In Collaboration

I love working with other artists. Collaborations are inspiring, allowing different perspectives and insights into other ways of working. I’ve been really lucky to have worked closely with a wide range of exceptional artists, from writing the Northumberland Millennium musical Tam Lin with composer and English concertina player Alistair Anderson, to creating radio poems like Dunstanburgh and The Refuge Box with BBC Senior Producer Julian May, to visual collaborations with photographers like Nigel Shuttleworth (The Blue Lonnen) and Jose Snook (Many Hands) and artists and print-makers like James Dodds (Longshore Drift) and Olivia Lomenech Gill (Horse).


It’s also lovely when old work is given new life by other artists. I’ve enjoyed watching dancers interpret The Refuge Box (Dansformation’s Northumbriana), and hearing the National Youth Choir of Great Britain sing my words in John Casken’s setting, Uncertain Sea. Czech composer and jazz pianist Jakub Zahradnik has made memorable settings of my Five Sea Songs, and I’ve had lines inscribed in stone, bronze, pottery and stained glass by several artists, including Michael Johnson, Graham Taylor, Catrin Jones and Bridget Jones.

There are certain artists with whom I’ve worked often over many years. This year is the 20th anniversary of The Wund an’ the Wetter, a collaboration with Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston. You can see us together in Morpeth Chantry at 4pm on Saturday April 27th (part of the 52nd Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering), and at ‘Iron Or’, the Fourth Iron Press Festival, in St George’s Church, Cullercoats at 7.30pm on Saturday June 22nd.

Since 2011, I’ve created four performance pieces and an installation with electronic composer Peter Zinovieff, and we’re about to embark on our sixth piece, Under the Ice for NUSTEM’s ‘Exploring Extreme Environments’. For this, I’ll also be working in collaboration with Antarctic scientists. Our piece will premier at the end of 2020.

This year I also look forward to further performances with composer and folk fiddler Alexis Bennett, whom I met at last year’s Dartington International Summer School. We’ll be performing there again on August 4th, as well as on board the Cutty Sark at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, on 24th May.

I have two further exciting collaborations in the offing. First, I’ve written some words in Northumbrian dialect for electronic composer Trevor Wishartfor one movement of his latest large-scale work. I can’t say too much about this yet, as it won’t premier for some time; but I have heard Trevor’s setting and I love it.

Secondly, I’m one of the writers contributing to a limited edition series of essays inspired by poet Elizabeth Bishop, produced by fine-art bookbinder Kate Holland with prints by Tom Hammick. This lovely project has allowed me the opportunity to spend time re-reading and thinking about Bishop’s work, especially her magnificent poem At the Fishhouses, the subject of my essay.








Wild Northumberland

Lots of exciting things are happening in 2019. Although some details are still provisional, here are a few of them:

Saturday February 16th, 6pm-9pm

Wild Northumberland

Exhibition opening at Niche Gallery @ The Old Bath House

I’ll be reading poetry and signing books at the invitation of artists Paul and Katie Henery, at the opening of their latest exhibition, ‘Wild Northumberland’.

Paul is an award-winning wildlife painter and printmaker – he has won the BBC Wildlife Magazine Art Award and the RSPB Fine Art Award. Katie, his daughter, is a printmaker who also uses vintage maps, pen and ink and photography in her work. Their work is inspired by the wildlife, landscape and marine environment, with a particular focus on the Northumberland coast. 

My poems for the evening will reflect themes from their new work created this winter.

For more information, please see:

Niche Gallery, The Old Bath House, Radar Close, North Broomhill, NE65 9UJ


Saturday, March 9th, 11am – noon

Can She Bait a Line?

The unsung heroines of the North East’s fishing communities

Until the mid 20th century North East coble fishermen relied on their wives and daughters for the unpaid, land-based tasks that kept the boat at sea. This included gathering bait and preparing the long lines, each of which carried 1,400 mussel-baited hooks. It was also the women’s job to sell fish in neighbouring villages.

From the early 19th century some women gained economic independence in the more industrial summer herring fishery. Fisher lasses worked in teams, gutting and packing herring into barrels with layers of salt.

My talk will include some real-life examples, and we’ll consider what we can learn from fisher women’s lives about human relations to nature, place and sustainability.

Old Low Light, Clifford’s Fort, Fish Quay, North Shields, NE30 1JA

k porteous 4 -- coble sunbeam 1930s

Coble Sunbeam, Beadnell 1938 (photo credit David Horsley)

Friday May 24th

From the Coble Coast to Bantry Bay – Poetry and Music of the Sea

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

The Blue Lonnen by Katrina Porteous with original music by Alexis Bennett.

