13th October, 2018
Durham Town Hall
Review by Emily Pritchard
It was a grey and blustery Saturday in Durham, but for the duration of the Rich Seams podcast recording, the sun streamed through the windows of the Town Hall. For future listeners of the podcast, hearing the discussion may well have the same effect. Andrew McMillan confidently and deftly led a discussion between three next-generation poets living in the North East: Jake Campbell, John Challis and Degna Stone.
The discussion framed the North as a progressive space and poetry as a way to see new futures, as the poets contemplated the balance between seeing ‘Northern poet’ as a badge of honour, and as a potentially limiting label. The poets were well aware of the responsibilities of writing and talking about the North. Jake spoke about how to honour the region’s industrial past, without giving way to nostalgia or feeling restricted to certain themes. Degna warned against seeing Northern identity as a stagnant or homogenous thing, whilst John emphasised the importance of making space for as many different voices as possible.
Andrew invited each of the poets to read two of their poems, which was a great gift to the audience. John Challis’ poems were incredibly tender, and his poem on trying to find shade for his newborn during the long hot summer of ’18 was complemented by the sound of his baby cooing from the back of the room. Degna Stone read a poem inspired by cult classic Withnail and I, perfectly capturing the humour and pathos of the film, and catching my heart with the line ‘I never knew there would be so little time’. As one of the closing poems, Jake read an incredibly relevant poem about changing his Geordie accent to fit expectations and make himself understood: a poem that considers ‘where my voice is at home’.
I’ll certainly be subscribing to the Rich Seams podcast as soon as it’s released – this recording alone revealed how much there is to be said, learnt, and investigated about what it is to be a poet in the North, and Andrew McMillan is definitely the person for the job.
This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.