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

Writing in Black Country dialect

On Thursday night in Cradley Heath in the Black Country, where I grew up, I’m running a drop-in session to investigate whether or not the local dialect is dying out. I’ve been collecting dialect words and phrases by chatting to people, in person and on Facebook, and have been overwhelmed by the number of responses I’ve had.

As part of the Where’s Our Spake Gone? project, I’ve been commissioned by Rights & Equality Sandwell to create new work to be shared at another event in Cradley Heath, on Wednesday 6th April. (See http://ourspake.co.uk/) One thing about dialect is that it’s an oral language, so it’s tricky writing it down. Reading the Facebook comments, I’ve sometimes struggled to interpret the spelling, even though the dialect is familiar, because different people spell the same word in different ways, and there’s no right or wrong way of doing it.

Below is a poem I wrote for performance on International Mother Language Day last year when I was pleased to represent the Black Country at the new Library of Birmingham. The annual celebration is held on February 21st. Here’s the blog I wrote about it in 2015 https://weavingyarns1.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/international-mother-language-day/.

If you’re not from the Black Country, this poem will be difficult to understand. I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible whilst being true to the way it sounds when I perform it, and every time I type it out I change the spelling! I thought about adding translations of some of the words, and will be happy to do that if anyone asks. For the pedants (like me) it’s annoying that many of the apostrophes marking missing letters are the wrong way round but it would take me a while to sort that out. If you’ve ever used WordPress you’ll understand why! Anyway, here’s the poem. See what you make of it. (If you want a translation, some of it appears in plain English in my poem 37 Holly Bush Street https://weavingyarns1.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/wheres-our-spake-gone/)

Teks me back

This poem teks me back
ter terraced ‘ouses on an ‘ill
wi’ front rooms kept fer Sunday best
an’ big fat windersills.

This poem teks me back
ter coal in the coal ‘ole, wood in the stove,
an entry, a fode an’ an outside lew,
pikelets on a fork, toasted wi’ love.

This poem teks me back
ter disembodied voices torturin’ God
once a wik dahn the Mission,
the Valetin’ bull, the drap ommer’s thud.

This poem teks me back
tew Alice marchin’ past our winder
tew ‘elp Mr Williams who’s short o’ one leg,
tekkin ‘im mate an’ tew veg fer ‘is jinner.

This poem teks me back
ter th’ooman oo wanted ter borry our phone
ter mek assignairtions wi’ men
cuz ‘er day a’ one of ‘er own
(ne’er a mon, ne’er a phone).

This poem teks me back
ter trips up the road ter Dingley’s shap
where ah liked ter say “Cheese please Louise!”
(in me yed) as ‘er cut off a slab.

This poem teks me back
tew our pairnted lairdy wi’ pitch black ‘air,
a buxom wench, allez tarted up.
Ah con still see ‘er stondin’ theer.

This poem teks me back
ter the owny buildin’ still left stondin’,
the pub, thar ah day goo in as a child.
Bur ah dew now! Yo could call it ‘bondin’.

© Heather Wastie

Performances coming up

If you’d like to find out about some of the work I’ve been doing as Worcestershire Poet Laureate since I was appointed last June, go to http://worcslitfest.co.uk/worcestershire-poet-laureate/heathers-wpl-blog-january-2016/

To find out what I’ve got coming up, read on ….

A week on Saturday I’ll be at the National Waterways Museum performing Idle Women and Judies and some new poems, all of which tell the stories of women who worked on the canals during World War 2.

IMG_1416

In March I’ll be featured poet at Howl in Moseley with a 15 minute set of performance poetry and in July I’ll be presenting an hour-long family show of poetry and music based around my book The Page-Turner’s Dilemma (poetry & tales from behind the music stand) in Evesham.

TPTD cover cartoon by Jules

Cartoon by Jules ~ cartoonist

Right now I’m working on a project about Black Country dialect. It’s called Where’s Our Spake Gone and I’ve been commissioned to work in Cradley Heath which is where I grew up. I’m having a wonderful time collecting together dialect words and phrases so that I can write new pieces to be shared at an event in April. I’ve you’d like to get involved, do come to my drop-in session on Thursday February 11th (see poster below).

Details of all these events are below.

Saturday 13th February between 10.00 and 4.00
Idle Women and Judies
National Waterways Museum Reopening Weekend
South Pier Road, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire CH65 4FW

https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/museums-and-attractions/national-waterways-museum

Wednesday 9th March 7.30pm
Featured Poet – Howl
The Dark Horse, 145 Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham B13 8JP
Free entry

https://www.facebook.com/howlspokenword/
http://www.darkhorsemoseley.co.uk

Where's our spake gone drop-in

Wednesday 6th April 7.30pm
Where’s our spake gone?
Cradley Heath Library, Upper High Street, Cradley Heath B64 5JU
http://ourspake.co.uk

Sunday 3rd July 3.00-4.00pm
The Page-Turner’s Dilemma
Evesham Festival of Words
Unitarian Chapel, Oat Street, Evesham, Worcs WR11 4PJ

http://eveshamfestivalofwords.org/programme/

 

 

Where’s our spake gone?

As regular readers of this blog will know, I lived in the Black Country until moving to Kidderminster in 2006. As a child, my home was in Holly Bush Street, Cradley Heath and right now I’m in search of the old spake! I’ve been commissioned to create new work for ‘Where’s Our Spake Gone?’, a Heritage Lottery project managed by Rights and Equality Sandwell, and want to talk to people born and raised in Cradley Heath who use local dialect.