The Blue Lonnen is an elegy in words and music for the coble, the traditional wooden boat of the English North East coast. Poet Katrina Porteous celebrates the last working examples of this lovely craft, and the traditions, culture and community which it embodied. In this newly-devised performance, her words are interspersed with original music by Alexis Bennett, created entirely from sounds made by the fiddle, played live and processed electronically.

Alexis Bennett lectures at Goldsmiths, University of London, has performed widely as a viola player with early music ensembles, and is well-known on the folk scene as a ceilidh caller and fiddler. As a composer he works primarily with poets, filmmakers and animators, and his music has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, Channel 4, TCM and at major film festivals throughout the world.

Bantry Bay by Mick Delap

Bantry Bay is an exuberant sound piece for poetry and music that tells the story of the Bantry Long Boat, the oldest surviving ship in the French Navy, captured in Ireland in 1796 when a French invasion fleet was beaten back by the weather. Mick Delap traces this remarkable story from 1796 to the Bantry Long Boat’s 21st century successors, the Atlantic Challenge Gigs, via Commander James Wolfe, the Woolwich hydrographical surveyor who first charted Bantry Bay in the 1840’s. Bantry Bay uses a series of contemporary voices, mixed with the music of the time, to capture the feel of the sea 150 years ago. As well as Mick Delap, readers will include two leading Irish poets, Paddy Bushe and Theo Dorgan, in Greenwich specially for the Bantry Bay performance.

Mick Delap, long time Greenwich resident, is a poet and sailor who has first-hand experience of the waters of the West of Ireland, where the Bantry Bay sequence is set. He has published two collections of poetry, “River Turning Tidal” in 2003, and “Opening Time”, which includes his Bantry Bay sequence, in 2015.


August 3rd – 10th

Dartington International Summer School and Festival, Devon.

I’m delighted to be running my popular Poetry of Place course again this year, and to be performing in The Great Hall with Alexis Bennett on Sunday 4th at 5.15pm. Tickets go on sale in February. More details to follow.

k. porteous 6 -coble golden gate 1994 credit k porteous

Coble the Golden Gate leaves Beadnell Harbour, 1994. (Photo K. Porteous)





Horse Gallops Home

In 2011 electronic composer Peter Zinovieff and I wrote a half-hour performance piece for computer and voice, about the 3,000 year old Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire. Our piece, called Horse, was commissioned for Between the Ears on Radio 3, and recorded in performance at Sage Gateshead as part of the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival. It was subsequently published as a limited edition artist’s book and CD, with fabulous illustrations by Olivia Lomenech Gill.

Horse is a site-specific piece and I always hoped that it could be performed in situ. Peter and I think of it as a voice of that Uffington landscape, mysterious and powerful.  I am now working on a proposal to make that vision happen. My aim is to use the dramatic sculptural landscape around the Horse as part of the performance, and to work with Uffington and the surrounding villages to produce an event rooted in the local community.


In November, with generous support from the fantastic Double O charity, I visited Uffington, where I worked with every child in the school and, with the support of the Parish Council and Thomas Brown’s School Museum, produced a small-scale performance in the village hall. The aim was, first, to see whether Peter’s and my interpretation would resonate with the knowledge and experience of those who know and love that landscape; and, secondly, to elicit people’s response to the idea of an outdoor performance, and find out whether, with community involvement, it was worth taking forward

The visit was a resounding success. The children at Uffington Church of England School, under Mrs Bradbury’s inspiring headship, were a joy. I held seven hour-long poetry writing sessions, one for each of the year groups, from the tiniest 4-year-olds in Reception to Year 6. In total I worked with 110 children. Their poems in the voice of the Horse were imaginative and moving: ‘I got my eye from a beady-eyed bird.’My head came from the Big Dipper.’ In my chalk heart I have many secrets.’ ‘My eye looks forward, away from gory decades and into great futures…’  ‘I have been through many things, / My darling girl, what do you think my heart is?’


The village hall performance took place on the evening of Wednesday 14th November to an audience of 34 people. I was delighted by the response, which was extremely positive. After it, we held a short public discussion of the plan for an outdoor event, including, as a possible precursor to the performance, a procession through the landscape involving children and local people. At the end I asked for a show of hands in support of the outdoor event. It seemed as if every hand went up. I also invited anonymous written comments. Some of these included:

‘You have expressed in your poem everything I feel about the Horse and its ritual setting on the downs. It is a very special landscape for me.’

‘The words and music made me see the White Horse in a completely different way…I was able to look out over the landscape and see seasons and centuries pass. Great idea to put it on in the Manger.’

‘Visceral, masculine, deeply earthy. Love the idea of a show in the Manger.’

