Kate Fox at Quarry Bank: poet in residence
Quarry Bank welcomes Kate Fox as their poet in residence from January to March 2017.
Kate Fox is a stand up poet, broadcaster, writer and performer who explores what it is to be Northern, female and funny. She has performed at events such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Glastonbury Festival, and worked with Radio 4. Kate has been in residency in the Quarry Bank archive and is writing new material inspired by Quarry Bank and its story.
Kate’s key interests lie in class, gender and ‘Northern-ness’ and her work usually reflects on how these fit into contemporary society. She's relishing the opportunity to dive into the archive at Quarry Bank and to explore the site to discover how these themes existed in this historic setting. The result will be a collection of poetry entwining the historic and the contemporary; the workers of the mill and the women who work and volunteer at Quarry Bank today.
Kate has found inspiration from being in the mill itself, listening to the machines and putting herself in the position of the women who once worked in the space. Quarry Bank House and archival research also offer insight into the lives of the Greg family ladies and how their lives differed from those of the mill workers.
There's a challenge that comes with researching women in history which Kate has found when exploring the archive. There is very little known about the majority of women who lived and worked at Quarry Bank and it's consequently very difficult to connect with their stories. Kate has so far been able to explore a range of archive material such as the tear-jerking journals of Mary Philips Greg who suffered with periods of mental instability, particularly during her early years as a mother, and oral history accounts which refer to a revolutionary woman named Nancy Johnstone who we believe to have been instrumental in the setting up of the Co-operative store in Styal Village. Kate’s poem about Nancy Johnstone can be read here.
She stares straight down the camera lens,
as if daring the photographer to make her stay
in the nineteenth century.
The front row girls sit,
hands folded neatly in laps,
the rest of the back row
stand clasping their hands
behind their backs or at their sides,
shrinking to close the gaps between them,
faces blank as bricks.
She is the only one not wearing a white apron.
The only one with a clenched fist on her hip,
jaw set, eyes unflinching,
her other hand planted on the girl in front’s shoulder
as if she’s about to confer a medal.
Maybe she would become Bella Pepper,
who was a bit of a character
according to the man they taped remembering Styal.
Or maybe she would become the Nancy Johnson,
they nicknamed Stonewall Jackson
after the American Civil War hero
she channelled while pioneering the village’s co-op,
though her role in that would go unwritten.
Maybe she knew her name would drop from history
like a lost battle.
Maybe people alive today
are walking round Styal or New York or Glasgow
wearing her features.
Maybe there’s a nativity Mary
with her eyebrows,
clonking Joseph with a toy sheep
while looking defiantly down the barrel
of somebody’s overused video camera.
Someone with her nose
who’s not massively impressed
they called her feisty on local telly
just for holding banners.
You wouldn’t want to tell her
that the gormless blokes
flanking the aproned girls
would still be the only ones we can name.
Look again, keep looking.
She’s still there
waiting for the flash
not to look away.
By Kate Fox
For the exhibition ‘A Woman’s Work is Never Done’ at Quarry Bank, silhouettes of some of these women were created in order to physically return them to the mill. Kate found the postures and physicality of these silhouettes to be particularly emotive and hopes to create a poem that might add to this idea of a physical female presence.
Kate will be performing at two events, on Saturday 4 March at Quarry Bank there will be a poetry workshop and Kate intends to create a poem based on the thoughts and ideas of those who take part. Then later in March she will be in central Manchester, as part of the Wonder Women festival. Kate’s residency is delivered by the National Trust through Trust New Art and supported using public funding by Arts Council England.