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.

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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

 

Interview with masseur, Ross White

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.

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Oxford Canal, Cropredy

Slip gently
into undivided attention
dance with harmony
engage the deepest layers
relax the heart
soothe the mind and glide
fluid, in a connected state

 

© Heather Wastie
July 2019

 

National Pigeon Day

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.

proof gangland small

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!

© Heather Wastie

Scrubbing the step

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.

© Heather Wastie

You and I are earth