‘I felt like I was listening to it being made.’

‘It is a very beautiful piece…Music and poem sound amazing together. I definitely think it is a good idea to have this performance outside.’

‘Your presentation was excellent, clear and exciting…Equally interesting was the music, exotic and challenging and inspiring concrete images to accompany the words.’

‘Love the idea of the event!’

The public discussion covered many practical suggestions which we now have to consider before taking the idea forward with our supporters, who include the National Trust (in-kind support) and our principle funders, the Double O charity. We have established good contact with Britchcombe Farm, who farm the hill and run a wonderful camp-site and tea room. Thanks to people in Uffington, we have now also made contact with Friends of the Ridgeway and the Ridgeway National Trail and Ridgeway Partnership, each of which has expressed interest and made very helpful suggestions.

White Horse Productions, the unincorporated not-for-profit ‘micro-association’ set up to manage Horse, will continue to take the project forward and to seek further funding in the New Year.

In the meantime, my huge thanks once again to everyone who made my recent visit possible: to Uffington Parish Council, Uffington Church of England School, Thomas Brown’s School Museum, to all my new friends in and around Uffington (you know who you are!) and – especially – to the Double O charity. Thank you!

Uffington 1Horse in Uffington Village Hall

2018 and 2019 – Looking back and ahead

For anyone interested in catching up with my other work, please click on the ‘archive’ section to the right or below this text. You’ll see that 2018 has been a busy year. School projects have included ‘Imagining the Sun’ at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil, the Poetry Society’s ‘Free Thinking for Schools’ at the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead, and November Club’s ‘Imaginary Museum’ with Tweedmouth Middle School, Berwick Museum and the Lit and Phil. I’ve given talks from Berwick to Cullercoats about women’s role in the Northumbrian fishing tradition, spoken on Radio 4 about the Northumbrian dialect, and begun to learn about Antarctic ice for a forthcoming NUSTEM science-and-arts project, ‘Exploring Extreme Environments’. Other highlights have included bringing ‘Sun’ to Durham Festival, leading a ‘Poetry of Place’ writing course at Dartington International Music Festival, and performing with folk fiddler Alexis Bennett in Dartington’s Great Hall, with Gloucestershire poet Patrick Mackie in Barter Books, Alnwick, and with Dr Keith Armstrong and a variety of poets from NE England and Tuebingen, Germany, at the launch of the Word Sharing anthology in Durham.

This year’s most exciting project arrived in early summer, when an idea which I submitted with Peter Zinovieff was selected as one of 10 prize-winners in a national competition to produce new memorials for Historic England’s ‘Immortalised’ exhibition in London in September. For this, Peter and I created a five-minute audio memorial to the Northumbrian fishing community, called The Long Line.

Next year promises to be equally busy, with further work on Horse, more collaborative science-and-arts projects, a second ‘Poetry of Place’ course at Dartington, and – in November – the publication of Edge, my latest poetry collection from Bloodaxe. Please watch this space!

In the meantime, thank you to anyone who has read this far. Wishing you all the very best for the coming Solstice, Christmas season and the New Year.


The Sea’s the Boss

This November saw ‘Horse’ return to Uffington. That was an important step for me, and I’ll write about it in my next post. In the meantime, I paused on my journey home for two nights in Stamford, Lincs, for the 10th annual New Networks for Nature gathering, Creating Connections. I was introduced to this inspirational alliance of artists and scientists in 2010 by my friend, the writer and naturalist Mark Cocker, who first suggested the gathering and helped to found it.

Over the last decade I’ve felt our common concern with our human depredation of the planet becoming ever-more acute, our sense of the need to act, severally as well as individually, increasingly urgent. This year, Mark was discussing his latest book, ‘Our Place: can we save Britain’s wildlife before it’s too late?’, a heartfelt indictment of this country’s ecological complacency. Another brilliant friend, Adam Nicolson, spoke eloquently with Tim Birkhead about the loss of seabird numbers, the destruction of the marine environment, and the personal steps he has taken to protect razorbills, puffins, guillemots, fulmars and other nesting birds, by eradicating rats from his beloved Shiant Islands.

Wildlife film-maker John Aitchison has written a wonderful blog post, exploring the wider conversation of the gathering. What lies at its heart, he concludes, is love: ‘this sense of closeness to home is the key to conservation; persuading us to care enough to act, because we love most what we know best.’ I always feel this at New Networks: a shared love among very different individuals for the intricacies and complexities of wherever we call home. I am always stirred: disturbed by the urgency of the task before us. And I always feel simultaneously affirmed, in what otherwise often feels a lonely vocation. As John Aitchison says, we discover that what matters ‘is feeling connected, being part of something bigger’.


