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.

#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