Free Thinking for Schools

School Radio-Poetry Workshops for the Poetry Society at the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival, Sage Gateshead, 6-8 March 2018

This week I was fortunate to be invited by The Poetry Society to run a series of hour-long school workshops in partnership with a BBC Radio 3 production team as part of the 2018 Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. The idea was that the students should write poetry on the Festival theme of ‘The One and the Many’, as content for a short programme which each group would go on to present and produce as part of their half-day radio experience.

I’ve previously taken part in the Free Thinking Festival as a panellist on discussion shows, as a radio reviewer, and as a poet and performer (in ‘The Verb’, 2010, and in ‘Horse’ for ‘Between the Ears’, 2011). I also have many years’ experience of writing poetry for radio. How does a ‘radio poem’ differ from one you might find in a book? And how is any poem different from a news report? These were questions I hoped to explore with the students.

Over two days I worked with Thorp Academy, Ryton (32 KS 7 students), Farringdon Community Academy, Sunderland (15 KS 8-9) and Nunnykirk Centre for Dyslexia, Northumberland (9 KS 8-9).

The Festival theme was ‘The One and the Many’, so I planned my workshop around the idea of the Sun: our one ‘special’ star among many, and a star which has many ‘faces’ in one. The session was adapted from a successful template which I’ve recently devised with scientists at Northumbria University’s NUSTEM for the project ‘Imagining the Sun’.

In my adapted version I introduced the idea of our Sun as our ‘special’ star, and asked the students to tell me what they knew about it and how they perceived it from Earth (reminding them that we must never look at the Sun directly!). I showed them a series of real photographs of the Sun’s surface and corona, taken in different wavelengths or temperatures, revealing that the Sun has many ‘secrets’ that we cannot ‘see’ with our normal senses. We watched a video of a solar flare, and discussed the science. Then we read my poem ‘Observatory’ about the interrogation of the Sun’s many faces. We looked closely at how language works in that poem.

Most importantly, we spent 20-30 minutes of each session on writing. I asked the students to contrast their own experience of the Sun from Earth with different ‘faces’ of the Sun which they had seen in the video. What might these different ‘moods’ or ‘faces’ say to each other? What questions would they, the students, ask the Sun? Each group was small enough for me to be able to support each student individually to develop their ideas and language, with particular emphasis on sounds and action words – verbs – for their radio broadcast.

Farringdon 1

Writing radio poems about the Sun, with students 


The students’ poems were fantastic. Here are a few lines from one, KS 7:

‘It’s hiding, but in plain sight:

When you see it, it is like being shown

Your greatest nightmare and your best dream.’

‘I seem quiet, but my soul is the same as yours.

Look at me: my fire bridges,

The fountains beyond your imagination…’

Thorp 12

Over the second hour, the students worked in teams to present and produce a five-minute radio ‘news-and-chat-show’ in the special Radio 3 glass pop-up studio. They worked from a script, which – in theory, at least – allowed time for them to read a line or two from some of their poems. This did not happen as much as I’d have liked, due to the time constraints of the format. But the students still came up with great programmes, some discussed a poetry slam event, and some were able to record their poems in the studio afterwards.

This was a highly successful and enjoyable project. All the students seemed to have a wonderful time, all produced excellent, thoughtful and lively poems, and all worked together well in their radio studio teams. Even if their poetry didn’t always make it into their radio programme, everyone worked hard, and every student had an enjoyable and rewarding educational experience, which I’m sure they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Thope 7Students record their poems in the BBC Radio 3 pop-up studio, Sage Gateshead.


It’s fantastic that Radio 3 is able to offer young people this kind of opportunity to write and produce their own broadcast. Radio is such a great medium for poetry. It’s also important, not just for the students, but for a national broadcaster to build such links with places and communities. I really hope that this kind of work can continue in the future.

With thanks to all the schools, the Poetry Society and BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking.




Diversifly Podcast

Listen HERE to a new 40-minute podcast recorded last summer. It’s based on a conversation with the wonderful Nadia Kingsley of Fair Acre Press, in which we discuss the writing process, my interests – including the Northumbrian fishing village where I live – and my collaborative projects. In the course of this I read seven poems, old and new.

