don't they sort of disappear in return the return of all nature and fungi maybe they do straight in there yeah yeah they turn if the mushrooms um another tip would be uh so yes so that's kind of like from your personal writing perspective where you've got to be with it so yes strength of thing and when it comes to writing it do you know well i i'm going to give you a tip as to the process um what i would do what a lot of poetry workshops i attend um do and what i when i run poetry workshops i get people to do this um just basically write set a timer for five minutes and get the theme or a word in your head and just write don't censor yourself don't stop yourself see what happens once you've done that free writing exercise you probably have something that you could turn and prune and sculpt into a poem um and then and my final tip probably otherwise it's like 101 to writing poems that will take too long and lives are short um but um so you like any piece of writing the rule about the first line grabbing you that that works even more in poetry though so the first line needs to do something interesting and arresting and generally so often in a poetry workshop the biggest advice given is um oh cut the first two lines your first line is actually here the first line is usually buried within deeper within your writing do you know what i mean i think that's the same with other fiction and then the next tip don't worry about farm too much worry if it comes out rhyming or if it doesn't just let it do what it needs to do i know that's a bit vague but that's something about trusting your own voice um and um i was going to say something about the last line um but i've forgotten um don't worry too much about making it end on a pat naught um you know in the end it was all a dream or at the end don't worry about ending in the middle end in such a way that intrigues us maybe okay um i think so oh and of course have you talked about this before as a writing tip it goes like times 10 for poetry generally show not tell so kind of don't tell us that the there's a famous check-off quote about this that i'm gonna now render really badly but he says something like don't tell us that the moon is shining show us the glint of moonlight on the glistening grass or whatever which doesn't mean you have to overdo it with the flowery adjectives either but it does mean allow us to see it taste it feel it hear it smell it tight thing jobs are good brilliant all right winners three winners coming up can't see how we that's that's bronze silver and gold nailed now isn't it are you just saying that dave because you've taken those tips far too literally and you just about finished on your mushroom poem that's glistening in the moonlight

what happens okay if during that initial five minutes um that you just go for it what you end up with is just a blank page well in those is that i suppose that technically shouldn't happen because if in i mean i an exercise again that i always do to start a workshop off is a free right so we don't even have a theme i set the timer for three minutes and say right right now let whatever comes in your head out doesn't matter if it's rubbish doesn't matter if it's scary it would get you arrested no one's gonna read it just don't stop don't take your pen off that paper for three minutes and it's really hard for them to end up with a blank page if you've got a blank page you've probably got some quite fundamental block to your home do you have some sort of punishment for people who don't write anything i should have maybe that would make people like better wouldn't it or not in the nurturing spirit of a poetry writing session some sort of electric yeah yeah wouldn't work but actually now you've mentioned it yeah yeah or maybe read them some vogon poetry

