Torrey Canyon and loss

Just over 2 years ago I had a conversation with musician Sam Underwood We talked about disasters, both public and personal, and I wrote the piece below for him, using words found in a news report about the 1967 Torrey Canyon disaster. Click here to read the report

As well as thinking about the devastation caused by this tragic event, I also had in mind the effects of losing someone close to you, more specifically what it’s like knowing you are about to lose someone close to you. I think that’s probably what inspired the title.

Not long after writing this, I did some recording for Sam who encouraged me to sing as low in my register and as slowly as possible. A very cathartic experience.

An everyday thing that changed the world
for Sam Underwood

March 1967. Torrey Canyon has run aground,
hit Pollard’s Rock in the Seven Stones reef,
a supertanker, snagged on rocks, breaking up,
bleeding its cargo of oil into the sea.

Troops patrol the coastline, standing by
as the giant oil slick heads towards beaches.
The oil could cover the whole of the coast
for a year.

Tens of thousands of tons of oil,
a slick 35 miles long and 20 miles wide,
sludge a foot deep,
the biggest problem of its kind
ever faced by any nation.

Bombs rain down on Torrey Canyon
but the stricken tanker refuses to sink
to the bottom of the sea.

Holiday makers gather on cliffs.
The towering column of flames and smoke
is seen a hundred miles away.

70 miles of Cornish beaches seriously contaminated,
tens of thousands of seabirds killed;
the heavy use of detergent more damaging to marine life
than the oil.

This is the worst environmental disaster to date.
This is the costliest shipping disaster ever.
The slick can only be dispersed by favourable weather.

© Heather Wastie


Loom in the loft (finally)

Yesterday was the culmination of a wonderful collaboration between many different people to restore and celebrate the Weavers’ Cottages in Kidderminster and turn them into homes again. I was commissioned by Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust to write a song cycle about the cottages. A few months back, I met the Site Manager & others working on site during an inspiring tour of the cottages when the buildings were taking shape. I subsequently watched 360-degree films of the interior made by James McDonald who also inspired me. Site Manager Andy told me yesterday that the poem I wrote and recorded in response to all this had had quite an effect on him. He came up to me after one of two performances of the songs (plus evocative poems and stories written by people who came to my writing workshop) and said how much he had enjoyed them. I will treasure the special connections like this which I have made through this project. It was also very moving to see Roger at the loom in the loft – the final time we would ever see a hand loom being used there. 

The title of this post refers to the first line of the chorus of one of the songs:

Loom in the loft / Silk on the loom / Wool in the shuttle / Give the shuttle room

Performing with me were Sue Pope (Project Organiser) on ukulele and poets Margaret E Green and Sharon Cartwright. 

For further details about the cottages, which will be for sale very shortly, see


I’m nearing the end of a project with Birmingham Poet Laureate, Matt Windle (‘Poet with Punch’) working with NEETs (young people Not in Education Employment or Training) from Nova Training, Kidderminster. The project was initiated by the Museum of Carpet with funding from The Clore Duffield Foundation

Today we did some evaluation with the group which took us back to the first session, in November 2016, when the young people were asked to say what they thought about Matt and I, based on our appearance and what they knew about poets. I had fun writing the poem below which describes what they said about me. Here I am wearing the same top I had on that day:



I’m a poet
a know-it-all nose-in-the-air kind of person
like Shakespeare, it’s quite clear
I should have a beard and make notes
with the quill of a feather,
but wait just a minute,
I’m Heather.

You think
that you’ve seen me in Sainsbury’s,
my arm pushing produce from right to left,
or I could be the woman who shuffles
the stock in a charity shop,
but stop!

I’m a zebra,
a horse dressed in stripes
and I’m crossing the road
between two different

© Heather Wastie
November 2016

And what did they say about Matt? That he ought to be bald.

Silent practice

My nephew sent me a message this morning from a library in Malaysia. It’s a hilarious description of the noise going on around him, and he sent it as material for a poem. His message reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago, after visiting the old Birmingham Library where it was quiet apart from one person, who was oblivious to the noise he was making. Here it is:

Silent practice

The electronic piper
clicks tunes in the music library,
unaware that his melodies
are rattling around
the reference section.

No-one complains
or moves away. Instead
we secretly listen in,
not letting on
that his headphones
have a serious leak.

After a while, a pause,
a holding of breath
then a single tut
as the clatter chanter begins again,
conjuring images of beetles
in kilts and cross-laced shoes.

© Heather Wastie

Success in Carers UK Competition

I have written several poems and songs inspired by people with dementia and those who care for them. I’m delighted to say that one of my poems has just been awarded second prize in the poetry section of the 2016 Carers UK writing competition and has been published in the anthology I belong here. Here’s what the judge, Cheryl Moskowitz, had to say about it:

‘Holding on’ by Heather Wastie is a poem I liked instantly on first reading and one in which I continued to find new meaning and power on each subsequent reading. This is a moving portrait in the voice of a grown up child who must exercise the kind of watchfulness and steely patience in looking after their mother as might be needed to keep a wayward toddler in check. She will plummet to the floor/ to pick up a fleck of fluff, / dart into the road / to pull up a weed.

And yet the mother in this poem has sentient moments in which she dislikes herself and we find ourselves in utter sympathy with the disorder she creates as well as the one who has to learn to cope with it.


Until I Saw Your Foot again

Recently, an artist friend of mine who, like me, uses Twitter to advertise his work, complained in a tweet that the number of interactions he received was too low. There’s lots of advice available on how to get noticed on Twitter, but my first thought was this: more people notice you than interact with you.

This leads nicely into my latest story of a poem I published in 1997 which has been interacting with people across the world ever since. I only know about these interactions when I do an internet search, or when someone contacts me to ask permission to reproduce the poem. I know full well that Until I Saw Your Foot has been shared without my name attached to it, and this annoys me, though I’m delighted that people enjoy it enough to want to pass it on. (In fact I’m waiting for the day someone comes up to me and says, “Hey I know this great poem ….” gleefully brandishing my own work.) 

From time to time, an email appears out of the blue from someone asking permission to share the poem in some way. (Bravo to those people!) In December I was contacted by a wind player in Norway who wanted to reproduce my poem on a website. I said yes, that would be fine, as long as he acknowledged me as author, and please could he tell me how he found out about the poem. (I always ask.) His response led me to a Norwegian conductor by the name of Helge Haukås who I immediately emailed. Here’s his reply:

So you excist! What a big pleasure..

I was complaining to the players of the Nordic Wind Orchestra, Iceland 1999, because so many was tapping their feet during playing. I said, as a conductor I wanted to be the pulse maker in the room.. or something like that.

One of the horn-players, I only remember his first name Kjartan, from Iceland, said he knew a poem about this and mailed it to me. This must be five computers ago so I cannot find the original mail.

But I so much wanted to recite this poem spontaneously that I immediately learned it by heart and still knows it.

Next time I recite it I will happily enough be able to share with my audience who the author is!

Helge Haukås

The moral to this story is …. your creativity is working for you, even when you’re off doing something completely different, and it’s always worth putting stuff out there – you never know who might be watching, or even memorising your work!