#BostinNews Alex Vann

Not long after lockdown started at the end of March I applied to become a content editor for a Creative Black Country project called Bostin News. Together with three other editors, alongside producing our own pieces of work, we were also able to commission other creatives from across the Black Country. This blog is the first of several in which I will share links to the work produced.

I commissioned three other artists working in different disciplines, and created two pieces myself. We each responded to our chosen theme of ‘Water’, thinking also of Black Country locations.

Alex Vann is a singer/songwriter and visual artist based in Wolverhampton. Real Arts Workshops run a weekly arts session with residents of Mossley estate, near Bloxwich, Walsall (online during Covid). Alex worked with the group to write a poem about a visit to Sneyd Reservoir, set it to music and created a video incorporating art by the group. To find out more about how this beautiful song was created and to watch the video, click HERE.

As an unexpected bonus, the group entered their poem ‘The Bliss of Solitude – Ode To Sneyd’ into the Mossley residents’ newsletter poetry competition. They were over the moon to win a £20 Amazon voucher for their entry. The voucher has been used to purchase art materials for the group so they can get busy creating more artwork!

Black Country Tongue and Talk

Tomorrow at 4.30pm, you can hear writer, performance poet, Wolverhampton Poet Laureate and good friend Emma Purshouse exploring Black Country dialect on BBC Radio 4.

In a programme made during lockdown, Emma considers the impact of industry, heritage, landscape, and the changing nature of close-knit communities upon dialect writers, of whom I am one. I’m really looking forward to hearing which bits of our interview she selected for inclusion. There’s definitely a poem – I know that much. And it will be great to hear the voices of lots of folk I know too. Do join us by tuning in tomorrow at 4.30 or listening when you have half an hour to spare. Here’s the link:

Tongue and Talk – Ep 4 The Black Country

For other Black Country posts on my blog see Writing in Black Country dialect

Extract from a back-to-school diary

Extract from a back-to-school diary

We can throw a ball
But not catch it
We can take in water
But no school bag

We can choose three friends
Or maybe four
To play in one square
For the rest of the term

On PE days
We stay in our kit
All day
Whatever the weather

We can kick a ball
But not hold it
We take it in turns
In the football square

© Heather Wastie
June 2020

This is a found poem using words from a BBC News article:  Back-to-school diary: ‘You can throw the ball, but no-one can catch it’

More found poetry

In 2015 I blogged about ‘found poetry’. It’s one of my most viewed posts. Yesterday, I uploaded a podcast on the same subject, showing how poems can be created using articles in newsletters or magazines and by listening to audio recordings.

IDC Alarum Prod logo 1

The podcast is number ten in a series put together for the Alarum Theatre I Dig Canals project which tells stories of women’s involvement in campaigns to save the UK canals. We have researched published material from post war to the 1970s and interviewed women who got involved from the 1960s onwards.

As part of the project, I ran a writing workshop, the results of which can be heard in the podcast. It features the work of writers who came along and some pieces by me too. In each case, you can hear the source material followed by the poem.

I produced something similar in 2014 when I was commissioned to make a soundtrack to be played in the branches of ‘trees’ in a forest made of carpet inside Kidderminster Town Hall. It was a surprisingly magical installation where people sat beneath the trees as if it was a real forest. My contribution was made up of poems and songs I had written inspired by interviews with people who worked in the carpet industry. Here’s a link to the recording.

Photo of carpet forest

The writing I did about the carpet industry was the inspiration behind starting this blog. All of the poems have been posted on it and are available as a collection, Weaving Yarns, from Black Pear Press.

Thoughts for the time it takes to wait

Thoughts for the time it takes to wait

Time is a bountiful woman,
giving you space in great quantities.

Avoid snatching.
No need to steal – it’s all yours.
Only take as much as you can carry in one go.

Her gifts have no shape until you take them
and make them your own.

What she offers is not limitless
but there is always enough
for your needs and desires.

Step into the space she holds and      be.

She has given you a home
which is as beautiful
as you choose
to make it.

© Heather Wastie
May 2005

Water droplets in brown

‘I Dig Canals’ writing workshop 13th Feb

Second flyer FINAL

Back in 2015, I wrote a blog, which gets regular hits, called Found Poetry – 3 ways. It shows ways of creating poems using other written pieces.

On Thursday 13th February 10:00-1:00 I’m running a workshop which will include writing from found sources, both written and oral. The location is unusual – a (stationary) narrow boat moored on the canal near the historic Dudley Tunnel.