yeah that would be a perfect punishment yes less severe than electrocution and maybe actually inspiring in the end you know i was just going to ask about sorry talking about your uh poetry workshops i read something yesterday that suggested that um this links back to a previous guest we've had but that sarah milliken was on one of your poetry workshops and you encouraged her to get into stand-up is it did i read that right uh yes basically how she started in stand-up was i ran it was the first workshop i ever run as well and it was an open workshop it was open to poets comedians playwrights anybody who wanted to perform their own words and um so and it was at the cadman hall and gateshead and the idea was we'd have a full day workshop run by me and a blog called carl thompson who had lots of experience of running performance workshops and at the end of the day well in the evening we would have a performance so because i knew there was a huge value to go in straight from it's just one thing to say well i'm gonna like practice performing but you can't really practice unless you've got an audience not really so it was quite a high pressure thing and server rang me up before it and kind of asking questions about it and she was saying that she worked at the job center and she'd written stuff for the live theater and she wanted to get her players on but she'd sometimes seen actors read her work and thought hang on i want it to be like this so she thought she should try perform herself and i was going oh well yeah brilliant brilliant and she came along and had written this five-minute what she called a monologue and i said to her after i said that's stand-up comedy and it's really good because it was so brilliantly sharply written and she was not at that point a good performer she was like anybody who first starts out as a stunned up kind of yet to find their voice but then she said will you mentor me and i genuinely at that point thought i honestly it makes it sound like i'm going oh yeah i was mystic meg but i could tell that she was potentially a much better stand-up yeah than i would ever be she was like the stand-up maybe that i would have wanted to be and so i kind of just pushed her in the right direction of various kind of gigs and open mics and stuff and we stayed in touch and um she came she came to a poetry workshop actually that john hegley ran um very early on and he was very nice to her and he she made a real impression on her actually and she just loved that whole it's a very friendly scene the poetry scene it's as is the open mic comedy scene but there's something particularly nurturing about poets and it was quite a good place as one of the places where she started off so yes i always feel like it's um a bit of a i'm not gonna say claim to fame exactly but i kind of for me it's proof that the idea that you were just born being a stand-up in the right place and at the right time well that would be clearly bollocks you have to find the context in which you can become a stand-up type yeah um and she and she did in the northeast in the in the early 2000s quite a good endorsement of your workshops as well really isn't it well i think and she would have succeeded anyway and i think that and it taught me i think and confirmed to me there's a heck of a lot of people out there who are potentially you know one of the best stand-ups ever all what are the best novelists ever or whatever singer songwriters ever who are just who just need the right call and encouragement yeah that speaks to them who just need that invitation yeah the encouragement exactly it's encouragement isn't it permission almost as well permission to you know yes we want to hear your words yes we want someone will will hear them if you share them and i just think for me that's one of the most powerful powerful things actually and that's just why i love still doing workshops you know in schools community groups wherever yeah there's always people uplifting yeah exactly exactly definitely well kate thank you so so much for your time it's been um wonderful to talk to you really happy really good yes thank you very much just brilliant thank you so much would you all learn a lot would you read us would you read us one more before you go oh yes i'll tell you what how's this for a theme so your theme that you've got to write on is return isn't it and this poem is called returns and it's about how during the pandemic i basically for quite a while couldn't read i know like a lot of people my concentration just absolutely went and i hated it so i was reading um and so i was just desperately looking forward nonetheless to return into a bookshop um so this is that okay returns the plague books won't be in yet but the dystopia section will be well stocked and you'd usually want two meters of space to browse anywhere this last shop i came to on purpose a pilgrimage then the assistant said they still had customers her son had been sent home for coughing in pe so there's where i'll return first enjoy the full shelves calming lines the glossy wooden lectin the smell of new the rash of wood cut covers in striking monochromes the imprints from london chicago new york i spent 50 pounds i no longer had last time we'll spend another 50 next feeling and preserving an ecology a sort of home so happy for this normality my eyes will fill so the titles are blurred but reading reading no can hardly take in a word i was just thinking about stealing that poem for the ugly festival to be honest it seems to be oh yeah i was going to ask is that a well-known poem will people recognize that or has that been published anywhere just curious no no it suddenly has but maybe like if you changed every other word or if you change the word return although it kind of needs to be about return yeah this is the only it's kind of the worst idea you've ever had you've been given some really good top tips cable that is a pretty poor tip for a poetry competition about where the theme is returned no thank you so much for your time kate it's been absolutely lovely to speak to after all these years thank you i'm so glad you've been you've uh unfailing writer questions i will still be asking myself as i go for my next swim am i a failing writer what is failing what is unfailing but that's all right it's all about being a writer so thank you very much indeed thanks kate thank

oh my god now if someone accidentally drowns while you're going for your swim this is recorded in your like number one suspect i shouldn't say that when you're being recorded oh man

lovely i've told you it was good tonight you did say that tom and you were right it was actually better than i thought it was and i was there at the time yeah which is weird better than uh yeah than i ever remember no what a lovely lovely lady yes it is and yeah fantastic poet and just fun yeah and funny and how about that having the actual uh poem that we can now copy and uh oh i mean that's magic that is nice yeah we'll have to change a few words each so they're all the same yeah but if we send something roughly in the same we should be all right i'll tell you what if we don't win now we'll only have ourselves to blame now we can blame kay can we why yeah we can blame the yeah the judges and kate and the rules and everything else but uh somewhere in there we also have to blame ourselves yeah so let's get on with writing poetry lads yeah but also let's not forget that next week yes uh is the reveal of our flash fiction horror challenge yes um how's it all going how are we getting on with that well just a few bits to tidy up on it obviously i haven't started yet that started yet blowing up i'm gonna just confess i'm still a bit overwhelmed by the whole horror thing i'm not really it just doesn't i don't know can't find a way into it i see i used to i used to be really into our used to watch loads of horror films and then we had a baby and some i just can't seem to watch horror films in the same way anymore because nothing's as bad it just doesn't touch you as much as the horror exactly yeah yeah what's this isn't scary i'm gonna try getting up at two o'clock in the morning for a feed exactly so uh so yeah this is gonna be a challenge yeah game tonight a few years ago we uh we really enjoyed uh blair witch project a few years ago went to see at the cinema and we're freaking terrified by it but we loved it and then a few years well quite quite a few years later we thought it's on tonight it's on telly should we uh let's pull up a let's pull up a sofa and we'll watch it and it got i reckon about 25 minutes in and uh and i yawned

