July News

SUN goes online

SUN by Katrina Porteous and Peter Zinovieff, with visuals by Jonathan Sanderson, can now be viewed — and heard in stereo — on You Tube.


SUN is an immersive, multi-channel performance of poetry and electronic music, with planetarium visuals by Chris Hudson, written in response to the work of Northumbria University’s Solar Physics Research Group, as part of Imagining the Sun, supported by NUSTEM.

It’s available in multichannel and stereo format, and with flat screen as well as planetarium visuals. So we can bring the live version to any venue.

Peter and I performed a stereo version at Poetry-Next-the-Sea in Wells, Norfolk on May 6th, and the multichannel version in the Middleton Hall at the Sound + Environment 17 conference at the University of Hull on June 29th. Thank you to both events for hosting us.

I also took part in a presentation called Poetry Promoting Physics at the BIG Event STEM communicators’ network annual conference at Centre For Life, Newcastle on July 19th. I performed two movements from SUN and, together with Chris Hudson (Planetarium Supervisor) and Sarah Hilton (NUSTEM), discussed the ‘science communication’ involved in Imagining the Sun. The discussion included arts-based science discovery in primary schools, presentations of SUN at non-science events around the country, and the effect of poetry on science researchers’ own language.

A booklet bringing together the work of Imagining the Sun, including some of my poems for the project, information on Peter’s music and the Northumbria University solar scientists’ research, fabulous paintings by Helen Schell and stunning photographs from NASA / SDO and other solar telescopes, as well as examples of our work with schools, will be available in September. It’s edited by Sarah Hilton, with an introduction by Prof. John Woodward. Many thanks to Carol Davenport for all her work throughout this project. For a free copy, please contact NUSTEM.


Hadrian’s Wall

Extracts from This Far and No Further (my long poem about Hadrian’s Wall, published by Bloodaxe Books in Two Countries), featured on Radio 4’s Making History on July 18th.

An extract from the same poem features in an artwork on the wall of the YHA restaurant at The Sill, Northumberland National Park’s new visitor centre, which opens this month.


More Radio

My poem for the Summer Solstice is still available on the Woman’s Hour Podcast for June 21st . It’s right at the end of the programme, together with a short interview.

Conversations on a Bench, Beadnell, the radio poem I made for Radio 4 with Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown of Overtone Productions last year, can be heard on Soundcloud.

You can also catch Radio 4 documentaries I made with producer Julian May on the wonderful William Stafford and on the 2014 Fisher Poets’ Gathering in Oregon USA on the BBC i-player.


The First Women

My old college, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, has just published a lovely collection of memoirs, interviews and stories, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the admission of women. The book is edited by Sandra Raban, one of the first two female tutors, and my former Director of Studies in History. I was part of the third mixed year in 1979. Sandra personally commissioned me to write a new poem in celebration of the anniversary, and I’m greatly honoured that this appears at the beginning of the book. Thank you, Sandra! The First Women is available for £9-95 including postage from Trinity Hall Gift Shop.

Katrina Porteous aged 19 in 1980Katrina Porteous in 1980

Poem for the Summer Solstice

Four Seasons, BBC Radio 4, Weds 21st June

For the last 12 months writer and radio producer Tim Dee has celebrated the year’s turning-points – solstices and equinoxes – as days of poems on Radio 4. This summer solstice, June 21st, he has invited me to read a poem ‘made from the middle of the year’ live on Woman’s Hour.

I’ve chosen my reading from a long poem about a ruined castle, Dunstanburgh on the Northumberland coast. I love this place for its remoteness – to reach it you have to walk a mile across fields – and for its mystery. It stands on a crag at the edge of the sea, and – while its human purpose passed centuries ago – now, reclaimed by the natural world, it seems more alive than ever. All winter it sings in the wind; and all summer, swallows animate its hollow towers.

How will it feel to read this poem, originally recorded on site, in a windowless studio in central London? How will listeners receive it in very different parts of the country?  I hope that, whoever and wherever you are, there is universal appeal in a place where sea meets land, in its wild birdsong at dawn, at midsummer. I like to think that if listeners close their eyes for a moment, radio will take them there.

In the last half century we’ve seen a profound change in the way that people relate to place. It’s not something that we tend to talk about. In my own coastal area, a generation which knew every inch of the local land and sea-bed has given way to one which is less hands-on, which sometimes seems to appreciate the world around it primarily through a smartphone app, a camera or a screen. This is a sudden change, a fault-line, and it brings with it far-reaching consequences, spiritual, intellectual and environmental. It is as if we have all become outsiders looking in.

How can we reconnect with the non-human world? ‘Nature writing’ is a slippery term, as if Nature was not an essential part of us, or us of it. I am interested in art and writing which explores human culture, not as separate from Nature but as an efflorescence of it; and which places the human in a multiple perspective – glorious and terrible in what the imagination can achieve, vanishingly small in the history of the planet.