This matter of nature, community, ‘home’ and our love for it, the indissoluble intertwining of human culture with the natural world, has always lain at the heart of my own writing. My early involvement with Friends of the Earth in the 1970s saw me severely reprimanded by my Cold War Headmistress for ‘disseminating communist literature’ at school. I was doing no such thing, only promoting the recycling of paper and plastics, questioning the desirability of the fast breeder nuclear reactor and the motor car, and urging my friends to love the earth at their feet.

In my 20s I was greatly influenced by the seminal work on ‘local distinctiveness’ of Sue Clifford and Angela King at Common Ground – prescient figures, who probably prepared the ground for the flowering of much of today’s ‘new nature writing’. The careful field research which I undertook during the 1980s, which later grew into my long poem, ‘Dunstanburgh’, was an exercise in the application of Common Ground’s values. My poems about the Beadnell fishermen, which some read as backward-looking, romantic or nostalgic, were essentially ecological:

       ‘Them greet muckle traa’lers – it’s nowt but greed.

        Whae, there’s nae bloody chance for the fish t’ breed…

        An’ the lobsters! Y’ bugger! In wor day

        W’ hoyed aa’ th’ berried hens away!’

(from: ‘Charlie Douglas’, The Lost Music, Bloodaxe 1996)

What I most valued in the inshore fishermen’s traditions – their intimate cultural knowledge of their local sea floor, and their heartbreak and anger at its ruin by newer, more industrial fishing methods – was a microcosm for all our human relations to place. ‘The sea’s the boss,’ Charlie Douglas used to say; meaning, we must respect the sea, and all nature, because our very lives depend upon it. Over the last nine years, during which I’ve had the honour of being an Ambassador for New Networks for Nature, I’ve spoken about this several times at the gathering, and many times beyond it, for example at the Andrew Raven Trust.

New Networks ranges far and wide in its subject matter and speakers; but at its heart remains the understanding that individual human beings and communities cannot be separated from nature; and that this is not a luxury but a fundamental connection – cultural, emotional and spiritual. It could not be more important. It’s no exaggeration to say that our survival depends upon it. How are we to protect and promote this essential value, while embracing capitalism and the liberal western democratic traditions most of us uphold? I can’t answer that question. At the latest gathering, Caroline Lucas and Barbara Young bravely focused our minds in their discussion of whether conventional politics has failed us. But I did not come away with any practical solutions.

For me, poetry, and perhaps most art, works underground, subversively, not by political activism or direct polemic, but as a mycelium, branching, spreading, preparing the soil from which those things will grow. New Networks affirms us in this vital task. Can we open people’s hearts to what matters – beyond price, beyond the marketplace – to the essential value of nature in and of itself – and understand that the Earth that we love is a complex system of which we are part, not centre? That we belong within nature, not the other way around? ‘The sea’s the boss,’ as Charlie used to say. Can we recognise that before it really is too late?








Can She Bait a Line?

The unsung heroines of North Northumberland’s fishing communities

Public Talks in October and November

Most people have heard of the 19th century heroine, the Northumbrian lighthouse keeper’s daughter, Grace Darling. Fewer are aware of a different kind of heroism – that of the everyday labour of women in Northumbrian fishing communities over the centuries. Most Northumbrian coastal villages between Spittal and Hauxley were shaped by inshore fishing, which, like farming, was the occupation not of individuals but of whole families. Although fishermen were superstitious and it was traditionally unlucky for women to set foot in a boat, until the mid 20th century they relied on their female relatives for the unpaid, land-based tasks that kept that boat at sea.

In particular, all winter, as soon as the family coble was launched, the women set to work gathering bait for the next day’s line. For centuries, the long lines were the staple fishery, catching high-priced white fish such as cod and haddock. Each was nearly a mile long and carried 1,400 ‘heuks’, and each heuk was baited with a mussel, and often a limpet. It was left to the women and children to harvest these shellfish, carry them home in creels, and ‘skeyn’ or shell them before placing them on the heuks. It took real skill to bait a line. Each baited heuk was laid neatly in rows in a basket called a ‘swull’, so that the ‘sneeds’ which carried the heuks would not ‘fool’ (tangle) when the line was shot.

19 Kate Douglas Baiting lines, Beadnell

Kate Douglas baiting a line, Beadnell c1914

When the boats returned from sea, around dinnertime, the women carried the heavy wet lines ashore, and helped to sort the catch. Traditionally they then took over the next task, which was to sell fish in neighbouring villages.