The podcast is part of a series with poets who write about nature and place, including David Morley, Alison Brackenbury — and others to follow soon. It’s produced by, with original music composed and played by, Giancarlo Facchinetti.

Diversifly is part of Fair Acre Press’ Urban Birds project, which you can read about HERE.

As another part of that project, there’s also a fantastic new illustrated book, Diversifly, edited by Nadia Kingsley, containing poetry and art on Britain’s urban birds, available HERE.


Poetry of Place at Dartington International Summer School and Festival

4-11 August

I’m thrilled to be leading a week-long writing course as part of the 70th Dartington Summer School this year, in a glorious setting, alongside some of the world’s most celebrated musicians, writers and thinkers. Among the many (mostly music) courses that week are several on folk music. My course will loosely relate to those. We’ll connect to the physicality of landscape through sound, and explore the voices – natural and human – which lead us towards ‘a sense of place’.

Sunday 5th August, 5.15 – 6pm: I’ll be performing poetry in the Great Hall, Dartington with the amazing folk fiddler Alexis Bennett.

Book for these events HERE


Imagining the Sun at the Lit and Phil

On January 17th Year 9 and 10 students from Cramlington Learning Village took part in a half-day workshop at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil, led by research scientists from Northumbria University’s solar physics research group, NUSTEM – and me.

The workshop, with the unusual aim of combining solar physics and poetry, was part of the legacy of Imagining the Sun.

The project challenged public and schools audiences to explore how approaches from art and science can complement and inform each other.


The students’ poems are fantastic. I was so impressed by them, I asked Kay Easson, Head Librarian at the Lit and Phil, if we might put them on display, and she has kindly allowed us to do this. They are now on display in the library until mid-March. If you’re passing the Lit and Phil, 23 Westgate Road, Newcastle, please do drop in to see them.

A free booklet about Imagining the Sun featuring solar science, some of my poems and fabulous artwork from the project by Helen Schell, is available from the Information Desk.


Word Sharing on World Book Night

23rd April, Lakeside Room, Van Mildert College, Durham University, from 7pm

Van Mildert College will be hosting an evening poetry event to celebrate World Book Night, featuring English and German poets from the Durham – Tuebingen cultural exchange programme. More details to follow. The event will include readings from the recent Word Sharing anthology, by its English editor Dr Keith Armstrong, and contributing poets such as Paul Summers, Katrina Porteous and others, including students from Durham University.



Burns Night Special

Poetry and Music on Newcastle Quayside

Tuesday 23rd January 2018, 7.30-9.30pm

The Red House, 32 Sandhill, Quayside, Newcastle, NE1 3JF

Admission Free

Performers in this atmospheric venue include Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston, performing a special set with poet Keith Armstrong featuring 18th century-inspired Tyneside poems and tunes. Others performing their own work include poets Katrina Porteous, Catherine Graham, Harry Gallagher and Rob Walton, and special guests from Teeside, Robert Lonsdale and Trev Teasdel. Music from The Sawdust Jacks (featuring their new song on Newcastle writer Jack Common), and Durham’s Gary Miller (whose ambitious performance, recording and book project, The Mad Martins, featuring Keith’s poems, has just been launched).

There will be a special feature, commemorating local writers and artists Jack Common (1903-1968), Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), John Cunningham (1729-1773) and Joseph Skipsey (1832-1903).

Bring your friends and family!

More information from Dr Keith Armstrong, Northern Voices Community Projects:

Tel 0191 252 9531



Darkness and Light

Thank you for finding your way to this blog. I wish you a very Happy New Year, and look forward with you to 2018. For me this includes a couple of fantastic new collaborations (more on these in months to come), and exciting developments for Horse, my poetry and music piece with electronic composer Peter Zinovieff, first written for Radio 3’s Between the Ears in 2011. We are now working towards a new production, with projected performance dates in 2019. The limited edition book and CD of the piece, with prints by Fantastic Beasts illustrator Olivia Lomenech Gill, is still available if you click here – it’s now a collector’s item. For news of the project’s development, please keep following this blog.

