#BostinNews Inspiring canal bridges

Having blogged about the three other artists I commissioned – Alex Vann, Al Barz and Lou Blakeway, it’s time to tell you about my pieces, commissioned by Creative Black Country. Here’s the first:

It was so good to have a creative project to get on with during the first lockdown. My car MOT was due, so I drove to Pym’s garage in Netherton, Dudley which I’ve been using since I first had a car. I was a bit nervous about being out but it was an opportunity to walk along the canal behind the garage in an area which has been landscaped, belying its industrial past. Warren’s Hall, Bumble Hole, Windmill End… this picturesque area has several names, and on this particular day the reflection of the latticed arches and the cloud formations attracted my attention. So I took lots of photos. Here are some of them:

Up to that point I hadn’t decided what I would write about for either of my Bostin News commissions. I knew I wanted to focus on Dudley, and as I took these photos it occurred to me that these three bridges would make a good subject. That’s how I came to write Three Bridges, Four Tunnels.

I used Canals of Birmingham and the Black Country, No. 2 in the Historical Canal Maps series, as well as consulting online sources, to help me learn about the history of the area. Although I had been there many, many times over the years, I didn’t know much about the industry or the full story of why the canal arms which travel under two of the bridges are dead ends. Using the bridges as starting points, I wrote a set of three poems and was lucky enough to be able to commission Lou Blakeway to create some atmospheric linocuts of the bridges to go with them. Click the link above to see the video, the linocuts and the the text of the poem.

‘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