Although fisher women’s lives were almost unimaginably hard well into the 20th century, from the early 19th century some younger women began to enjoy a degree of economic independence unusual for the time. This was due to the emergence, alongside the local economy, of the more industrial summer herring fishery.

Herring were caught at night, and were processed as soon as they were landed. Throughout the 19th century in the herring season, fisher lasses worked in teams of three, gutting and packing the herring expertly into barrels with layers of salt. As the shoals moved down the coast, the Scottish lasses travelled with them, staying in lodgings above the yard to supplement the local workforce. Many Northumbrian lasses joined them as they ‘travelled the fishin’s’. Away from family supervision, journeying as far as Great Yarmouth, unmarried girls from villages like Beadnell and Seahouses could enjoy wider horizons than those in farming communities just a few miles inland. Although hours were long, women often looked back with affection on the female companionship of the herring yard, and the relative freedom which it represented. It was certainly a great step from the near-slavery of the winter long lines – although one which also foreshadowed some of the problems which have beset fisheries in more recent times.

You can read a fuller version of this summary in The Cheviot magazine, issue 3, Winter 2016, available HERE.

I’ll be giving some talks about all of this, in the context of the centuries-long tradition of the Northumbrian fishery, with a few real-life examples; and considering what we can draw from these two models of female labour about wider human relations to nature, culture, place and sustainability.

All talks are open to the public. There may be a small charge.

Rothbury & Coquetdale History Society, Jubilee Hall, Rothbury. Friday October 19th, 7pm 

Coble and Keelboat Society, Crescent Club, Victoria Crescent, Cullercoats, NE30 4PN. Saturday October 27th, 3pm

Friends of Berwick & District Museum & Archives, Parish Centre, Parade, Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 1DF. November 23rd, 7pm

Beadnell women at the herring c1900

Beadnell Women packing herring, c1910

For more Northumbrian fishing history, please see: Limekilns and Lobsterpots by Katrina Porteous



Immortalised – The Long Line

Immortalised: the people loved, left and lost in our landscape

A free exhibition at the Workshop, Lambeth, London

30 August – 16 September 2018

Immortalised is a free exhibition by Historic England, questioning who and how we remember. Among the memorials around the country, where are the women? The minorities? The working people?

Earlier this year Historic England ran a competition for artists to find new ways of remembering events, people and identities in the public realm. Among the ten chosen for this exhibition was my idea, The Long Line.

The Long Line by Katrina Porteous and Peter Zinovieff, with the voices of Northumbrian fishermen and women, and singing by John Dixon.

The Long Line is a sound installation consisting of five minutes of poetry and electronic music, commemorating the fishing communities of the Northumberland coast, who for centuries worked the ‘long lines’ from boats called ‘cobles’. This type of fishing involved an intimate, sustainable relation to nature, but came at a terrible cost, especially to women, whose unpaid job it was to bait 1,400 hooks a day. The first engines, introduced into sailing cobles in 1918, marked the beginning of mechanisation, which eventually freed women – not, for some, until after World War II – and which also had wider, ultimately unsustainable, consequences.

Peter Zinovieff’s electronic music uses my archive recordings of local dialect voices, and derives instrumental sounds from a traditional Northumbrian folksong, sung by fisherman John Dixon.

The original idea was for a multi-channel piece, which could be located in public spaces at harbours and beaches on the north Northumberland coast. We would love to develop this idea further.

A stereo version can be heard every 20 minutes, as a small part of the Immortalised exhibition.

The Long Line - K Porteous 3

Immortalised: the people loved, left and lost in our landscape


30 August until 16 September 2018

Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm


The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, Lambeth, London SE1 7AG

London Underground: Vauxhall (Victoria line) and Lambeth North (Bakerloo + Northern lines)

Train: Vauxhall

Bus: routes 3, 77, 344, 360, 507 and C10


Immortalised: the people loved, left and lost in our landscape

A free exhibition at the Workshop, Lambeth, London

30 August – 16 September 2018


For millennia, we have celebrated and mourned, marked and memorialised. Through our culture, places, stories and rituals we pass down what matters to us.

It is how we make people immortal. But who decides who and how we remember?

Immortalised explores the ways people and events have been commemorated in England, by the statues, the plaques, shrines and murals that mark heroic, quirky, inspirational and challenging lives.

Peter Zinovieff and I are delighted to have been selected by @HistoricEngland to make The Long Line, a new memorial for this exhibition.

More details will be available on August 30.


30 August until 16 September 2018

Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm


The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, Lambeth, London SE1 7AG

London Underground: Vauxhall (Victoria line) and Lambeth North (Bakerloo + Northern lines)

Train: Vauxhall

Bus: routes 3, 77, 344, 360, 507 and C10