On the subject of collaborations, you can listen if you click here to composer John Casken’s brilliant setting of two of my fishing poems, Uncertain Sea, sung by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, conducted by Ben Parry. You need to sign up to the site to hear it, but it’s free.

In January, I look forward to a school-group workshop on Imagining the Sun with solar scientists from NUSTEM at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil. It’s free, and schools can click here to sign up.

I’m also excited to see heritage potter Graham Taylor’s fabulous new exhibition in Berwick Museum, featuring ceramic vessels from the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership project, Fragments. The theme is the natural and cultural landscape on and around Holy Island, the forms are loosely based on historical vessels, and the content of the decoration has been influenced by workshops with community groups. Several of Graham’s vessels include text from my long radio poem, The Refuge Box. The full text of this poem can be found in my most recent Bloodaxe collection, Two Countries, for which please click here.

Below are two of Graham’s own images of his Fragments vessels.




For more about Graham Taylor and his work, please click here.

From Holy Island to Devon: later in 2018, I look forward to leading a course on the Poetry of Place at the 70th Dartington International Summer School and Festival. You can sign up here.

Meanwhile, in the deep winter darkness, click here for a glance back to the first Durham Lumiere Festival in 2009, which I reviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, together with a specially commissioned poem, Durham Cathedral.

If you’ve has enough of dark nights, click here for a look forward to the Summer Solstice, with a short reading from Dunstanburgh from BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on June 21st 2017.

Lastly, the excellent Grey Hen Press has just launched Songs for the Unsung, a new collection of poems for the unremarked and overlooked, the alienated, marginalised and disadvantaged, edited by Joy Howard. It includes work by many great women writers, including Meg Peacocke, Gillian Allnut, Mimi Khalvati and Sheenagh Pugh – and a couple of my own poems. You can buy it by clicking here. It costs £10 + postage, and a donation of 50p for the sale of each book goes to Age International.

Thank you again for finding my blog, please continue to follow it and, once again, I wish you a very happy 2018!





Many Hands

2017 is ending in a flurry of publications and events. The three-year HLF-funded Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership ends this December. Earlier this year the project team commissioned me to respond to a series of portraits of project volunteers by photographer Jose Snook. The volunteers’ words, their responses to Holy Island and the adjoining landscape, and Jose’s eloquent portraits of their hands holding meaningful objects, were the starting place for a new poem sequence, ‘Many Hands’. Our collaboration will be presented in book form to all project volunteers at the annual volunteer conference in Holy Island Crossman Village Hall on Saturday December 9th, 11am – 16.30pm.

Free event, tickets HERE


Imagining the Sun

‘Sun’, my poetry and electronic music collaboration with Peter Zinovieff,  has toured to many events this year, including literary festivals (Poetry-Next-the-Sea, Wells, with excerpts at Words by the Water, Keswick, and Berwick Literary Festival), science communicators’ conferences (Big Event, Centre For Life, Newcastle), and audio conferences (Sound and Environment, University of Hull). Early in November I took it to Dublin. Thank you to all at Sounding Out the Space international conference at Dublin Institute of Arts and Technology for supporting a version for 8-speakers. I hope to continue to tour all four of my pieces with Peter – ‘Edge’, ‘Field’, ‘Sun’ and ‘Horse’: please contact me via the form at the end of this page if you’re interested in hosting one of them at your event.

In the meantime, a book about NUSTEM’s marvellous ‘Imagining the Sun’ project, which includes Helen Schell’s fabulous ‘Solar’ paintings as well as ‘Sun’, is now available. For a limited period, free copies may be obtained HERE

Imagining the Sun cover



My specially-commissioned poem, Wake, has appeared on a paving slab in the Front Court of my old college, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, using ink that is only visible when wet. It is part of the ‘THwomen40’ anniversary of the admission of women to Trinity Hall and in collaboration with the Poetry School for their 20th anniversary. To celebrate the anniversary, the Poetry School has been working with selected organisations across the country to rain poetry onto pavements, into quads and other places where they can brighten up a rainy day. The poems are sprayed onto slabs with a special ink that is visible when it rains and the poem will last for 6-8 weeks. Read more about it HERE



