Heather Wastie writes poems, songs & monologues. This blog began with her oral history project with people who worked in the carpet industry in Kidderminster. Her carpet industry related pieces appear on this blog and in her book http://blackpear.net/authors-and-books/heather-wastie/
In June 1971, Joni Mitchell released her landmark album, Blue.
In 1973, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Genesis’ Selling England By The Pound were all released.
In late September 1974, with this rich musical diet vibrating in my head, weeks away from my 19th birthday, I was walking along Edgbaston Park Road with a girl called Alison who I’d just met. On the opposite side of the road were two fellow Birmingham University students heading for the same Halls of Residence.
Andy – long dark hair parted in the middle – had rebelliously pinned his name badge onto the inside of his trench coat. Andy and Paul, friends from Leicester, were staying in High Hall, a tall structure for men only; Heather and Alison were bound for the women-only block which lay prostrate at the foot of the men’s accommodation. Each Hall had its own large communal room and there was a connecting gallery between the two. The no-men-allowed-after-10pm female block was called Ridge Hall.
It wasn’t long before guitarist Andy had organised a music night in High Hall, with the help of his friend, Jock, for any students who wanted to take part. Andy and I performed Joni Mitchell’s Little Green and Big Yellow Taxi together, and soon started collaborating on our own songs in a downstairs room in Ridge Hall. Andy called that first music night Moulin Ridge and the name stuck.
47 years later, we (Moulin Ridge) have finally released our debut album! Many of the original vocal recordings – some going back to the late 1980s – have been used, as each captures a moment in time. We’re launching the CD on 26th April – see the poster for info and click on it to listen to the songs!
I’m popping in to plug a livestreamed performance of I Dig Canals this coming Sunday 21st November 6pm and a humorous poetry writing workshop on Thursday 25th November2-4pm. See below for more…
I DIG CANALS livestreamed performance – Sunday 21st November 6pm
Stand by for winching and rocking, pulling and sweating, bucket-hoists of mud and canal-clearing clobber. And you can share in it all live or via Zoom! It’s 1970, and we’re off to a rally of boats on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. On the way we’ll meet Sheila and Josie, Tina and Jean as they put on their sturdy boots and roll up their sleeves. Women labouring, cooking, boating, organising… united by a common cause – to save the Black Country waterways.
Join us for a livestream at 6pm on Sunday Nov 21st, or, if you can’t make that time, the video will be available to stream until 7pm the following Sunday (28th), all for a fiver! The show is just under an hour long, and will be followed by an additional half hour Q&A and some more stories from the project if you would like to stay. Click the poster above to go to the Eventbrite page
From limericks and four-liners to lengthy sagas; from clever wordplay to corny rhymes and punchlines; from nonsense to wild imaginings; from wry humour to laugh-out-loud funny. Bring your funny bones and we’ll have a go at different ways of writing humorous poems, inspired by a variety of examples.
We are offering our 2021 workshops on a Pay What You Can basis. The minimum payment is £5 (£5.12 with the booking fee); after that the sky’s the limit!
There are two free places available for anyone who would find the minimum donation difficult. Click on the photo of me looking cheeky to go to the Eventbrite page for more info.
I’ve always loved the title of this spoken word night organised by the fantastic Poets, Prattlers & Pandemonialists. Now I’m very pleased to be their featured poet – online this coming Sunday. The organisers tell me people often mistakenly add an apostrophe to the word ‘cant’ and that’s the beauty of the word play. When I think of the verb to cant, my thoughts inevitably go to my Dad who was an expert. ‘Canting’ is a Black Country word. It’s a shame we can’t all be canting to each other in an actual room in Wolverhampton on Sunday, but we’ve got the next best thing and I hope you’ll join me from wherever you happen to be. Poetry connects.
It wasn’t easy keeping quiet about filming for Great Canal Journeys last May! But now the programme has been aired I can share this lovely photo of Kate Saffin and I with Sheila Hancock – all of us managing to conceal that fact that it was a miserable, cold day! The programme features tales of the so-called ‘Idle Women’ whose stories we tell in one of our Alarum Productions shows. Click on the photo to go to the Channel 4 website and watch the episode.
This coming weekend, there are two chances to experience my new solo piece The Idle Women Story – a combination of short pieces about the wartime trainees, some of which you may have seen before if you’ve been to an Alarum show. But this new version includes some recently unearthed letters from one of the women and also some of the men, written whilst considering whether or not women were capable of handling working boats… As well as my online performance, there’s a fascinating live dance interpretation by Hannah Warren. Kate will also be performing live in her solo piece The Mary Rose: a boat of ill repute which is all about a brothel on a boat! The live shows are taking place, along with several others, canalside in Rickmansworth. My online show can of course be seen from the comfort of your own home. Click the photo to go to the event website.