Many of today’s canals would have been lost had it not been for a group of dedicated campaigners. The phrase I Dig Canals was a campaign slogan in the 1970s when the word ‘dig’ had a double meaning. Reading today about that period, you would think only men took part in the work to save the canals, but of course women were there too. The I Dig Canals project was set up by Alarum Theatre, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to unearth hidden stories about women’s involvement in these campaigns in the Black Country in the 1960s and 1970s which I remember from my childhood and teenage years. Here I am on our family-owned narrow boat Laurel, an ex-working boat.

Heather Smith on Laurel

The Workshop will take place on board The Vic Smallshire, Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust, 501 Birmingham New Road, Dudley, DY1 4SB. Participants will use oral history recordings, written accounts and documentary sources such as magazine articles to create poetry or prose pieces that capture the essence of the stories. The workshop is free of charge and those attending will be invited to perform their work at the final project celebration on Saturday 4th April at 6pm at Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust. Some of the work created will also be included in a book.

To book, email Nadia Stone, Project Manager idigcanals@alarumtheatre.co.uk. Click on the link below for the I Dig Canals flyer with further information.

I Dig Canals flyer

A Christmas card from Pat

A Christmas card from Pat

Does she live in a house
Does she rent a flat
Does she own a dog
Does she keep a cat
Does she wear a scarf
Or a fancy hat
Oh who on earth
Is the woman called Pat?

Is she elegantly thin
Or fabulously fat
Is she painfully shy
Does she love to chat
Is she a spy
Or a diplomat
This woman who sends us
A card signed ‘Pat’

Is she a clown
Or an acrobat
Is she handy with
A cricket bat
Do her feet feel good
On a judo mat?
Please give us a clue
Next year, dear Pat

You could be a bloke
We realise that
A chap in a cap
Or a sporty cravat
Pulling up in a Porsche
Or a clapped out Passat…
Whoever you are
Happy Christmas, Pat

© Heather Wastie
December 2019

Each year we receive two cards signed ‘Pat’. We know the identity of one of them. Maybe the mysterious Pat will read my poem and identify herself (yes, we think it’s a she judging by the kisses). Or maybe hundreds of people called Pat will now send us cards and confuse us even more. This is the beauty of the internet.

 

Memories of Jerzy Szauman-Szumski born Poland 1922

Today I received a message about someone I met in 2013 through my Weaving Yarns oral history project. Jerzy Szauman-Szumski was born in Poland in 1922. He told me how he came to work in the carpet industry in Kidderminster. His warm, generous personality made an impression on me straight away, and there is a page in my book (Weaving Yarns, Black Pear Press) dedicated to him. I’m sad to know that he died a few weeks ago at the age of 97. I have fond memories of our conversation and can still hear his beautiful voice.

Anna, who took the trouble to contact me, said this about him:

A wonderful gentleman whom I had known all my life. I’m glad you have “immortalised” him in your book.

To honour his memory, here are his words:

I lost my country, lost everything I had. I had to start from nothing. We lost everything generations had worked for – houses, horses, cows… They just came, arrested you and you go. So instead of being a wealthy man, you are beggar. They close you down.

I had good schooling in Poland. I love agriculture, I love country, I love animals. So when I first went to Carpet Trades I remember I was horrified because I never saw factory, never mind work in factory! I was impressed. It was very good, all automatic, chik-chik! I thought, what can I do here? I couldn’t understand anything about it!

I love Tomkinsons family; they’ve been fantastic people, very good to the workers, and I had a good pension, so I can’t grumble. I don’t know whether I deserve it or not!

Interview with artist, Louise Regan

While soaking up the Fairport Festival atmosphere for my Cropredy writing commission, I visited a pop-up art gallery above the Mulberry Cafe. I was immediately drawn to an ‘illumination’ by Louise Regan and am now the proud owner of a print which I love! My ‘record shot’ photo doesn’t do it justice at all.

img_2451

Incidentally, last Saturday at the Merry Hill Floating Market, I was chatting to another artist, Jan Vallance, The Art Boat. She told me how difficult it is to photograph her art to advertise it online; finding the right lighting conditions is tricky for a boat dweller! I love Jan’s work too, all based on her journeys on the canal network.

I hadn’t realised that Louise also lives on a boat until I contacted her on Instagram (@louiseumbra) to ask if she would like to be interviewed for my Cropredy-related blog. This was a bonus, because I want to include people’s thoughts about the canal in my poetry writing. I should say that I haven’t yet met Louise, so the interview is by way of an email exchange.