Word Sharing

The literary exchange between twin cities Durham and Tuebingen, Germany, has existed for 30 years. Dr Keith Armstrong has been a stalwart champion of this exchange. I visited Tuebingen with him three times between 2001 and 2003, and read with him in the Schloss alongside fellow-poet Uwe Kolbe. Keith has a new poetry collection out this month from Wild Boar Press, entitled ‘Wallington Morning’. Meanwhile, ‘Word Sharing’, an anthology featuring 22 poets who have taken part in the exchange, including Keith, Michael Standen, Julia Darling, Gerhard Oberlin, Eva Zeller, Uwe Kolbe and me, has been published by Tuebingen University. It’s edited by Keith, Carolyn Murphey Melchers and Michael Raffel. You can read more about it HERE

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New Networks for Nature

It’s always a joy to be part of this annual gathering of natural scientists, ecologists and artists – open to all – which takes place in Stamford, Lincs, every November. It celebrates the fact that nature is central to our cultural life and that our humanity is above all an expression of nature. You can find out more about it HERE.

This year’s event was called ‘Changing Nature’, and offered a wealth of thought-provoking speakers and performers, from the spell-binding Sam Lee harmonising with Mike Edwards’ didgeridoo, to Harriet Mead’s compelling sculptures, Carry Akroyd’s glorious prints, Mike Benton’s feathered dinosaurs, and the astonishing 15-year-old Mya-Rose ‘Birdgirl’ Craig.

It was a particular honour to chair the ‘Historical Perspectives’ session with writer and historian Jeremy Mynott, Erica Fudge of the University of Strathclyde and Isabelle Charmantier of the Linnean Soc. Also to read three poems to such an august audience, and to be quoted in new books by friends and New Networks regulars – ‘Beyond Spring: Wanderings through Nature’ by Matthew Oates, and ‘A Tale of Trees: the Battle to Save Britain’s Ancient Woodland’ by one of this year’s gathering organisers, Derek Niemann.

Thank you, thank you, New Networks friends, old and new!


From Harry Potter to Horse

Many congratulations to my friend, the astonishingly-talented and hard-working Olivia Lomenech Gill, who illustrated ‘Where My Wellies Take Me’ for Michael and Clare Morpurgo, and now ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ for J.K. Rowling. Among Olivia’s other recent commissions were the cover for Kathleen Jamie’s latest collection, ‘The Bonniest Companie’, and etchings for our own limited-edition book and CD of ‘Horse’ with music by Peter Zinovieff — which is still available HERE. It would make a great Christmas present!


If you’d like to enquire about any of these publications, or about the possibility of staging an event, you can contact me via this form. Many thanks!

Autumn News

New Poetry Commission for Holy Island and the Northumberland Coast

Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership

A new booklet marking the end of the three-year Heritage Lottery Funded Peregrini LLP will be launched at the Peregrini Volunteer Conference at Crossman Village Hall on Holy Island, Saturday 9th December, 11am-4.30pm. The booklet, Many Hands, contains volunteer portraits by photographer Jose Snook and a new, specially-commissioned poem sequence by Katrina Porteous inspired by Jose’s portraits and the volunteers’ words. As part of the day’s varied programme of events, a new series of ceramic pieces by heritage potter Graham Taylor will also be on display. One of the inspirations for these pieces is Katrina’s long poem The Refuge Box, from Two Countries (Bloodaxe Books 2014).

Book your ticket for the event here.

Northumbrian Language Society Triumph in Cornwall

For the sixth year in a row, a member of the Northumbrian Language Society has won a national dialect competition. This year the National Dialect Festival was held in Penryn, near Falmouth in Cornwall, on 21st-22nd October. Society Chairman Peter Arnold, one of seven Northumbrians to make the long journey, triumphed with an extract from The Wund an’ the Wetter, Katrina’s long dialect poem first commissioned by the NLS in 1999. Katrina, who was unable to make the trip, is currently NLS President. The Wund an’ the Wetter was first published by Iron Press in 1999 with a CD of Katrina’s reading and Chris Ormston’s music, and is now available in Two Countries (Bloodaxe Books 2014). Many congratulations to Peter on his fantastic win!

