Blog: Northern poets

Three writers heading to Hull's festival of poetry, Contains Strong Language (28 Set-1 Oct), explain what it means to be a northern poet

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Joe Hakim

I’ve lived in Hull all my life, and I think we have our own peculiar brand of northerness, which is defined in part by our end of the line mentality, due to our relative geographical isolation.

Obviously, the shadow of Larkin looms large over poetry in Hull, but being part of Contains Strong Language has enabled me to spread the word, so to speak, and working with disadvantaged young people in Hull has changed my life. It’s great that we’ve been given City of Culture status, but Hull – like many areas in the North – has suffered massively due to local government funding cuts, and we have more than our fair share of problems.

Poetry and spoken word have proven to be an extremely effective way of giving the voiceless a voice, so they can express themselves and tackle issues such as lack of mental health provision, homelessness, poverty and household debt. And it is my sincere belief that Contains Strong Language is just the beginning, and that Hull poetry – delivered with a strong Hull accent – is more vital and vibrant than it’s ever been.

Jacob Polley

When I was growing up, I felt a long way from the centre (wherever that centre was supposed to be). In fact, I felt I was growing up somewhere that was still falling away from this centre. Stuff – music, books, poems, culture – happened elsewhere and further and further away, probably in cities unlike my city, which was the great border city of Carlisle. I think this is part of the story of northern poetry, which to me seems tuned to both a sense of the electrifying particularity of places that have seemed of little national importance, and also to a sense of being plugged in to the imaginatively vital, perhaps only dormant, influence of old cultures, industries and kingdoms.

Louise Wallwein

In the north, where I was born, we speak 6909 mother tongues
We know we are the centre of the country geographically
We like to think we are the centre of the world
The world comes to us
And the world is welcome here
We have hearts as wide as the Ship canal
And just as fragile
We are cocky, we take the ****
Or common tongue in gently brutal
When we’re on one
The words fly
And soar
And bite
And roar
We are lucky in the north, our rhythms are instinctual
We speak truth to any ******
We swear often, we weave those words into our work
We say such things
Our turn of phrase
We poets work our community
We own our poverty , therefore we share
We’ve got beautiful council estates
Nowt much to those who never lived in one
We see endless sky
It’s just a bit of water when it rains
We’ve had it good and we’ve had it hard
Everyone belongs to us
Our kid
Our stories are long winded
Our R’s take ages to roll off our tongues
We miss out our H’s
Our words have no beginning and never end
We’ve got a good system round here
we trust the young to be leaders
Our young are our teachers
We all teach each other
Everyone’s a poet round ‘ere you know
We don’t think we’re hard we know we are
And yet
When we say hello
We say y’alright love
Nine times out of ten
It’s a genuine question
We say the word love at least 50 times a day
Like a wish
For more love, there can never be enough of that
We are genuine
Rough edged and raw

Contains Strong Language is part of Hull’s UK City of Culture 2017 celebrations. Photos: Graeme Oxby and Mai Lin Li

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