Here are some of the things I’m interested in:

Is Black Country dialect dying out or still going strong?
What’s special about the Cradley Heath dialect?
Do older people who speak ‘broad’, talk to their children and grandchildren in dialect?

I’ll be talking to various groups of people, both adults and children, and am holding a public event in the Holly Bush pub, a short walk from where my house used to be. (Holly Bush Street was demolished in the 70s.) The event is on Thursday 11th February at the Holly Bush, 53 Newtown Lane, Cradley Heath B64 5EA. Drop in for a chat any time between 7.00 and 9.00pm. For those of you who use Facebook, here’s a link to the event there https://www.facebook.com/events/933776720023893/

Here’s one of several poems I’ve written in memory of Holly Bush Street, together with a short poem in dialect, about dialect.

37 Holly Bush Street 

37 Holly Bush Street,
a few doors up from the Mission,
lying in bed on a Sunday morning
trying hard not to listen
to the slowest singing in Cradley Heath,
a rousing hymnotic dirge:
“May all God’s notes be joined as one
Slide heavenward and converge!
And when we’ve emptied out our lungs
And, Lord, can sing no more,
We’ll quench our lasting thirst for thee
In the ’olly Bush next door.”

37 Holly Bush Street,
a few doors down from Dingley’s,
source of kali and sherbet dabs
and chocolate drops sold singly.
And there goes Alice in carpet slippers,
fulfilling her daily pledge,
striding uphill to a soul in need
with a plate full of meat and two veg.
And late in the darkness goes ‘Uncle’ George
who brought in the coal at New Year.
As he rolls down the road with his darling Gladys,
piercing the closing-time air
comes “Good night, Gladys!” and “Goodnight, George!”
all down the street and beyond,
echoing through the silent years
till front doors bang shut and are gone.

37 Holly Bush Street,
the heart of a microcosm,
from the boy who dribbled and never grew old
to the woman who flaunted her bosom.
And one day they shovelled us into a heap
and threw all the pavements away,
stopping just short of the pub and the Mission,
but leaving me nowhere to play.

© Heather Wastie

 

Learnin ter spake

Babby
doh spake
cor spake
learnin
to spake

Yo spake
I spake
I spake
like yo

Babby grows
goz to skewl
learnin to spake

Yo spake
like I spake
an I spake
like yo

Babby grows
goz to uni
knows ow to spake

but yo doh spake
like I spake

so I speak like you.

© Heather Wastie

Identity and place, Kidderminster, Birmingham & the Black Country

How much is a person’s identity influenced by place? When I moved to Kidderminster in 2006 I felt the need to become more connected to it, and part of that process was to write about it, hence this blog. I now feel a strong connection with the town. That connection is quite different from my fondness for Birmingham, developed from early shopping trips with my mother, through 3 years as a student at Birmingham University, to many years of working in the area. My feeling about the Black Country is different again; my roots are there. I was born in Cradley Heath and have lived in several Black Country towns. Emigrating across the border into Worcestershire, albeit just a mile or two, was a big step!

In my book The Page Turner’s Dilemma and on my CD Bananas from the Heart there’s a poem I wrote in memory of my street which was demolished when I was twelve. (See below.) I’ve since written two other poems which take me back there, one in standard English and one in dialect.

My Black Country alter ego, Pat – Photo by John Watson jazzcamera.co.uk

Writing and performing in dialect is an important aspect of exploring my identity and my alter ego Pat is an amalgam of Black Country women I have encountered. This coming Sunday, I’ll be performing my latest piece together with other dialect pieces, mostly comedic, in a show called Spake Prapper with Dave Reeves and Billy Spakemon. The show is part of a day of Black Country Spoken Word and music at a unique venue in Stourbridge, the Red House Glass Cone, used for the manufacture of glass until 1936.

Here you will find details of the event and the venue. http://www.kmsevents.co.uk/events/4582817223
It promises to be a heart-warming and entertaining day.

 

37 Holly Bush Street 

37 Holly Bush Street,
a few doors up from the Mission,
lying in bed on a Sunday morning
trying hard not to listen
to the slowest singing in Cradley Heath,
a rousing hymnotic dirge:
“May all God’s notes be joined as one
Slide heavenward and converge!
And when we’ve emptied out our lungs
And, Lord, can sing no more,
We’ll quench our lasting thirst for thee
In the ’olly Bush next door.”

37 Holly Bush Street,
a few doors down from Dingley’s,
source of kali and sherbet dabs
and chocolate drops sold singly.
And there goes Alice in carpet slippers,
fulfilling her daily pledge,
striding uphill to a soul in need
with a plate full of meat and two veg.
And late in the darkness goes ‘Uncle’ George
who brought in the coal at New Year.
As he rolls down the road with his darling Gladys,
piercing the closing-time air
comes “Good night, Gladys!” and “Goodnight, George!”
all down the street and beyond,
echoing through the silent years
till front doors bang shut and are gone.

37 Holly Bush Street,
the heart of a microcosm,
from the boy who dribbled and never grew old
to the woman who flaunted her bosom.
And one day they shovelled us into a heap
and threw all the pavements away,
stopping just short of the pub and the Mission,
but leaving me nowhere to play.

© Heather Wastie