A couple of months ago, I was running a poetry workshop in a small Cumbrian primary school on behalf of the Wordsworth Trust. At the start of the session, I asked the children whether they had any questions about poetry or about being a poet. One boy put up his hand and asked, ‘Are you on medication?’

As if that wasn’t enough, this then shaped the questions from the other children, such as: ‘Do you have any allergies?’ I then had a sensible one (‘How long have you been writing poetry?’), but it was instantly followed by, ‘How old are you?’ and several minutes in which the children frantically tried to guess my age. (If you were wondering, by primary school calculations I could apparently be anywhere between 19 and 43.)

I then started asking around, to see if other poets had similar stories of being asked interesting questions. Turns out, they do – particularly when children are involved.

Some of my favourites came from Helen Mort: ‘You’re the Derbyshire Poet Laureate, so does that mean you write poems about cats?’ Another child asked her, ‘Have you written any poems about sparkly fairies?’ – rounded off by a small yr 3 boy in a primary school workshop, who asked her what was in her handbag and if he could have a look.

Another question, which seems universal, is: ‘What do you write about?’

Universal it may be, but it’s still nearly impossibly to answer – so much so that Alex Bertulis-Fernandes described it as an ‘odd question’, despite the fact that it’s annoyingly common: ‘I’m not quite sure why I find it so strange, and I’m sure I’ve asked others the same – my answers to the question always feel unimpressive though.’

Polly Atkin agreed: ‘I hate being asked ‘what kind of poetry do you write’ as though there is an answer to that.’

She also ventured a couple of things she’d been told as a poet, as well as questions she’d been asked, such as a suggestion that she should use her 3rd place competition prize money buy a notebook so she could ‘keep practising’, as well as the cheek of a male poet who told her she should ‘stick to the women’s magazines’.

Another writer who had been told where he should publish his poetry was Owen Collins: ‘my Mum, when struggling to get her head round my ambitions, once told me that she thought I’d be very good at writing the poems for inside birthday cards…’

I’ve experienced this one myself. When I showed people the first good poem that I wrote (well, I thought it was good; it won a prize, so that’s something), one of my parent’s friends told me it was so good, it should go on the inside of a greetings card. I’m pretty sure he meant it as a compliment, but as it was a poem about dissatisfaction with a dying relationship, I’m not sure what kind of card it would be appropriate for. Maybe some kind of ironic Valentine…?

But I think my favourite contribution came from Lindsey Holland, who was asked: ‘If I write about breasts as hills, from a microscopic perspective, is that landscape poetry?’ And I desperately hope she answered yes.

About a year ago, I discovered the work of Nina Katchadourian.

Katchadourian is a Californian artist, who has a series of ‘stacks’ or ‘spine poems’. In these works, she arranges books (usually in stacks, but occasionally side by side) so that the titles create poems.

I thought I would have a go at some of my own ‘spine poetry’, just using the books on my shelves:

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Spine poetry by Katie Hale, inspired by Nina Katchadourian

The Alchemist on Poetry:

The making of a poem
out of danger;
mining for the light
out of the blue
day.

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Spine poetry by Katie Hale, inspired by Nina Katchadourian

Enduring Love:

Error.

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Spine poetry by Katie Hale, inspired by Nina Katchadourian

Frankenstein:

The lovely bones;
heaven eyes;
portrait in skin:

regeneration;

talk of the town.

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Spine poetry by Katie Hale, inspired by Nina Katchadourian

My Brilliant Career:

The accidental
strong words…

…Goodbye to all that.

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Spine poetry by Katie Hale, inspired by Nina Katchadourian

How to Paint a Dead Man:

Gold.
Silver.
The colour purple.
Fifty shades of grey.

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I’ve talked about my job project managing New Writing Cumbria here before.

One of the great things about it is getting to organise (and attend) events like this one, held on Valentines Day: n evening of music and spoken word, featuring Lady Layton, Les Malheureux, and a quiz. Plus, what Valentines night would be complete without a bar, a few love letters, and the chance to burn the name of your ex?

Just a few shots from the evening:

One day a week (plus a bit extra), I run New Writing Cumbria for Eden Arts. We do a number of things, btu one thing we’ve just started is putting on events at Penrith Old Fire Station. The first one went down a storm!

The evening featured poet Kareem Parkins-Brown, musicians Kev Kendal and Bill Lloyd, writer Stephen Redman, and filmmaker Richie Johnston. Oh, and a bar inside a horse box, naturally.

Here are a couple of shots from the night:

Poetry Installation: Lowther Castle, Cumbria

Beneath The Boughs was an installation of contemporary poetry at Lowther Castle, Cumbria, which took place over two months in summer 2013.

The installation featured work by poets from Cumbria to Singapore, and included poems hung from trees, in Victorian summer houses, and even on underwear on a laundry line! The exhibition also included an interactive area, where visitors could create their own poems, as well as work by local students from Shap Primary School and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School.

Over seven thousand people saw the exhibition, which was funded by Arts Council England.

Photography by Katie Johnston.