Wheer d’ye Belang?

Katrina’s 2014 essay about the Northumbrian hills and borderlands, available on Radio 4 extra until Nov 17th.

Several of Katrina’s other radio pieces are available online via i-player. Just search for her by name.

Two Anthologies

Word Sharing marks the 30th anniversary of the Durham-Tübingen literary exchange. It will be launched by the Tübingen Cultural Office in Tübingen, Germany, Friday, November 17th, at an event featuring poet Dr Keith Armstrong, who has done so much to foster and sustain links between Durham and Tübingen over three decades. Keith introduced Katrina to Durham’s twin town in 2001, with two further visits in 2002 and 2003. Word Sharing contains three of Katrina’s poems, including one translated into German by friend and fellow-poet Uwe Kolbe.

Land of Three Rivers – the poetry of North-East England, edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books), maps the North East in poems relating to its past and present, depicting life from Roman times, through medieval Northumbria and the industrial era of mining and ship-building, to the present day. Katrina is one of a large number of poets represented. The anthology will be launched at an evening of poetry, music and song with Kathryn Tickell and Magnetic North East at Sage Gateshead on Friday, November 10th.

Poem for The Poetry School and Trinity Hall, Cambridge

The Poetry School was established in 1997 by three poets around a kitchen table. From these beginnings its artistic values have grown with a core commitment to providing inspiring tuition and opportunities for poets and poetry audiences. It is a registered charity and proud Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. In 2017 to celebrate its 20th anniversary The Poetry School is working with selected organisations across the country to rain poetry onto pavements, into quads and other places where they can brighten up a rainy day. They are delighted to have collaborated with Trinity Hall and Katrina Porteous to make this happen in Cambridge.

Katrina writes of her specially-commissioned poem, ‘Wake’:

‘‘Wake’ places the particular geographical and temporal point in which the poem is situated – a flagstone in Trinity Hall, today – in the deeper context of biological, geological and planetary time. Referring to the college’s symbol, the crescent moon, and to its origins in canon and civil law, the poem contrasts the ‘puzzle’ (and fragility) of life on Earth with the desolation beyond.’

To see Katrina’s poem Wake, please contact the Alumni Office, Trinity Hall, Cambridge.







Berwick Literary Festival

Sunday 22nd October, 4-5pm

The Guildhall, Berwick upon Tweed, TD15 1BN

Tickets £5

Last year Alice Robinson (née Burn) and I had a great time – and enjoyed a wonderful reception – at Berwick Literary Festival. It’s a small, friendly, well-run four days of events in an historic setting, and I can highly recommend it. This year they’ve kindly invited us back, to perform a different programme, which will include poems from Two Countries, an excerpt from Sun, and some other brand new locally-based work.

Alice comes from a farm near Holy Island, and plays the Northumbrian Smallpipes. We first met when she was a babe in arms, and I read a poem to her on the touring library van where I was poet in residence for the day. Many years later, in 2009, she was a finalist in BBC Radio 2’s Young Folk Musician of the Year with folk harpist Emily Hoile and performed with North East folk group ‘Folkestra’ in the BBC Folk Prom. Since then, she has been broadcast on radio, including live on BBC Radio3’s ’In Tune’, performed with the Royal Northern Sinfonia quartet as a soloist, and with the Windy Gyle Band at the International Bagpipe Festival in the Czech Republic. She has recently completed an MA and begun a PhD in British Music at Durham University. She tutors at Sage Gateshead and is Northumbrian Piper to the Mayor of Berwick.

Here we are, performing together at the Peregrini Lindisfarne heritage festival in the summer in the newly-restored Old Lifeboat House on Holy Island.

Katrina and Alice

Please come and join us at The Guildhall, Berwick, on Sunday 22nd October, 4-5pm