Katrine Solvaag is a creative writing MA student at the University of Kent and, as well as being a regular on the Canterbury poetry scene, she has previously performed at Wise Words festival and Brighton Fringe. On the 25th April, Katrine launched her debut book of poetry: ‘Broken People’, published by Burning Eye Books. Writer Alex Vellis went along to give us his perspective:
Through the meandering streets of Canterbury, I find myself at a coffee shop by a river, the water lapping at the steps where people embark on boat tours, a gentle breeze playing its song over the cascading trees. There are groups of people waiting outside while the coffee shop was being transformed into a performance area. Water Lane Brasserie has rapidly become a place for poets, musicians, and artists alike to congregate and share the work and their wares. On this particular evening, Katrine Lynn Solvaag is launching her first book, Broken People. I nipped inside to listen.
Ordering myself a large glass of red wine (need it come in any other size?) and a glass of water, I sat front and centre, next to the siren that is Katrine Solvaag herself. The event was set to start at six o’clock, but the host Anh-Khoi Nguyen allowed an extra fifteen minutes for the stragglers and smokers to come in, grab their drinks and take their seats. I had arrived at a quarter to six; the venue was already near capacity at that point.
A silence rolled across the crowd as Khoi stood inches away from the nineteen fifties crooner microphone ready to give introductions. When you could hear a pin drop, he began. A wave of adulation fell from his lips, for Katrine, for her work, her constitution as a person, her strength in character, and her power is a friend. The room erupted in applause, and not for the last time. After the clapping had died down, Khoi introduced the first support act, Water Lane Brasserie’s very own poet in residence, Alice Gretton.
Alice’s work has always hit a soft spot within me, circling around the ideas of love, loss, and identity, all subjects close to my heart that I find myself writing about ad nauseam. Alice’s ability to find the beauty in the words that never quite make it from mind to mouth is astonishing, her work is well written and well performed. She even treated us to a brand new piece that had been finished that day. She is sensational and should not be missed.
After Alice’s performance and the shattering of applauded eardrums had died down, Khoi introduced the next feature act: Henry Maddicott.
Henry is a tour de force in the poetry community, both in Canterbury and further afield. Having honed his skills in San Francisco and come back an even better writer and performer, Henry has been chasing the country. Performing all over the UK, working extensively with Apples & Snakes. Henry has the rare ability to manipulate words, to craft and bend them at his will, disregarding traditional contemporary sentence structure, he tells stories of internal thoughts as if the audience are his children and he is a doting father. His work looks at themes of place, acceptance, and understanding of self through animals and outside glances. Henry is both sides of your favourite record, a gifted poet.
At this point, I made a mad dash to use the toilet, not wanting to miss the headliner. Through the shut door, and low humming extraction fan, a question was being asked: “Who likes democratic decisions and who likes authoritarian?” The Democrats took the win and another question was asked “Who wants a five-minute break? And who thinks we should crack back on?”.
Sitting back down, with a fresh glass of wine in my hand, Khoi introduced Katrine. The love that he has for her is seen in A) the fact that he came down from Manchester to host this specific event, and B) that the way he looked at her and spoke about her was poetry in itself. Never have I seen someone respect someone else so much. Katrine’s introduction aside, she took the mic.
Katrine’s first port of call was to lambast Khoi for making her cry moments before getting on stage, which was met by a hearty laugh from the crowd. Katrine started with a classic of hers, “Krakebolle” a Norwegian word for a specific type of red/pink sea urchin. A story of a sea urchin found in her homeland when with her brother. On the surface, Katrine’s work looks to be about what it says on the tin but as you unravel the words, each stanza falls away like silk, kissing the tips of your fingers ad you flick through her pages. And suddenly, the story of a found sea urchin is so much more.
Unsurprisingly, with a title like “Broken People”, quite a few of the poems were quite dark. I think one of my favourite things about Katrine’s writing is the honesty that lies in the darkness of her words. She doesn’t try to force you to feel bad or to feel anything at all but she allows you the space between the lines to exist in a world that only you and she share. There was a short poem for her grandfather, that unfortunately passed away during the construction of the book, it was named after a cognac that her family would sneak into a hospital for him. An ode to a great man.
Katrine then performed another classic “popcorn” as well as the title piece “Broken People”. Katrine then performed what I think is arguably the best piece of the entire evening. “Shoebox Secrets”. The power in this piece is second to none, Katrine explains beautifully the “curse” of being a woman in a toxic, masculine world. The fear of walking home, the acceptance in having to accept that being touched inappropriately at a club is part of life, she details the terror that exists in simply existing as a woman, something that I, as a man, have never experienced but fear for my family, friends, and strangers everywhere. Katrine held the crowd as a drop of water in her open palm as she spoke, leading us, the audience, down the lines of distinction, before allowing us to fall.
Katrine thanked the audience and sat back down to deafening applause, I watched as the windows rocked in their frames, about to give up the ghost and make new homes on the ground outside. The applause, fortunately, slowly abated. Khoi thanked the features, and of course the venue, and thanked Katrine.
The show was over, a rush of people brushed passed me, eager to buy Katrine’s book, the bar was filling with patrons ready for another glass of wine, and though I wasn’t a changed man, I had been given a lot to think about. I walked outside, rolling papers in my hand, and sat by the riverside, the gentle water now more still, as if it were thinking too.
Photography: Jenny Brown