Louise Regan

Louise Regan

Cropredy’s sense of community
Having grown up in a village, I wanted the same for my daughter. I like the friendliness and sense of community. Cropredy’s sense of community is very strong, which I think has a lot to do with the Fairport Festival. It gives the village a real identity and the revenue it brings in means we have 2 pubs, a shop, a school and various little businesses; which in turn ensures its not a second-home village (like a lot of surrounding villages are). Whilst house prices are high, a good amount of villagers are working class. It’s got bags of local history and from an artist’s point of view, plenty of lovely bits!

Boat life
If you think village life is about strong community, boat life is double that! Got a problem? Need a hand? Someone will be there to help! We live in a self sufficient little world, responsible for everything we need (which involves being organised!) – water, electricity, heating, loo etc. You can also make a boat very much your own – I’m an avid DIYer! Last year I built a kitchen. It might not be like something out of a showroom, but it’s just how I want it and it hasn’t fallen apart yet!

Tranquillity and nature
I will never take the tranquillity for granted or being so close to nature. In mid April and mid October, when the sun is just setting, from our side doors I can see all the spider webs across our field and it’s magical. The curlews arrived mid February this year, which was so exciting! And when the swallows get here there’s a feeding frenzy over the canal after their long journey.

Louise Regan - Medieval Town Illumination

Louise Regan – Medieval Town Illumination

Being an artist
I’ve been arty for as long as I can remember. I’ve been selling painted canal ware for years in various outlets and, over the last two years, taking in online commissions for medieval illuminated lettering and baby name paintings. It wasn’t until February 2019 that I joined Church Lane Gallery, Banbury and actually started exhibiting. It involved a great deal of encouragement from my husband! I was creating my crazy complicated illumination/architectural/nature mash ups as a form of relaxation and he kept telling me I ought to join a gallery – he even went into CLG, had a chat and got me an application form. So over the last 6 months I have discovered people actually understand, connect with, like my work and want to own it!

The future of Cropredy
I shouldn’t imagine Cropredy will change much. I hope the younger generation can afford to stay in the village. The houses certainly won’t change that much, and I hope that we have enough ridge and furrow (providing the protection order isn’t lifted!) around to protect us from being eaten by Banbury.

Louise Regan - Banbury Illumination A3

Louise Regan – Banbury Illumination A3

I’m grateful to Louise for sparing the time to send me her thoughts and allowing me to edit them (only a little!) into this blog. I will certainly choose a few phrases to feed into the poems I am writing. Thanks also to Church Lane Gallery for organising the pop-up exhibition. It was great meeting Amy and Dave there, and fascinating to find out more about their work.

See also Interview with masseur, Ross White

Woman in distress

A couple of years back, I was one of the artists commissioned to write and film poems for Nationwide Building Society tv and radio ads (see my post Nationwide Exposure). This was brokered by The Poetry Takeaway ‘the world’s first mobile poetry emporium’, an organisation which employs poets to write pieces on demand at events across the country.

Last week I was one of four poets working on the NBS stand at the Royal Welsh show. We sweated over poems all day as temperatures soared and had a really good time networking with each other and meeting lots of people with their own stories to tell. One of my commissions came from Gill. As with everyone, I listened carefully to what she wanted to tell me, wrote her a poem, read it to her and gave her the handwritten piece.

She wanted it to be funny, so I was pleased to hear her laughing. She also thought it could be serious. So it is. This particular poem resonated with me, and though I don’t normally do this, I asked Gill if she would mind me sharing it on my blog so others could read it. She agreed straight away, so here it is:

Supermarket scene

The woman in the freezer aisle
is talking really loud.
Help! I want my brain back!
She’s gathering a crowd.

She’s forgotten what she came in for.
She’s staring at the shelf.
The boys at home don’t understand
why I repeat myself.

The doctor says I’m ‘under-tall
for someone of my weight’.
My husband needs a medal.
I’m in a dreadful state.

I’m feeling old, I’m sleep deprived,
it’s so hard being me.
Oh, the naps! The chin on chest!
I need more HRT!!

A river running down her back,
she’s trying to keep her cool.
The woman in the freezer aisle
is stranded in a pool.

(But she’s a clever actress
and doesn’t say a word.
The shouting’s in her head –
which is why she isn’t heard.)

© Heather Wastie