New audio released

I’ve been so busy recently I haven’t had chance to blog about my latest creation! It’s an audio trail I produced for Alarum Productions with sound designer Sam Frankie Fox.

View from Windmill End Bridge today (photo by Brenda Ward)

Stewarts & Lloyds, Coombeswood, 1972

‘The Netherton Cut to Coombewood’ celebrates the history of the Dudley No 2 Canal, based on a 2.5 mile walk between Windmill End Junction and Coombes footbridge.

It features oral history interviews, music, historical information, poetry from me in Black Country spake and much more!

Click here to listen to the audio trail which lasts around 23 minutes.

I also did an interview about it with Jason Forrest for the Milk Bar podcasts. You can listen (from 26:25) on Podbean or watch on YouTube.

While I’m here, would you like to come to my next online writing workshop? It’s on Thursday June 24th, 2:00-4.00pm.

Rhythm in your fingers, rhythm in your feet.

From di-Da di-Da to tiddley-pom, we will play with syllables and stresses to give our writing a sense of rhythm. After looking at examples in song lyrics and poetry, we will write our own poems, both individually and as a group.

Here’s a link to find out more.

BBC Panel: Black Country Tongue and Talk

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.

The Black Country Museum

Review of ‘To the Future, Love Cropredy’

‘…the timeless quality of the stories and descriptions of village events make it just as much a love letter to every village community in Britain.’

This lovely review (see below) was published in Towpath Talk (January 2020). I hope it’s big enough for you to read! You can also read it on the Lapal Publications website where copies of the book are on sale.

At this difficult time, I hope these words and illustrations (both in the review and in the book) brighten your day. Wishing you a Happy New Year wherever you are.

Online writing workshop

Ask two poets to write on the same subject and their poems will almost certainly look quite different from one another. Next Thursday, 19th November, I’m running an online poetry workshop for Alarum Productions with a few tips on how to shape a poem. How long will the lines be? How long will the poem be? Will it be separated into stanzas? Will there be some rhyming going on…? The subject of the poem will be the writer’s choice and anyone who likes to write is welcome. Inspired by poems from published poets, we will write our own words and play with arranging them on the page.

In order to support those on little or no income, one place will be free of charge. Click here for full details and to book. (Kate’s workshop has already taken place so scroll down a little way for the relevant info.)

I’ve published eight poetry collections. Here I am signing copies of The Muck and Shovel Brigade, commissioned by Canal & River Trust for The Ring project in 2018. The photographs in the book are by Max Sinclair (featured in yesterday’s blog about The Battle of Stourbridge) and one of the poems is dedicated to him. I’ve copied that poem below. It can also be seen on a display board alongside the lock at Vines Park, Droitwich.

MAX

The waterside his playground, he loved the thrill
of Severn barges, the grace of steamers.

Delighted by freeze and frost, he skated the cut to Droitwich,
played ice hockey matches at Hanbury Wharf.

At Hawford he watched Italian prisoners fill in the channel,
block it with concrete for D-Day tanks, sever the cut,

butcher Brindley’s beautiful bridge,
too steep, too lightweight for war.

His beloved canal abandoned, water seeping away, one day
he wrote to the Birmingham Mail, and that’s how it started.

Battling the threat of M5 spoil, three hundred thousand tons
of mud and soil and a tangle of hostility and inertia,

whether caked in mud, shovelling dirt, or dressed in a suit for persuasion,
he knew the value of patience, grit and determination.

© Heather Wastie

#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.

#BostinNews Louise Blakeway

As Creative Black Country #BostinNews editor, I commissioned three artists. I’ve already shared work by Alex Vann and Al Barz. The final work is by visual artist, Louise Blakeway.

Lou Blakeway lives in Sandwell. Her work is concerned predominantly with form, space, line and colour. During lockdown she began drawing what she could see in and around her house and recording her immediate surroundings, sometimes making pigments from plants and earth. She shares her art on Instagram through her own page and that of General Office Gallery. Do take a look. I love her work.

Here’s her commission A walk through my local history. Lou also produced linocuts for my own poetry commission, ‘Three Bridges, Four Tunnels’ which was inspired by three bridges in close proximity on the canal at Bumble Hole, Netherton.

Observed shapes and colours at Gosty Hill Bridge, Stewarts and Lloyds – Louise Blakeway

Launch of new poetry collection

Thursday 1st October is National Poetry Day – the perfect day to launch my new poetry collection. I can’t believe it’s my eighth! And I’m exceedingly lucky to have been able to make a short film about it with James McDonald from Clear Picture Productions Ltd. As well as readings of some of the poems, the film describes how the book was created in collaboration with illustrator Louise Regan.

