It was the winter of 2021 in the latest lockdown in Northern England. I was deep into therapy, grieving, and had started the rich seam of writing which would be the start of it all. Relatively new to social media, I saw a call out for Northern, working-class writers to submit a poem written in Northern vernacular. Somebody like me. From my background. It was rare and surprising. I’d been asked to take elocution lessons as a lecturer in English Literature and often damped down my flat Yorkshire vowels in the rarefied worlds of academia, then yoga, but this was something different. This was a call for me to be myself, to honour the culture and place I was from and more than that, to celebrate it.
My grandparents had been on my mind so a poem poured out in the inky light from the TV, written on the back of a newspaper. It was a tribute to their lives, their love for me and all they had meant, so the poem’s title was their address. I submitted it and forgot about it. As a new poet, I had no idea whether what I was writing had any value, I was just grateful that this specific and inclusive call-out had inspired me to write about my grandparents for the first time.
The poem was accepted, not with a dry nod and direction for a short biography, but with warm, effusive, genuine feedback, warm as an Eccles cake, and oozing with all I had meant the poem to be. It gave me confidence, made me feel seen and valued, so I read further. Rebecca was the director of Bent Key Publishing, so named because she had been in an horrific car accident which left her dazed, hearing her own bones crack, her neck chip in two places, her pelvis and sternum break as the cold rain beat a tattoo on her face. She nearly died. When she eventually got back to her home, she found her front door key bent in her coat pocket; a symbol of all that would come after. New starts, risks, a new life carved out with bravery and generosity despite her broken body and traumatised mind. She was a gifted poet. She wrote an ebook The Girl Who Broke Her Back and her magnificent collection Crash & Learn as she recovered from her injuries. She didn’t stop at that. She founded her own publishing company with the aim of representing writers often marginalised from traditional publishing. She’d lost her job and had no government support but this is what she did at a time of great uncertainty for herself and during a global pandemic.
Her collection makes us all cry. There is pain, joy, grief, tiny moments in time peculiarly Northern which chimed at our hearts, these hearts being her team. The fragile but talented writers she has championed who have been brought together by her, lioness, fierce, cubs behind her every step. I had the confidence to submit the collection I had written to Bent Key Publishing and it was accepted. The joy of this and the warmth of the acceptance was an indescribable feeling. The dream of being a writer I had carefully shelved at the age of eight was alive again and more than this, I knew she thrived on this, making people feel appreciated and happy. She is a good person. We met for a Bent Key Showcase. I arrived just in time to see her opening set and stood transfixed as she performed without notes or hesitation. Her oratory filled the cloisters of the beautiful old church, our venue, and I knew, if I hadn’t known already, she was one of a kind. I went up to perform, faltering, and oh lord there’s a microphone. She adjusted it quietly and cheered me all the way. As she cheered all the poets and as she continues to release collection after collection for all the lost poets, despite the continued physical, mental and emotional fallout from the crash that nearly did for her. I’ll always be grateful we met.