I hope that listeners who catch my solstice reading through the magic of technology, whether it be digital or old-fashioned ‘wireless’, will let the magic of imagination carry them to that place. I hope that the edges – sea and land, night and day, human and not-human – will flow into one another. Poetry, that most ancient art-form, can help reconnect these broken sentences, promising a wholeness that we yearn for, often without even knowing what it is we miss.

Catch the reading on Wednesday June 21st between 10am and 10.45 and afterwards on i-player.

The full poem, Dunstanburgh, is available in my collection, Two Countries, published by Bloodaxe Books.

2 Dunstanburgh by Katrina Porteous

Photo by Katrina Porteous

On Holy Island

Peregrini Lindisfarne Heritage Festival

Voices of the Sea

Insights into 700 years of Holy Island’s fishing traditions, with poet and historian Katrina Porteous, accompanied on Northumbrian pipes by BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Musician of the Year finalist Alice Burn.

The Old Lifeboat House, Holy Island

Saturday June 17th, 1pm and 3pm (50 mins)

An informal presentation, touching on Holy Island’s medieval fishing history, the Island’s herring industry and upturned boats, women and fishing, the bark pots, fishing lore and superstitions, shipwrecks and the Island’s lifeboats – interspersed with traditional local tunes, and the odd poem.

The newly-restored Old Lifeboat House is on the west-facing shore at the south end of the Island, close to St Cuthbert’s Isle (Hobthrush). It can be accessed on foot by following the road on the mainland side of St Mary’s Church, as it winds down to the shore. Alternatively there is a way-marked footpath across Easter field opposite St Mary’s Church.

Peregrini Lindisfarne Heritage Festival offers a host of free heritage demos, craft activities, exhibitions and guided walks on the Island over two afternoons, Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th June, 12-6pm

More here about Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership


Don’t let this be you!

Click here for Holy Island causeway safe crossing times for the festival.









Hadrian’s Wall

Towards the end of 2000 I wrote a long poem about Hadrian’s Wall for Radio 4, called This Far and No Further. The poem was based on interviews with people who live and work along a central stretch of the Wall, most of them hill-farmers. It contains many voices, including those of the place itself, and those of Iron Age farmers whose fields were literally bisected by the Imperial frontier in 122 AD and thereafter.

My interviews with contemporary hill-farmers revealed a widely-felt sense that their way of life was not always well-understood by the many regulatory authorities who now oversee the World Heritage Site. What is the countryside for: Leisure? History? Environmentalism? Farming? All these competing pressures generated a vast amount of regulation.

Underlying this was a deeper sense of a cultural frontier between an urban, ‘metropolitan’, ‘global’ frame of mind, represented by distant administration and bureaucracy; and a strongly-independent, anti-authoritarian, locally differentiated, rural way of life. There was a deep sense that life lived along the Wall was, and had always been, remote from the centres of power. The bureaucratic mishandling of the foot and mouth crisis which followed in 2001 bore out these concerns. I tried in my poem, and in a subsequent poem, An Ill Wind, to articulate these feelings.

Last week I recorded an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Making History (produced by Nick Patrick) about cultural interpretations of Hadrian’s Wall. Historians Prof Richard Hingley and Dr Christopher Donaldson discussed with presenter Tom Holland what the Wall has meant to people across 2,000 years. I read and discussed some sections from This Far and No Further – then worried afterwards about taking excerpts out of context. Brexit has given the debate between the rural and the metropolitan a more inflammatory cast.

All the more reason, then, to open up the discussion. Seventeen years is a long time, and as Prof Hingley points out, perhaps I should go back and ask the farmers how they feel now. In many ways, the cultural frontier between what is perceived as a metropolitan political elite and those parts of the country which feel that they have no real ‘voice’ seems sharper today. This perceived polarity helped precipitate Brexit; on one level, that vote can be read as a symptom of this deeper unease.

The ‘Farmer vs Romans’ confrontation in the poem is not, however, Brexit. Neither is it nationalistic. Rather, it’s a rural voice protesting all distant, anonymous, undifferentiated bureaucracy – whatever the source. It’s a stand against unrepresentative authority — no more and no less. The interpretation that is put on it might change over time; but the sense of remoteness from the centres of power remains. I hope that, read as a whole, the many voices of This Far and No Further – and my book (called, in recognition of that rural-metropolitan cultural frontier, Two Countries) – may find their way to those in authority, to persuade them to listen to rural voices, to think about local differentiation and distinctiveness, and to consider the complex and manifold meanings of landscape in our culture.

If you would like to hear ‘This Far and No Further’ in full, I will be performing it with Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston at The Riches of Gilsland, in The Samson Inn, Gilsland, Northumberland, at 5pm on Thursday June 1st. The Riches of Gilsland, supported by the Campaign to Open Gilsland Station, Lancaster University and English Heritage, is a free day of exploration of many aspects of Gilsland’s rich history, through local knowledge and academic research. For a full programme, see below:



Saturn's moon Enceladus has been in the news this week as a potential host for life elsewhere in the solar system.

In 2013 Peter Zinovieff and I wrote ‘Edge’, a journey through the solar system in four moons. Enceladus was one of the moons we chose. My poetry and Peter’s multi-channel electronic music explore the immensely hostile conditions of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io and our own dead Moon, and the potential for primitive life beyond Earth, first on Saturn’s large moon, Titan, then on tiny Enceladus. Peter’s music draws on real sound from space missions, including the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn.

Edge’ was produced for Radio 4 by Julian May as a Poetry Please Special, recorded at its premiere in Life Planetarium, Newcastle. It’s 28 minutes long, and accompanied by fabulous planetarium visuals by Chris Hudson, adapted for flat screen by Stephen Patterson. We’ve since performed it in venues as various as Tarset Village Hall, Northumberland, and Stamford Arts Centre, Lincs, as the finale to the New Networks for Nature conference 2014. Edge’ is the first of three planetarium pieces Peter and I have written, the others being ‘Field’ (about quantum fields and the Higgs mechanism) and ‘Sun’ (about solar physics). All three are multi-channel electronic pieces with visuals and live vocals, and can be adapted for any space. Please contact me if you’re interested in arranging a performance. Here, in the meantime, is a snapshot from Enceladus:

A rumble. A mutter.
A tin sheet, shaken.

Ditches. Fissures. Iron 
Miles. Scarps, folds.
Not rock; ice, 

Split. Canyons filled
With smashed walls, old
Darkness. Frost. 

A locked fist of ice,
Wriggling inside it
A furious secret.

Water, arguing with itself.

What am I? What will I become? Where next?  


Spring Events

‘Sun’ – by Katrina Porteous and Peter Zinovieff


Saturday May 6th  4.30-5.30pm

Alderman Peel High School, Wells Next the Sea, Norfolk, NR23 1RB

Live performance, stereo version. Visuals by Chris Hudson and Jonathan Sanderson.

Sponsored by Wells Town Council and NADFAS

‘Sun’ is an astonishing half-hour poetry and music performance with stunning visuals, exploring our nearest star.

It was created as part of ‘Imagining the Sun’ at Northumbria University.

Tickets £10 – book here





Sun at ‘Words by the Water’, March 2017


Riches of Gilsland

Gilsland, Northumberland, Thursday June 1st

As part of a day of celebration of Gilsland’s history, Katrina Porteous and Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston perform poetry and music of the Borders

Time and venue to be announced — more details soon.


Grey Hen Press     10th Anniversary Celebration Reading

With Joy Howard, Meg Peacocke, Katrina Porteous and Fiona Ritchie Walker

Lit and Phil, Westgate Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne, Thursday June 8th, time to be announced. Details here


The Cheviot magazine

The Cheviot is an excellent new journal from Wanney publishing. Issued three times a year, it celebrates the history, landscape, nature and culture of North Northumberland through a series of interesting, informative and entertaining articles. I’ve written for every issue so far, on subjects ranging from women in the fishing industry, to dialect, to the importance of the often-overlooked local and particular things which make each part of Northumberland distinctive.

Subscribe or buy back issues here


Woven Landscapes

Ed. Deborah Gaye, Avalanche Books, 2016   ISBN 9781874392804   £9.95

Woven Landscapes is not, as Amazon suggests, by Katrina Porteous. It is an anthology of six poets, Roselle Angwin, Wendy French, Katrina Porteous, Anne Caldwell, Kaye Lee and Katherine Gallagher. It contains eight new poems of mine exploring fundamental forces of nature, and includes work from my science-based collaborations ‘Edge’, ‘Field’ and ‘Sun’.

Available here


Words by the Water

Imagining the Sun

An exhibition at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, Cumbria

Part of Words by the Water, 2-11 March

Visual art by Helen Schell, poetry by Katrina Porteous


Saturday March 4, Studio, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick


Carol Davenport, Richard Morton, Helen Schell, Katrina Porteous

Imagining the Sun, the exhibition at Theatre by the Lake, combines science, poetry and visual art. Artists and researchers from Northumbria University, along with schoolchildren, have been finding out how we can use creativity and imagination to understand our Sun.

This presentation includes extracts from a stereo mix of Sun, a poetry-and-music collaboration by Katrina Porteous and Peter Zinovieff, with photographic images realised by Chris Hudson and Jonathan Sanderson.

£8 – Book Here

A publication of science and art collaborations from the Imagining the Sun project, including images of Helen Schell’s artwork, some of Katrina Porteous’s poems, information about Peter Zinovieff’s electronic music derived from solar oscillation data, and real photographic images of the Sun, will be available from Think Physics at Northumbria University after the event. Imagining the Sun was funded by STFC.

Copies of the Imagining the Sun publication will be available free while stocks last from the Think Physics address.