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.
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.
You can find me and my poetry in the middle of a short video capturing artistic highlights of The Ring Project which took place last year. I’m reading from The Muck and Shovel Brigade, a collection of photographs and poetry celebrating the restoration of the Droitwich Canals.
On January 30th from 2:30pm there’s a symposium at the University of Worcester reflecting on the project’s impact. I’m one of the speakers. There are still a few tickets left. Click here for more and to see the video.
If you flick back through my blogs you will find several posts about the project of which I am immensely proud. Here are some reviews:
“Brilliantly moving, funny and informative.”
Cathy Mager, Artistic Director, The Ring Project
“An inspired piece of work!”
Sara-Jane Arbury, poet
“This is a beautiful book! … I was completely absorbed.”
Alison Brackenbury, poet
“… emotive and inspirational. I have been a volunteer for CRT [Canal & River Trust] for nearly 7 years, and while I am passionate about canals, your poetry has somehow given me a new insight into this amazing world.”
Have you heard of the Emergency Poet? Deborah Alma is ‘the world’s first and only mobile poetic first aid service. A mix of the serious, the therapeutic and the theatrical, the Emergency Poet offers consultations inside her ambulance and prescribes poems as cures.’
I’ve supplied her with a few poems for her prescriptions in the past, having responded to call-outs for themed pieces. Her latest request was for Brexit or NHS poems for an event this coming weekend in Shrewsbury. Coincidentally, I wrote a Brexit poem only last week, incensed by the plough-on-regardless attitude of our PM, so I sent it off immediately. She said it was perfect – I mean the EP, of course, not the PM. There would be absolutely no point sending it to the latter.
So if you’re at the NHS / Healthcare Day in Shrewsbury on Saturday, do look out for the Emergency Poet and if you receive a copy of my poem, let me know.
And I give my permission for public chanting, wherever you are.
Brexit means Brexit
Red white and blue Brexit
Stamp hiss and boo Brexit
Hole in my shoe Brexit
Big pile of poo Brexit
Wading in glue Brexit
No getting through Brexit
We’re black and blue Brexit
Back of the queue Brexit
Haven’t a clue Brexit
Sinking canoe Brexit
Flush down the loo Brexit
So sick of you Brexit
Brexit means Brexit
A tightening screw
I started work on a new project yesterday. Organised by Arts Uplift under the title Suitcase Stories, it’s an 18 month reminiscence and music project for people living with dementia and their carers in the Wyre Forest, Redditch, Bromsgrove and Wychavon districts running from November 2018 to March 2020.
Yesterday we held a taster session in Redditch, singing familiar songs and looking at objects from a suitcase containing all sorts of things to trigger memories as a starting point for conversation and songwriting. Here are some lines I wrote using what one of the participants told me:
Grandma’s little slipper-shaped box
I’d never seen her take it before,
so it came as quite a shock
the day I saw my grandma
open up her little box,
pinch out the yellow powder
and push it up her nose
then try to hide her fingers
behind the dominoes.
Her handkerchiefs were horrible –
stained by that yellow stuff
but the little box was beautiful,
filled with grandma’s snuff.
© Heather Wastie
Here is a link to more information about the project. There are places available, should you know of anyone who may be interested, and there’s a mentoring opportunity for music students too.
Tonight I’ll be performing in Malvern with four other Worcestershire Poets Laureate. Happy National Poetry Day!
Ever since the seventeenth century, the UK has had a Poet Laureate, and until 2009 the position was always held by a man. Although women had been considered, none were chosen. In the late nineteenth century, Christina Rossetti missed out when it was decided that, rather than appoint a woman, there would be no laureate at all. In 2009, (now Dame) Carol Ann Duffy was appointed. She said at the outset that her main reason for accepting the role was because they hadn’t had a woman. (1)
Some UK cities have their own Poet Laureate – Birmingham currently has Matt Windle – and some counties do too. Gloucestershire has one (Brenda Read-Brown), Staffordshire does (Emily Rose Galvin) and Worcestershire has had one since 2011. The current Worcestershire PL, appointed in June, is Betti Moretti. There are also several Young PLs: Worcestershire’s is Rachel Evans and Birmingham’s is Nyanda Foday. So, as you can see, women are doing pretty well on the laureate front now.
