Kith, by Jo Bell

Kith, by Jo Bell

What is Kith? In the dictionary, it’s ‘familiar friends, neighbours, or relatives’. Here, though, it’s a collection of poetry in which we are promised ‘love, sex, boats and friendship’. And it does what it says on the tin. Open any page, and you’ll find a poem worth the reading. As Carol Ann Duffy says in her cover quote, ‘no time is wasted in the company of (Bell’s) work.’ They are accessible, to be jumped into without preparation, and they are funny, beautiful, and direct in their summoning of a scene, or an emotion. But if the point of a collection is to find the links between the poems, then you’ll want to invest a bit more time, to browse and revisit, reading them in order and without. Luckily, that’s no hardship.

Some of the poems I know from hearing Jo read them, most recently at her own launch this spring at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival. Being a proud member of the kith (I’m there in the back *does a happy dance*), I know the background to some of them, enough to wonder at the layers buried beneath the lines of those I don’t. As a fellow boat-dweller in addition, there are lines that catch me right in the solar plexus with a shout of ‘Yes, that’s EXACTLY IT!’. Out of the many examples I could choose, here’s the opening of Frozen In:

You wake, and know

The boat is still as bones

and you, its red heart beating

I can promise you, the morning the ice catches, the feel of the canal is just that.

It doesn’t matter, though, if you’ve never stepped on a boat in your life, or walked on the northern hills, or had sex with a poet, whether on a boat or a hill. The poems, whilst being deeply personal, also offer an opening for us to take the words and the sense and make of them a reflection of our own experience. There is love throughout, of people and place and community. It’s probably not the collection you’d go to for a romantic reading slot at a wedding, but love is there to be celebrated: however ephemeral it may be, it’s worth the grasping. And when the heady rush has died away, Spring is still just around the corner, and the world is full of those kith, waiting to to embrace and be embraced in turn.

Jo Bell

Photo by Lee Allen

If you can, get to an event so that you can hear the poems read aloud. You can follow where Jo will be for live performances here. If you can’t wait that long/travel that far, you can find her on Soundcloud here.

One of those events, Bad Language in Manchester, is just next week (apologies if you’re reading this in the future…) where Jo will be headlining, and I’ll be reading as part of what will be a spectacular open mic lineup.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, Jo will be reading at my own launch on the 15th August, along with the equally brilliant Tania Hershman, Graeme Shimmin, and Benjamin Judge. More details to follow soon!

You can find Jo being interviewed by writer Jack Boardman here.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *