Last month saw the culmination of a year of effort by a veritable armada of Hull organisations, all pulling towards the creation of a new spoken word festival under the aegis of the BBC. As always with multi-partner endeavours, it quite often felt like the organisational equivalent of trying to perform a handbrake turn in an oil tanker, but anyone who was there will tell you what a success it was. From Russian-language poetry performed to the live soundtrack of fifty simultaneously crackling short-wave radios, to our own three-hour epic retrospective of phenomenal, ground-breaking performance poets, there really was a lot going on.

My role in the whole thing was really quite miniscule; I led a Scratch Club workshop for six poets just starting out in performance, and I commissioned three Hull poets to become part of MisGuided Hull, a promenade performance led by Richard Tyrone Jones in the guise of a hapless tour guide peddling ‘fake news’ about the cultural history of Hull. Beset by street-sweeper trucks and Peruvian flute bands, Vicky Foster and Robert Eunson still managed to battle it out with their pros and cons of Hull, while Dave Osgerby made a truly excellent Lurkin’ Larkin.

To be honest, the thing I’m most proud of is not the festival itself, but our work leading up to it with the Women of Words collective. I had reservations about my presence as North Producer at the festival, knowing all too well how flagship events like this can be perceived with scepticism and even resentment by local poets and promoters, who can often work hard for decades on building a scene only to find themselves passed over when the ‘big bucks’ touch down.

It’s superb that Apples and Snakes has a place within Contains Strong Language, but we have an obligation to maintain a more enduring relationship with Hull poets, so from the start I was focussed on how to squeeze as much genuine legacy from the festival as possible. This was an approach that was valued and supported by Apples and Snakes and the BBC. For six months I became a regular feature at Women of Words, running performance skills ‘warm-ups’ before each event, attended by up to thirteen members of the collective each time.

And what a belter group of women they are! Counting singers, poets, actors, directors, playwrights and novelists among their number, it was clear very early on that they have between them all the skills necessary to run their own skills-sharing workshops. I was delighted to learn during the festival weekend that they’re going to do just that, continuing the warm-ups every month. While I worked to help develop their performance skills generally, the group worked with Kate Fox to devise a show called Queens of the North. Drawing inspiration from the women in their lives, the historic women of Hull, the lost Queen Cartimandua of the Brigante tribe, and the goddess Brigit herself, they made a piece of work that literally brought the audience to its feet and a tear to my eyes. I couldn’t be prouder.

Going forward, we’ll be working with Women of Words more over the next year, and with several other women’s performance collectives across the north. What I hadn’t expected was that CSL would spark other poetry collectives into life, but excitingly we now have a chance to give what help we can to an emerging young people’s collective, led by Hull legend Joe Hakim, and a group rising out of the amazing work done with Hull’s Polish community by ex-Apples producer Bohdan Piasecki.

And that for me is the point of all this; not that Hull should be able to say that Kate Tempest has played their Minster, although that was brilliant, nor that various BBC presenters should go on air to say how wonderful the city is, with only the faintest suppressed incredulity in their voices. It’s the possibility of this grand-scale cultural intervention actually inspiring grassroots creativity, and bringing together a stronger community so that poetry thrives, renewed and invigorated, long after the broadcast trucks are departed

Kirsten Luckins
Producer North, Apples and Snakes