Background to the book

In June 2019, I arrived with my note book and pen in the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy, with the aim of writing poems about what I discovered. My inspiration for the pieces I wrote came from buried skeletons, a jackdaw, the Battle of Cropredy Bridge, the churchyard, the short mat bowls club, the canal, street names, love… and, of course, the annual Fairport Convention music festival. When I came across Louise Regan’s artwork in a gallery, I was immediately attracted to it and she agreed to illustrate my poems! “Producing the illustrations for this book has been a joy,” she says. “I hope, in my drawings, I have captured the essence of our lovely little Oxfordshire village which is so welcoming and brimming with life.”

Film premiere

To watch the film premiere on YouTube on Thursday 1st October at 7:15pm follow this link. There’s no need to sign in to watch, but if you do, you can set a reminder in advance, feel the buzz of the countdown, take part in the chat and add a comment if you like. If you can’t make 7:15 on Thursday, it will be available to watch after the premiere at any time.

To buy the book

To the Future, Love Cropredy is available from Lapal Publications, price £12 plus postage & packing.

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

Interview with artist, Louise Regan

While soaking up the Fairport Festival atmosphere for my Cropredy writing commission, I visited a pop-up art gallery above the Mulberry Cafe. I was immediately drawn to an ‘illumination’ by Louise Regan and am now the proud owner of a print which I love! My ‘record shot’ photo doesn’t do it justice at all.

img_2451

Incidentally, last Saturday at the Merry Hill Floating Market, I was chatting to another artist, Jan Vallance, The Art Boat. She told me how difficult it is to photograph her art to advertise it online; finding the right lighting conditions is tricky for a boat dweller! I love Jan’s work too, all based on her journeys on the canal network.

I hadn’t realised that Louise also lives on a boat until I contacted her on Instagram (@louiseumbra) to ask if she would like to be interviewed for my Cropredy-related blog. This was a bonus, because I want to include people’s thoughts about the canal in my poetry writing. I should say that I haven’t yet met Louise, so the interview is by way of an email exchange.

Louise Regan

Louise Regan

Cropredy’s sense of community
Having grown up in a village, I wanted the same for my daughter. I like the friendliness and sense of community. Cropredy’s sense of community is very strong, which I think has a lot to do with the Fairport Festival. It gives the village a real identity and the revenue it brings in means we have 2 pubs, a shop, a school and various little businesses; which in turn ensures its not a second-home village (like a lot of surrounding villages are). Whilst house prices are high, a good amount of villagers are working class. It’s got bags of local history and from an artist’s point of view, plenty of lovely bits!

Boat life
If you think village life is about strong community, boat life is double that! Got a problem? Need a hand? Someone will be there to help! We live in a self sufficient little world, responsible for everything we need (which involves being organised!) – water, electricity, heating, loo etc. You can also make a boat very much your own – I’m an avid DIYer! Last year I built a kitchen. It might not be like something out of a showroom, but it’s just how I want it and it hasn’t fallen apart yet!

Tranquillity and nature
I will never take the tranquillity for granted or being so close to nature. In mid April and mid October, when the sun is just setting, from our side doors I can see all the spider webs across our field and it’s magical. The curlews arrived mid February this year, which was so exciting! And when the swallows get here there’s a feeding frenzy over the canal after their long journey.

Louise Regan - Medieval Town Illumination

Louise Regan – Medieval Town Illumination

Being an artist
I’ve been arty for as long as I can remember. I’ve been selling painted canal ware for years in various outlets and, over the last two years, taking in online commissions for medieval illuminated lettering and baby name paintings. It wasn’t until February 2019 that I joined Church Lane Gallery, Banbury and actually started exhibiting. It involved a great deal of encouragement from my husband! I was creating my crazy complicated illumination/architectural/nature mash ups as a form of relaxation and he kept telling me I ought to join a gallery – he even went into CLG, had a chat and got me an application form. So over the last 6 months I have discovered people actually understand, connect with, like my work and want to own it!

The future of Cropredy
I shouldn’t imagine Cropredy will change much. I hope the younger generation can afford to stay in the village. The houses certainly won’t change that much, and I hope that we have enough ridge and furrow (providing the protection order isn’t lifted!) around to protect us from being eaten by Banbury.

Louise Regan - Banbury Illumination A3

Louise Regan – Banbury Illumination A3

I’m grateful to Louise for sparing the time to send me her thoughts and allowing me to edit them (only a little!) into this blog. I will certainly choose a few phrases to feed into the poems I am writing. Thanks also to Church Lane Gallery for organising the pop-up exhibition. It was great meeting Amy and Dave there, and fascinating to find out more about their work.

See also Interview with masseur, Ross White

Woman in distress

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:

Supermarket scene

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.)

© Heather Wastie