Poetry / Kaycee Hill

‘A major talent in the making’: Bristol-based poet Kaycee Hill

By Sarski Anderson, Friday Feb 2, 2024

Described by Under The Red Guitar’s Bob Walton as “a major talent in the making”, Kaycee Hill will be headlining the popular poetry night at El Rincon on February 21.

Growing up in Hampshire, Hill has since relocated to Bristol where she is studying her MA in Creative Writing. Her debut collection Hot Sauce won the James Berry Poetry Prize, and has been published by prestigious indie publishers, Bloodaxe.

A fearlessly candid exploration of her own coming-of-age, it also turns its focus outward at the unwieldy, ever-shifting urban-pastoral landscapes in which we all exist.

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Book cover: Bloodaxe Books

How did you first come to writing poetry?

“I found my early inspiration in the words of artists who stood outside the traditional literary canon. Icons like Lauryn Hill, Floetry, Erykah Badu, and Sade, along with dub poets such as Lillian Allen and Benjamin Zephaniah, were my go-to sources of creativity.

“My engagement with poetry began in an almost incidental manner. I would delve into those lyric books that came with CDs, using them as unofficial guides or prompts. These explorations, initially just for fun, gradually morphed into a form of self-expression, leading me to write verses I hadn’t yet identified as poems.”

As a creative outlet, what does poetry do for you?

“Writing poetry allows me to access a part of myself that comes alive when I write. There’s something deeply satisfying about putting pen to paper to capture people I know, resurface memories, and explore the complex dynamics of family – both the one we’re born into and the one we choose.

“Inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks’ words: ‘we are each other’s business’ I find true joy in the process, even when it leads to painful places or revelations. As an outlet, writing poetry is a tool for understanding both myself and the world around me. It just feels essential. Necessary.”

What was the inspiration behind Hot Sauce?

“Fundamentally, Hot Sauce is an archive of memories, shaped by my upbringing in a working-class town in Hampshire. The poems reflect on how the sense of a ‘place’ can be ever-changing. As a poet who draws heavily from nature, the collection was inspired by the idea of the ‘urban pastoral’, examining what freedom and sanctuary mean within urban or industrial landscapes.

“Soundsystem culture has also greatly influenced my work, both as a community connector and a link to my Caribbean heritage. Hot Sauce includes many personal narratives and the experiences of those closest to me. These poems are a tribute to them, capturing our exuberance, our unpreparedness for life’s challenges, and the beauty of persisting through it all.”

Can you explain the impact of Blood Axe publishing your work?

“Since publication, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some incredible experiences, each one broadening my perspective and reach as a poet. I’ve had the privilege of engaging with diverse audiences through poetry readings across the UK, facilitating poetry workshops, and having recent experience presenting my work to a new audience in Berlin.

“I am deeply grateful for the opportunities winning the James Berry Poetry Prize and publication with Bloodaxe has opened up for me. Bloodaxe’s belief in my work has been a crucial factor in not only amplifying my voice but also in bringing it to a broader audience. The whole experience has been nothing short of transformative and life-altering.”

Photo: Kaycee Hill

What will you be sharing at Under the Red Guitar?

“I’ll be sharing a chosen selection of poems from Hot Sauce, ones I find especially rewarding to perform, pieces I believe will resonate. In addition to those poems, I’m considering introducing some new poems, but we’ll see!”

How are you finding the poetry landscape within Bristol?

“I love Bristol’s poetry scene, it’s definitely alive and thriving. I think what stands out is the poetry community’s accessibility – we have a wide variety of events and open mics, writers’ groups, and poetry opportunities here, that nurture emerging talent as well as seasoned poets. I’ve met some fabulous Bristol-based poets in the community and at the university, and I think the poetry scene here plays an undeniable role in the city’s cultural landscape.”

In the Queue at Motion

Once again, a siren night. The air choppy
with possibility and foxes riddled with heat.
The queue’s tide pulls back and we move
along with it, like a shoal of black sea bass.
Just ahead – a batch of glassy-eyed girls
braceleting their arms into constellations,
waiting impatiently for the gates to open;
for those first tendrils of sound reaching out
closer, closer, to where all language ceases.

Kaycee Hill

Under the Red Guitar with Kaycee Hill is at El Rincón on February 21 at 7.30pm (doors 6.30pm), and then on the 3rd Wednesday of the month; tickets are available from www.wegottickets.com. March and April headliners are Manuagh Kelly and Rachael Clyne.

Main photo: Kaycee Hill

Read more: The community poetry events lifting the January blues

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