47 years on…

In June 1971, Joni Mitchell released her landmark album, Blue.

In 1973, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Genesis’ Selling England By The Pound were all released.

In late September 1974, with this rich musical diet vibrating in my head, weeks away from my 19th birthday, I was walking along Edgbaston Park Road with a girl called Alison who I’d just met. On the opposite side of the road were two fellow Birmingham University students heading for the same Halls of Residence.

Andy – long dark hair parted in the middle – had rebelliously pinned his name badge onto the inside of his trench coat. Andy and Paul, friends from Leicester, were staying in High Hall, a tall structure for men only; Heather and Alison were bound for the women-only block which lay prostrate at the foot of the men’s accommodation. Each Hall had its own large communal room and there was a connecting gallery between the two. The no-men-allowed-after-10pm female block was called Ridge Hall.

It wasn’t long before guitarist Andy had organised a music night in High Hall, with the help of his friend, Jock, for any students who wanted to take part. Andy and I performed Joni Mitchell’s Little Green and Big Yellow Taxi together, and soon started collaborating on our own songs in a downstairs room in Ridge Hall. Andy called that first music night Moulin Ridge and the name stuck.

47 years later, we (Moulin Ridge) have finally released our debut album! Many of the original vocal recordings – some going back to the late 1980s – have been used, as each captures a moment in time. We’re launching the CD on 26th April – see the poster for info and click on it to listen to the songs!

A live streamed show & a workshop

I’m popping in to plug a livestreamed performance of I Dig Canals this coming Sunday 21st November 6pm and a humorous poetry writing workshop on Thursday 25th November 2-4pm. See below for more…

Click the poster to go to the Eventbrite page

I DIG CANALS livestreamed performanceSunday 21st November 6pm

Stand by for winching and rocking, pulling and sweating, bucket-hoists of mud and canal-clearing clobber. And you can share in it all live or via Zoom! It’s 1970, and we’re off to a rally of boats on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. On the way we’ll meet Sheila and Josie, Tina and Jean as they put on their sturdy boots and roll up their sleeves. Women labouring, cooking, boating, organising… united by a common cause – to save the Black Country waterways.

Join us for a livestream at 6pm on Sunday Nov 21st, or, if you can’t make that time, the video will be available to stream until 7pm the following Sunday (28th), all for a fiver! The show is just under an hour long, and will be followed by an additional half hour Q&A and some more stories from the project if you would like to stay. Click the poster above to go to the Eventbrite page

Click on the photo to go to the Eventbrite page for more info. Photo by Jan Warsop.

WRITING HUMOROUS POETRY – ONLINE WORKSHOP – Thursday 25th November 2-4pm

From limericks and four-liners to lengthy sagas; from clever wordplay to corny rhymes and punchlines; from nonsense to wild imaginings; from wry humour to laugh-out-loud funny. Bring your funny bones and we’ll have a go at different ways of writing humorous poems, inspired by a variety of examples.

We are offering our 2021 workshops on a Pay What You Can basis. The minimum payment is £5 (£5.12 with the booking fee); after that the sky’s the limit!

There are two free places available for anyone who would find the minimum donation difficult. Click on the photo of me looking cheeky to go to the Eventbrite page for more info.

Bye for now!

Yes We Cant

I’ve always loved the title of this spoken word night organised by the fantastic Poets, Prattlers & Pandemonialists. Now I’m very pleased to be their featured poet – online this coming Sunday. The organisers tell me people often mistakenly add an apostrophe to the word ‘cant’ and that’s the beauty of the word play. When I think of the verb to cant, my thoughts inevitably go to my Dad who was an expert. ‘Canting’ is a Black Country word. It’s a shame we can’t all be canting to each other in an actual room in Wolverhampton on Sunday, but we’ve got the next best thing and I hope you’ll join me from wherever you happen to be. Poetry connects.

Great Canal Journeys & shows this weekend

It wasn’t easy keeping quiet about filming for Great Canal Journeys last May! But now the programme has been aired I can share this lovely photo of Kate Saffin and I with Sheila Hancock – all of us managing to conceal that fact that it was a miserable, cold day! The programme features tales of the so-called ‘Idle Women’ whose stories we tell in one of our Alarum Productions shows. Click on the photo to go to the Channel 4 website and watch the episode.

Kate Saffin, Sheila Hancock & Heather Wastie, Hatton Locks.

This coming weekend, there are two chances to experience my new solo piece The Idle Women Story – a combination of short pieces about the wartime trainees, some of which you may have seen before if you’ve been to an Alarum show. But this new version includes some recently unearthed letters from one of the women and also some of the men, written whilst considering whether or not women were capable of handling working boats… As well as my online performance, there’s a fascinating live dance interpretation by Hannah Warren. Kate will also be performing live in her solo piece The Mary Rose: a boat of ill repute which is all about a brothel on a boat! The live shows are taking place, along with several others, canalside in Rickmansworth. My online show can of course be seen from the comfort of your own home. Click the photo to go to the event website.

Photo by Terasa Newton

Why and how I write

In early June, the outgoing Worcestershire Poet Laureate Leena Batchelor invited me to perform some of my poetry at a Zoom event – a night of performances by previous Poets Laureates and interviews by Leena. I was Worcestershire Poet Laureate in 2015-16 and really enjoyed catching up with Tim Cranmore, Suz Winspear, Nina Lewis and Leena together with former Staffordshire PL Emily-Rose Galvin and the brand new WPL Ade Couper.

Here are the questions she asked each of us followed by my replies.

Why is poetry/writing important to you and why do you think it’s important/relevant to today? How has writing helped you and why did you start writing? How do you write – where does the inspiration come from and how do you start?

Accepting my Poet Laureate trophy from Worcestershire Poet Laureate Emeritus, Maggie Doyle in 2015

I’ve been writing poetry for as long as I can remember. My first poem was written at infants school in response to a story. So I must have known then that poetry is a good way of telling stories. It’s also a way of expressing and exploring feelings, explaining things and imparting information in a concise way, entertaining with rhyme and rhythm, and raising a smile or laughter. I like patterns. Poems are made up of patterns. I love language. Poetry is a way of playing with words. Lots of people have turned to poetry – writing or reading – as a way of dealing with the pandemic.

I get a sense of satisfaction from writing pieces I’m pleased with. And I get pleasure from sharing my work with others, in performances or publications. Some of my poems have helped me process traumatic experiences too.

There are several ways I can be triggered into writing a poem:

When something unexpected inspires me – a turn of phrase, an incident, an interesting thought I want to explore, a news item; When I decide I want to write a poem, perhaps for a competition, for a friend or just for its own sake; When I go to a writing workshop; When someone commissions me.

Sometimes I start with lots of research and don’t do any writing for quite a while. Lots of my researched pieces are ‘found’ poems where I use existing material and present it in a new way. Poems can come from oral history interviews where I quote verbatim. In these instances it’s about selecting the right material and arranging it. Sometimes a poem comes out ready formed in a flash of inspiration. Others grow from stream of consciousness writing, where you put pen to paper and don’t stop at all for 5 minutes or more. It’s amazing what can materialise from your subconscious when you do that.

I like to start with pen and paper then move to the computer when it starts to take shape. I keep going back to it and when I think it’s finished I save it and don’t look at it again for a while so I can see it afresh. That way I’m more likely to notice errors or flaws which I didn’t see before because I was too close to it.

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.