In early June, the outgoing Worcestershire Poet Laureate Leena Batchelor invited me to perform some of my poetry at a Zoom event – a night of performances by previous Poets Laureates and interviews by Leena. I was Worcestershire Poet Laureate in 2015-16 and really enjoyed catching up with Tim Cranmore, Suz Winspear, Nina Lewis and Leena together with former Staffordshire PL Emily-Rose Galvin and the brand new WPL Ade Couper.
Here are the questions she asked each of us followed by my replies.
Why is poetry/writing important to you and why do you think it’s important/relevant to today?How has writing helped you and why did you start writing?How do you write – where does the inspiration come from and how do you start?
I’ve been writing poetry for as long as I can remember. My first poem was written at infants school in response to a story. So I must have known then that poetry is a good way of telling stories. It’s also a way of expressing and exploring feelings, explaining things and imparting information in a concise way, entertaining with rhyme and rhythm, and raising a smile or laughter. I like patterns. Poems are made up of patterns. I love language. Poetry is a way of playing with words. Lots of people have turned to poetry – writing or reading – as a way of dealing with the pandemic.
I get a sense of satisfaction from writing pieces I’m pleased with. And I get pleasure from sharing my work with others, in performances or publications. Some of my poems have helped me process traumatic experiences too.
There are several ways I can be triggered into writing a poem:
When something unexpected inspires me – a turn of phrase, an incident, an interesting thought I want to explore, a news item; When I decide I want to write a poem, perhaps for a competition, for a friend or just for its own sake; When I go to a writing workshop; When someone commissions me.
Sometimes I start with lots of research and don’t do any writing for quite a while. Lots of my researched pieces are ‘found’ poems where I use existing material and present it in a new way. Poems can come from oral history interviews where I quote verbatim. In these instances it’s about selecting the right material and arranging it. Sometimes a poem comes out ready formed in a flash of inspiration. Others grow from stream of consciousness writing, where you put pen to paper and don’t stop at all for 5 minutes or more. It’s amazing what can materialise from your subconscious when you do that.
I like to start with pen and paper then move to the computer when it starts to take shape. I keep going back to it and when I think it’s finished I save it and don’t look at it again for a while so I can see it afresh. That way I’m more likely to notice errors or flaws which I didn’t see before because I was too close to it.
I’ve been so busy recently I haven’t had chance to blog about my latest creation! It’s an audio trail I produced for Alarum Productions with sound designer Sam Frankie Fox.
View from Windmill End Bridge today (photo by Brenda Ward)
Stewarts & Lloyds, Coombeswood, 1972
‘The Netherton Cut to Coombewood’ celebrates the history of the Dudley No 2 Canal, based on a 2.5 mile walk between Windmill End Junction and Coombes footbridge.
It features oral history interviews, music, historical information, poetry from me in Black Country spake and much more!
Click here to listen to the audio trail which lasts around 23 minutes.
I also did an interview about it with Jason Forrest for the Milk Bar podcasts. You can listen (from 26:25) on Podbean or watch on YouTube.
While I’m here, would you like to come to my next online writing workshop? It’s on Thursday June 24th, 2:00-4.00pm.
Rhythm in your fingers, rhythm in your feet.
From di-Da di-Da to tiddley-pom, we will play with syllables and stresses to give our writing a sense of rhythm. After looking at examples in song lyrics and poetry, we will write our own poems, both individually and as a group.
At Alarum Productions we were lucky enough to secure an emergency grant in 2020 to help us through a difficult time, when the pandemic curtailed plans to stage live performances. One of the many facets of our Arts Council bid was to look at ways of making our work more accessible. We decided to commission RAW to add BSL (British Sign Language) translation and subtitles to one of our videos, and the one we chose is a performance of my poem Histrionic Water, filmed at Debdale Lock on the Staffs & Worcs Canal.
When I first approached Alex from RAW he wrote back: ‘There’s some very strong, visual English language and I’ll need a bit of time to work out the best signs’. Then when the edited film arrived, I was taken aback by how much the expressive movements of the signer, Gary, added to the meaning behind the poem. I was mesmerised and feel privileged now to have this new dimension to one of my pieces. I asked if RAW would be happy to share an insight into the whole process, and what came back is fascinating:
Alex Vann from Real Arts Workshops (RAW) was delighted to get the call from Heather Wastie from Alarum Productions, to add British Sign Language and subtitles to the film of her wonderful poem ‘Histrionic Water’.