a bit tired okay she was like yeah i'm a bit tired as well should we go to bed yeah let's go to bed and that was it is that because you were scared or bored actually scared genuinely scared because i remember watching that when it came out in the cinema with my now wife and we came out you know he kind of discussed the film when you come out i don't remember the end of blair witch in like that um basement type thing and the guy stood up yes so we're sort of discussing the film what have you and helena says she says oh right yeah no i thought he was having a week he's just like i wasn't scared at all yeah why is it see i i remember that bit because i used to hang my dressing gown on the back of the door in the student house where i lived and i remember watching the film and being a bit scared and then that night i woke up and i could just see the outline of my dressing gown facing the wall in the corner and i properly pooed my pants all right i'm glad we have this little chat i'm actually i've had a really good idea for a horror story now there we go see inspiration the dressing gown so yeah let's um let's get ready for next week okay big reveal remember 500 words max tom i know you've got a problem with keeping things down so see you next week chaps and let's scare the pants off each other yes laters wait wait wait wait wait

we need to mention that we're doing a live event again i know we've mentioned it already but it's worth mentioning again because it's going to be such a huge an extraordinary event it's it's just a massive opportunity for people to come and see dave's catchphrase live exactly yeah yeah exactly just i'll just repeat it for half an hour come and hang out with the stars of this show yeah yeah so it's on the 5th of august thursday the 5th of august is at 6 30 and it's at elk manor house courtyard how can people get completely free it is free but tickets are available they are available find out all the details at failingwriterspodcast.com forward slash blog but i would get on it quickly because i don't know how much longer they're going to be available do you know what i mean yeah if you've ever seen a hot cake sale bit like that at least three have already gone we don't need tickets mate just saying because we're doing it we won't need tickets so you can probably yeah you don't need to go yeah do you think do we get a lanyard did we get like a backstage lanyard they haven't even have they sent a message about what we get in the green room and stuff yeah about our rider or not yes if tom if tom gets red m ms in that bowl get ready that's all i'm saying be you're right he's gonna be fun though isn't it he's gonna be fun be fun for somebody yeah so yeah come join us come join us it'll be a laugh yep and thursday august 5th oakley yeah and even if it isn't a laugh it's only 45 minutes so what i mean exactly yeah there are we should say there are other acts on after us in case there's some music afterwards and i think there's like a little mini play as well isn't it yeah come along come along indeed excellent all right so you can say goodbye now again are you actually going to let us go this is right what about your business


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Kate Fox

Kate Fox works mainly as a stand-up poet and as a broadcaster and speaker. As she points out on stage, if you say you’re a comedian who does poems, not many people will come and see you; whereas if you say you’re a poet who does comedy…still not many people will come and see you but at least you get Arts Council funding… She enjoys being a variety of things but has found it can make you hard to categorise. Basically she’s a writer and performer and due to her extensive work on the radio in the past few years, quite a few people do come and see her work after all.

That includes two comedy series called The Price of Happiness for Radio 4 about things she’s supposed to want but doesn’t and her current touring show “Where There’s Muck There’s Bras” about notable Northern women. She is a familiar radio voice, having presented Pick of the Week on Radio 4 and been a regular contributor to Radio 3’s The Verb, among many other broadcasts.

She has been Poet in Residence for the Great North Run, Glastonbury Festival and Radio 4’s Saturday Live. She has also performed her poetry on BBC1 and BBC2. She has supported acts including Linton Kwesi Johnson, Hollie McNish, John Cooper Clarke and John Hegley and is a headline act in her own right.

She’s also a gentle activist and campaigner for the voices of Northerners, the working class, women and the neurodiverse to be heard; mainly by teaching and running workshops in schools and community groups -and by speaking, writing, raising awareness and tutting at injustice and inequality.