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/
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!
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:
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.
The podcast is number ten in a series put together for the Alarum TheatreI 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.
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.
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:
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.)
I am currently in the middle of a poetry commission, inspired by the village of Cropredy in Oxfordshire. During my research, I met Ross White www.mindfultouchmassage.co.uk who lives there on a canal boat and runs his own business in a shepherd’s hut in an orchard alongside the Oxford Canal.
It was already apparent to me how important the canal is to Cropredy, and how well integrated it is into the village. I wondered about the links between Ross’s work as a masseur and his life on the canal. Here are Ross’s responses to my questions followed by a found poem using words from his website.
What is it about living on a canal boat that you particularly like?
It’s like living inside a living thing, the way a moored boat rocks or sways in the current. It’s like coming home to a friend waiting patiently for you. A moored boat has the potential to travel many thousands of miles, yet it’s also content to wait.
The sense of belonging to a group of people who have lived on canal boats for hundreds of years, somehow apart from normal dwelling.
The knowledge that you can move / escape if you want to.
Being somehow an observer into the lives of those who live around the canal.
Being literally in nature, hearing the fish or listening to ducks pecking the side of the boat.
What is special about the canal in Cropredy?
Its our chosen place. Both my wife and I wanted to live in Cropredy. It’s our children’s only home, where most of their friends live, sharing the water somehow.
The people here accept us and welcome us boaters; we are part of the community. One boater sits on the parish council. Some are members of the local WI.
It’s only a short walk out of the village into very quiet countryside.
I think about the suffering, injuries and death that must have occurred during the digging of the canal which today seems so peaceful. There is something important to learn here.
What do you think the place where you live and work will be like in 50 years time?
Some of the boats on this stretch of canal are historic, they will remain.
The brickwork of the canal will remain as it is.
People will rush past looking at devices oblivious to the history right here on the canal.
Some of the old bridges will be shored up by new technological building materials.
The canal will be very quiet again with boats driven by electric motors, a bit like the quiet times when they were pulled by horses.
Oxford Canal, Cropredy
into undivided attention
dance with harmony
engage the deepest layers
relax the heart
soothe the mind and glide
fluid, in a connected state
I’ve just found out that today is National Pigeon Day! Pigeon racing was quite popular in the Black Country when I was growing up. I have to admit, I’m not keen on pigeons; I’m not sure why. My good friend, poet Emma Purshouse has written a brilliant poem about them. It’s in her book Tipton Tales. You can find out more about it here – there’s even a drawing of a pigeon. I prefer magpies. Here’s a little poem about them, from my book The Page-Turner’s Dilemma. The illustration is by Jules ~ cartoonist.
A search on my computer has revealed the fact that I have written three poems which mention pigeons. One of them appears below, based on true life experiences, possibly explaining one of the reasons I’m not fond of pigeons.
Before the poem, here’s an old Black Country Aynuk and Ayli joke:
Aynuk says to Ayli, “If yo con guess ow many pidgins am in me loft, ah’ll gi yer booth on em.”
Droppings on the washing
No fingers, so no prints
on my best red vest
so I summoned all the pigeons
for a DNA test.
Pete says faeces
don’t have DNA
so the evidence was useless
and the culprit got away!
My mother remarked to me the other day that she used to wash down the pavement outside our terraced house in the Black Country. This will have been in the 1950s / early 60s. She told me that one of the neighbours sneered at her and asked why she was doing it. Our front room (which we rarely used of course) looked out onto the pavement and, in those days, women prided themselves in having a well-scrubbed step and a clean pavement outside their houses.
The conversation reminded me of a found poem I wrote in April 2011 after visiting the Wellcome Collection ‘Dirt’ exhibition. Now that, thankfully, climate change, and looking after our beautiful planet, are being taken more seriously, it also seemed a good time to share that poem.
Scrubbing the step – cleanliness or godliness
We are generators of dirt
even to our ultimate disintegration.
Our waste is evidence of our
advance on earth.
We diligently clean our homes
and turn our backs
on the gigantic
dust heaps, letting the
scavengers risk disease.
Gravity pulls us into dirt.
You and I are earth.