Katrina Porteous was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, to parents from North East England, and grew up in County Durham, where she attended Durham High School for Girls. She graduated from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1982 with a double first in History. In 1982-4 she travelled to the USA on a Harkness Fellowship, studying at Berkeley, California, and Harvard Universities. She returned to Cambridge, England, in 1985 and in 1987 moved to her grandparents’ house on the Northumberland coast.

She published her first poetry collection, The Lost Music, in 1996, which included many poems based on years of close research into the local fishing community. Porteous is noted for her collaborations with artists and musicians, among them East Anglian artist, James Dodds, Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston, and English concertina virtuoso Alistair Anderson, with whom she wrote Tam Lin, a piece of musical theatre first performed in 2000. In the same year she was commissioned by ‘Turning the Tide’ (Durham Heritage Coast) to document the clean-up of pit-waste from the beaches of East Durham. Lines from her poems appear on Michael Johnson’s sculptures at Seaham, Co Durham, and in Easington Colliery Memorial Garden.

Since 2001 much of Porteous’s work has consisted of long poems commissioned by BBC Radio, her most creative partnership being with poet and producer Julian May. Her radio poems range from her acclaimed piece An Ill Wind about the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic, to Horse (2011), a collaboration with composer and computer music pioneer Peter Zinovieff about the 3,000 year old chalk figure of the Uffington White Horse. Porteous received an Eric Gregory Award in 1989, an Arts Council Bursary in 1993, and an Arts Foundation Fellowship in 2003.

Much of Porteous’s work is rooted in her intimate knowledge of the interaction of human culture and nature in north Northumberland, particularly in the fishing community. The scope of that work ranges from academic papers on the history of fishing, to dialect research, radio essays, and contributions to a wide range of local and national publications. Porteous is President of the Northumbrian Language Society, and writes poetry in dialect; an excerpt of her long dialect poem ‘The Wund an’ the Wetter’ is included in this selection made for the Poetry Archive. Here, the tightly wound and muscular rhythms of that piece are contrasted with the no less striking intertwined monologues and field recordings of her radio poem ‘Beach Ride’ – taken together these pieces represent the impressive and inclusive breadth of Porteous’s writing. Also featured is the buoyant and rhapsodic lyric ‘Skylark’, and the more scholarly meditations of ‘The Ain Sakhri Lovers’. These poems at once demonstrate the diversity of Porteous’s output and introduce a poet in thrall to the energies of landscapes, whose poems work to register an environment in its own language, replying with their own keen, intuitive hearings of speech and sound.

This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 13 May 2013 at The Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

Poems by Katrina Porteous

Skylark - Katrina Porteous
The Wund an’ the Wetter (Excerpt) - Katrina Porteous
Beach Ride - Katrina Porteous
The Ain Sakhri Lovers - Katrina Porteous
Katrina Porteous in the Poetry Store

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Books by Katrina Porteous



Harkness Fellowship

Prize website

Eric Gregory Award

Prize website

Arts Council Bursary

Prize website

Arts Foundation Fellowship

Prize website

Featured in the Archive