Alex is hearing and signs to level 6. He sometimes does communication support work in education and has previously added BSL to films and live performances. However, when it came to this project he asked his partner, in business and in life, Gary O’Dowd, to do the signing. This is because the words of the poem are so expressive and visual that it made sense for a native Deaf BSL user to perform the poem.
Most people who have studied BSL will quickly learn that it isn’t just about doing things with your hands and arms. Rather, it uses the whole body to communicate – facial expressions in particular – and it was felt that a Deaf signer would convey this with maximum authenticity.
When it came to translating ‘Histrionic Water’, it was vital to Alex and Gary that a Deaf audience would understand what it meant. It wouldn’t do just to translate the English straight into hand gestures, like other forms of communication – Makaton and Sign Supported English for example. It had to go further and tell the story and almost act it so that a Deaf audience would understand not just the words but the meaning. Alex and Gary worked on translating the poem on paper first, and Gary practiced and practiced until the poem flowed.
Filming was problematic because Gary obviously can’t hear the poem so Alex had to use hand signals and pointing to sections of the poem off camera. Even then – trying to match the timing of the spoken word was near impossible. So they shot it in small sections, in front of a greenscreen, and Alex had the unenviable task of ‘stitching’ the pieces together in video editing software to match the film of the poem. There are some fades between the signed sections because one thing BSL must do is flow – and not jump from one sign to another.
Initial feedback from Deaf audiences is very encouraging:
“What a beautiful poem: powerful too. I’m intrigued to take a walk on the canal.”
“Wow, brilliant BSL translation, You ought to join ‘See Hear’ on TV!”
“Brilliant, fantastic translation. Love it.”
“Love it. Very impressed.”
“Very awesome, wow.”
Alex Vann from RAW said: “We love working in collaborations with other organisations and artists so when Heather got in touch about this project we were very excited. One of our key values as a business is inclusion so making a film Deaf accessible is right up our street. We hope Heather’s film is a huge success and that we get to work together again in future.”
On social media – I use it on Twitter and Instagram – the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday refers to a post which is a reminder of something from the past. This poem doesn’t, strictly speaking, fit that category. I was thinking about the present, the recent past, and lockdown limbo.
Next Thursday, 11th February, 7.00-8.00pm, I’ll be taking part in this online event:
Behind the Tongue and the Talk – panelists talk about their role in the creation of the Black Country edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Tongue and Talk – The Dialect Poets’. Join City of Wolverhampton Poet Laureate, Emma Purshouse, as she natters to actress, writer and series producer Catherine Harvey, poet and playwright Brendan Hawthorne (Poet Laureate for Wednesbury), singer songwriter and poet Heather Wastie, along with dialect expert Esther Asprey. Expect discussion about our local vernacular, with some Black Country dialect poetry and song thrown into the mix.
As you may have guessed, you’ll be getting some poetry and a song from me, plus some canting (which has absolutely nothing to do with being hypocritical, pious or righteous). If you’re from the Black Country, you’ll know what I’m talking about; if not, do tune in and find out! Here’s the link for more details and to book.
Kate Saffin and I (Alarum Productions) have planned a series of 3 online writing workshops you may be interested in. They’re on Thursdays 2-4pm, a month apart, using Zoom. If you’re unfamiliar with Zoom, we’re happy to help you set it up.
We are offering these workshops as Pay What You Can events. Here’s some info with links to further details and booking:
Life writing – Feb 25th – with Kate Saffin
The term ‘Life Writing’ is still quite new. In this workshop we’ll explore some of its different manifestations – autobiography, diaries, reminiscence… before getting down to some writing, using prompts to help us think about different moments in our lives. Click here for more.
Bringing the past to life – Mar 25th – with Heather Wastie
Using observation, memories, senses and imagination we will write an article suitable for a newsletter, newspaper, magazine or blog, describing a place or event connected to an element of history that interests us. We will also be creating a piece of poetry that connects to our chosen subject. Click here for more.
Monologue – April 22nd – with Kate Saffin
A monologue is a performance by a single actor – sometimes as part of a play (Shakespeare was very fond of them) or sometimes it is the play. We’ll explore the different approaches to monologue and then get down to writing one. Click here for more.
If you have any questions about the workshops, do ask!