Kate Fox: Poet in Residence
Banshee Labyrinth, Venue 156, 29-35 Niddry Street
(3rd-12th August 18:20-19:20)
Review: Phoebe Walker
‘There is a light that never goes out.
There is a light that never goes out.
There is a light that never goes out
in my fridge.”’
This ode to Morrissey is how Kate Fox, poet, performer, and possessor of the most glorious Northern accent you’ll hear this side of the Forth, begins her set. She actually calls it a “freebie poem”, chucked in for the punctual half of the audience while the rest trickle in and the show proper gets under way. There’s nothing proper, in the staid sense of the word, about Fox’s performance however; her chatty, self-effacing manner instantly limbers us up, which is no mean feat when you’re crammed in one of the dingier chambers of the Banshee Labyrinth. Fox’s playful, whip-sharp hour of poetry acts like a Patronus charm, keeping the lingering murk of a dreich Edinburgh evening well at bay.
The set is loosely based around her various experiences as a Poet in Residence, although she’s such an expert talker that her chatter and poems ricochet happily from this topic at will, being wound back in every so often like a ball of glittering wool – with Fox, there’s no such thing as a tedious tangent. When we do get round to the residency theme, I especially like ‘Run’, inspired by Fox’s Great North Run Residency in 2011:
‘a boy bellows, ‘Run, you fat Cow!’
I think; Perhaps it was because they’re disenfranchised youths
enraged by a time of low unemployment and few educational opportunities.
Or, because they’re cut off from sources of power and pride
now traditional models of family and home are under threat.’
So the poem runs Guardian-ishly on until it culminates:
‘Then I think, actually,
perhaps it was just because
they are knobs’
I think a few people in the room hadn’t realised poetry could actually be so funny – one man in the front row, proudly sporting a t-shirt with the legend ‘My guns are loaded’, wheezes and roars so violently throughout the show that Fox asks him for his number so he can act as her own personal cheerleader (“Thank you sir…There’s no one like you in the audience when I do Radio 4”).
Despite Fox’s cheerfully self-deprecating manner, these poems are razor sharp, matching perfect pace and rhythm with acute intelligence as well as warm humour. It’s rare to get the sense that performance poetry would work equally well on the page, but Fox clearly has the talent to cover both bases; her rhymes are never patchy or forced, as can be the case with some spoken word (usually disguised in a slick performance). Fizzily brilliant ideas are deployed with aplomb, but never overwrought, as in a Sylvia Plath poem which riffs on Plath’s reputation for the single, devastating image. If you’ve never thought of Plath as a hoot before, then haste ye to the Banshee Labyrinth and hear Fox’s take on tea time with Ted at Court Green – it’s stuff-your-fist-in-your mouth funny (sorry Sylvia).
There’s a fair bit of tongue-in-cheek Carol Ann Duffy bashing to enjoy as Fox recites a tweet-poem from one of her students: “Carol Ann Duffy: Her hair is so fluffy”, and a minute later cajoles her husband into performing his own non-PG riff on the Poet Laureate. Fox also invites a guest poet, Clare Ferguson-Walker, to the stage. Ferguson-Walker brings an impressive change of tone with her sharp, vibrant poems about her father, porn-and-ammonite collector, and her disastrous teenage experience of drugs. Studded with moments of real darkness, these poems were meaty and energetically performed. Fox matched the change in mood (with an advance warning to the banshee in the front row) with a poem about her biological father. ‘Heirloom’, begins:
‘I wasn’t entitled to my father’s name
but I asked to keep his hat
His wife bore him a son
His secretary bore him a daughter.
His children share a birthday, eleven years apart.
My half brother joked our Dad must only have one fertile day a year
the first time we met
His wife said it meant they could never forget.
Now, the further from Bradford I move,
the more rooted there my vowels stay.
and sometimes I wear his trilby.
Even when years have passed
It will always, almost, fit.’
The quiet elegance of this poem, after 40 minutes of breathless comic verse, confirms Fox’s talents as a poet who can effortlessly shift several poetic gears in the space of a minute to produce a performance of unaffected wit and warmth.