In Worcestershire the post lasts for just one year, and I was honoured to represent the county in 2015/16. Are you a poet, wondering if you could be a laureate one day? Have you ever wondered what a poet laureate actually does? The short answer to the second question is that it depends a lot on the person. But if you would like to find out how it worked for me, then now’s your chance!
On 15th September Black Pear Press will launch my latest poetry collection, Don’t Oil The Hinges – A year as Worcestershire Poet Laureate. The poems fit into three main categories: those directly relating to the county, some of the many I wrote during this very special year, and some which featured in my blog during that period. The book is also a diary of edited extracts from my blog, plus other snippets to give an insight into my life as a writer and performer.
The PL role tends to be an honorary position. Throughout my year, as always, I worked hard to maximise opportunities to earn a living from being a poet and musician. Poetry book sales will never be anywhere near enough to live on, but they certainly help. So please do help me (and the publisher) by buying a copy! If you can’t make the launch, when I will read extracts from the book and welcome several guest performers (see my previous blog for exactly who and where), you can pre-order copies online from Black Pear Press.
I needed an endorsement for the back cover, so I asked The Archers actor, Sunny Ormonde (who performs one of my poems as part of her excellent one-woman show) and this is what she wrote:
“Needing a poem about local life for my show at Bewdley Festival I discovered Heather’s wonderfully funny poems on line. Immediately smitten, I contacted her and was over the moon when she kindly offered to write a special poem for the show and Dad was a fan of The Archers was born. Nothing could have been more perfect – it was a huge hit and continues to be so.
“Don’t Oil The Hinges is a delightful collection of poems – a pot pourri of Worcestershire life and experiences. Joyful, funny, touching, informative and vibrant. Heather is one of the finest poets around.”
(1) Carol Ann Duffy becomes first female poet laureate – Alison Flood, The Guardian, May 2009 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/01/carol-ann-duffy-poet-laureate
My seventh poetry collection will be launched in September!
Don’t Oil The Hinges is a celebration of my year as Worcestershire Poet Laureate — a collection of poems and insights into 2015-2016. On Saturday 15th September the book will be launched at an evening of poetry and song with guests, Kate Saffin — writer and actor; Sarah Tamar — poet; Sunny Ormonde — actor, and Dave Sutherland — singer-songwriter. There may be another special guest too. The venue is Park’s Cafe, 4 Victoria Square, Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire WR9 8DS. I chose it because of its hinges.
My first batch was delivered to my door yesterday by Tony Judge from Black Pear Press who had a hand in the cover design — literally. Talented singer-songwriter and artist Jess Silk produced the artwork and Tony added that final touch by writing the text with his finger, and the whole thing, I think, has a homely feel about it.
I hope you will be keen to open that door and find out what’s behind it. Here’s a sneak preview:
Wipe your feet
Shag pile, tufted,
high pile, long pile,
loop pile, got a pile!
Wipe your feet!
Don’t bring your muck in here,
our carpet’s cream.
Slippers all lined up,
pick your size.
No foam backing here,
grip gripper underlay,
offcuts in the loft
Shag pile, tufted,
high pile, long pile,
loop pile, got a pile!
Wipe your feet!
You can pre-order your copy from Black Pear Press, price £6.00 + p&p.
If you can, do come to the launch. It’s free to attend and we’re going to have fun!
If you would like to see the show I have been touring with Kate Saffin since the end of April, there are just 3 more opportunities – two at The Rising Sun, Berkhamsted (Monday & Tuesday) and one at The Pirate Castle, Camden (Saturday) – the last time we will perform the show in London. This will also be the last chance to see historic narrow boat Tench which has been with us all the way. After the tour, owner Alex will whisk her away and get back to her own solo adventures!
We have had very appreciative audiences, rave reviews and have been featured in national press so we’re delighted, if a trifle tired as we have done quite a few lock miles over the past 15 weeks too! Do come and support us at one of our final shows if you can.
Here’s one of my ‘found’ poems from the show which is also in the book we have produced to accompany the tour:
A horse on the path
Early in the morning
a horse on the path
the ring of shoes on cobblestones
the swish of a bow, a shout
the whip of a line, the soft flap
as it drops on the cabin top
another whip, another shout
lock gate thud, rattle of paddle
through cabin doors nudged ajar
we stir to grey outlines
on a slack-black star-stippled sky
© Heather Wastie
using words found in The Amateur Boatwomen Canal Boating 1941-1945 by Eily Gayford
Once the tour is over I will be taking a well earned break!