Shortlisted for the Portico Prize for Literature 2015
Two Countries is a book of poems about place: about landscape, community, and the shifting, provisional relations between them. Born in Scotland, Katrina Porteous grew up in North-East England. These poems explore the ambiguities of borderlands, from the Roman Wall to the present-day Anglo-Scottish Border, and the ‘debatable lands’ between tradition and modernity, real and ideal, country and town, ‘nature’ and ‘culture’.
Katrina Porteous’s poetry reaches far beyond the local. Two Countries is organised around a selection of her radio work, poems of many voices, drawing on Border Ballad and Northumbrian story-telling and song, and often rooted in direct oral testimony. Among the most remarkable are the dialect voices of Northumbrian fishermen, and the words of hill farmers caught up in the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic.
Since her first collection, The Lost Music (1996), Katrina Porteous has collaborated widely with artists and musicians. Much of her work has been for BBC radio, notably with producer Julian May, who describes her as ‘extending the boundaries of the genre’.
‘Katrina Porteous is one of our best poets and her big new book of poems Two Countries is surely one of the most distinctive and important collections of the year. It is certainly one of the most long-awaited. It almost 20 years since she published her last full-length collection The Lost Music, about the decline of the fishing communities on the Northumbrian coast where she lives.’ – Andy Croft, Morning Star
‘Katrina Porteous is that rare, robust perennial bloom, a poet whose lyricism is founded upon clarity of expression and precise attention to the spoken word, whose intellectual
sophistication is clothed in simplicity and whose themes are of universal significance, yet rooted in a lifelong commitment to local community and the Northumbrian landscape.’ - Mark Cocker, (author, naturalist, environmental activist)
‘Katrina Porteous’s recent collection of poems, Two Countries, from Bloodaxe is the fruit of ten years work. The book is a work of some significance to the contemporary cultures of landscape and place, turning an inventive and sensitised ear to her coastal Northumbrian borderland and asking some important questions about contemporary rural life a long way from Westminster. Many of the poems collected have been commissioned for radio and have a musical quality that weaves together a range of intriguing oral traditions, producing a powerful and memorable voice.’ - The Clearing
'Porteous's beautiful, allusive poems are works of a particular imagination remaking an anonymous folk idiom. It is precisely this contradiction that she explores with great creativiity: what has been lost gives her not only a form, but a subject.' - Judith Willson, The North [on Two Countries]
'This enormously valuable collection is a labour of love, a work of deep commitment, and is essential in helping us to understand the multiple layers of meaning - elemental, economic and political - which rural communities must negotiate, and which so few truly value or understand.' - David Borthwick, EarthLines [on Two Countries]
The poems of Two Countries are meant to be heard out loud. An ebook with audio is published simultaneously with the print edition featuring Katrina Porteous reading many of the poems, four of which include music by Alistair Anderson or Chris Ormston.