Poet Katie in running for international prize

Date: Friday 10th March 2017
Katie Hale
Katie Hale

PROFESSIONAL wordsmith Katie Hale is in the running for an international poetry prize and has also been named as one of 12 writers picked for a prestigious mentoring program with top publisher Penguin Random House.

At 26, Katie (pictured), of Shap, is the youngest person on the shortlist for this year’s Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize, with her poem You’re in My Blood Like Holy Wine, the title of which comes from a Joni Mitchell song.

The prize, which is run by the international art and literature magazine The Moth, is one of the most sought after in the world for a single, unpublished poem — with 10,000 euros for the winner and three runner-up prizes of 1,000 euros.

It is being judged by Deborah Landau, a celebrated poet and director of the creative writing program at New York University.

She said: “An extraordinarily vibrant array of poems landed in my inbox this winter.”

Apart from Katie, all the other shortlisted poems are by American writers. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony at Poetry Ireland, in Dublin, on 27th April, as part of the Poetry Day Ireland celebrations.

Katie, who is the daughter of Dennis and Val, started writing poetry seriously when she was 17, while doing A-levels at Penrith Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. One of the texts she was studying was Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife. “It was the first time I had read a poetry book which was by a non-straight living woman that didn’t all rhyme and it just sort of opened my eyes to what poetry could be,” she said.

“I think inspiration is something that you gather as time goes on. Like a stone gathering moss you can accumulate bits of inspiration,” said Katie, who studied at Royal Holloway and then St. Andrew’s for a master’s degree in creative writing and poetry.

As well as being on the shortlist for an international poetry award, Katie has won a place on Penguin Random House’s WriteNow scheme, which is an initiative aimed at new writers and part of a bid to increase the diversity of their publishing list. After a call for submissions in August, three insight days were held in Manchester, Birmingham and London, with 50 people invited to each day, out of 2,000 entries overall, where they heard from editors, literary agents and authors including Jonathan Coe and Malorie Blackman.

And then, following a telephone interview, Katie was selected as one of the final 12. Over the course of the year-long program, Katie will have mentoring sessions with an editor from Penguin — some in person, and some over the phone or Skype — and she will also have a one-to-one meeting with an editor.

The piece she is working on is a post-apocalyptic story, which features themes of ice and fire and follows the fortunes of two female characters who develop a tussle for power as the only two humans left alive.

As for the post apocalyptic nuclear wasteland she foretells in the novella, Katie said she would like to say that it is set in “a future”, but it looks increasingly like it could be “the future”.

“It’s hard not to think about the environment in contemporary society and the effect humans are having on the environment, the effect people are having on each other, and the kind of damage which is being done,” said Katie.

Writing, for Katie, as well as being a compulsion, is a way of “figuring things out”. She says she never wants to limit herself to the type of writing she is doing and loves challenging herself.

“Everything I write informs everything else I write. My poetry will inform my fiction, and my fiction will inform my theatre, and my theatre will inform my poetry,” she said.

Another project she is working on is the rewrite of an intimate chamber musical, set in London, with ex-QEGS student Stephen Hyde. It is about the pressures and anxieties of trying to “make it” in the city.

Stephen is writing the music, while Katie is writing the lyrics. It set to go to Edinburgh this summer, where it will be performed by an Oxford University student group. Katie, who lives just two doors down from the house she grew up in, also runs freelance poetry workshops in schools and hosts a monthly Word Mess night at the Old Fire Station, Penrith, for Eden Arts.

A recent Barbican Young Poet and poet in residence at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake, her work has appeared widely in anthologies, magazines and journals, including Poetry Review, The North and Interpreter’s House, and she has a pamphlet forthcoming with Flipped Eye Publishing.