The invisible landscape of memories

In June of this year, I was interviewed by a mature student from the University of Gloucestershire, working on an MA in Landscape Architecture in which she was researching the ‘invisible landscape’ of memories, stories and associations and its potential uses in urban regeneration and landscape design projects.

“Landscape designers are often strongly influenced by the visual and tangible aspects of a place, but I am interested in the idea that the intangible traces of peoples’ lives, industrial processes and everyday experiences could be an effective source of inspiration for designers, and deepen their understanding of what places mean to people.”

Today she contacted me again to say that her dissertation is finished, and asked for permission to include my poem The day the weaving stopped “as the introductory quote at the start of my chapter on Kidderminster.  Each chapter starts with a quote that I hope reflects the substance of the chapter, and I love the way your poem captures so much of what I’m trying to say about Kidderminster (and other places) in my research.”

I found our conversation very stimulating and interesting and am delighted that my work will be represented in this fascinating research.

The day the weaving stopped
for Bernie

There are flights on the floor,
remnants from a loom that filled the air
with noise and colour.

I had friends in this shed,
weavers who laboured in freezing cold
or stifling heat too hot to work.

I’ll take a broom and sweep
clean away the skill, the sweat,
the tears in grown men’s eyes.

© Heather Wastie
First published on this blog 11 Jun 2013

Here is some additional information about Melanie Clemmey’s research:

The invisible landscape

Towns and cities across the world are struggling with the legacy of rapidly declining industries. Often, as in Kidderminster, the industrial past has influenced every aspect of the urban fabric, from streets and buildings to railways and canals. As industries close down or relocate, they leave behind abandoned buildings and fragmented landscapes, whilst spaces are often filled with brutal highway engineering and poor quality infill developments.

Local authorities anxious to attract investment, jobs and opportunities for their towns often embrace regeneration schemes which offer the prospect of new and better uses for these apparently unloved places. Government policy encourages ‘brownfield development’, but frequently there are difficult issues of pollution, flood control, and other remediation work to overcome, which add cost and complexity to developments. Industrial architecture has not historically been valued by our society, and research into post-industrial sites is in its infancy, leaving them vulnerable to demolition and insensitive development schemes.

Landscape architects are frequently involved in the design and implementation of urban renewal schemes. During my training I began to wonder about the stories, memories and experiences of the people who lived and worked in these landscapes, and whose lives are still bound up with disappearing industries. I wanted to find out if exploring and mapping the invisible landscape of human experience could contribute to the work of professionals involved in urban regeneration, so for my MA I set out to explore its potential to enhance understanding of a place, influence plans for development and generate design ideas.

Melanie Clemmey
June 2014

Kidderminster Shuttle & the Weaver Poet

In the midst of preparing for a private performance of Kidderminster Stuff next week (for the Museum of Carpet Friends), I have just seen an item in the Kidderminster Shuttle about some new audio dramas which will shortly be available to listen to at the Museum. The project to create these ran in parallel with my residency and I’m very much looking forward to hearing them. Here’s a link to the newspaper article http://www.kidderminstershuttle.co.uk/news/10834259.Weaving_looms__tell_their_story__at_Kidderminster_carpet_museum/

In the nineteenth century, there was a poet called Noah Cooke living in Kidderminster. Born in 1831 in very poor circumstances, he became a draw-boy in a carpet factory at the age of nine and eventually became a weaver. He was known as the Weaver Poet and wrote many a broadside ballad. His poem A “Quill” for The Shuttle was written for the first issue of the Kidderminster Shuttle, February 12th 1870.

Here are the first and last stanzas:

Clear the way ye sons of labour
Toiling at the busy loom!
Make a passage for the Shuttle,
Let it have sufficient room ….

…. Wisdom, like a well-fill’d shuttle,
Nicely wrought in every part,
Leaves behind as it progresses
Works of usefulness and art.

In our show, I perform the poem and Kate sings a song she wrote in response to it, juxtaposing the past with the present.

Knives

I have wanted to write about this for ages and have finally got round to it. Val and Jane told me about this particular aspect of working on a loom and I have combined what they told me into one poem.

Knives
for Val & Jane

They were big knives,
as wide as my outstretched arms.
They had to be sharp
to cut through the wool
and when they cut,
fluff would settle on the blades.
As they were parting,

you cupped your hand
to sweep off the floats,
cut and sweep, sweep to the right,
cut and sweep, sweep to the left.

I was taught by a lady,
been on it for years.
I stood and watched
till it was my turn.
At first I was shaking
but she said relax,
do it quickly, don’t dab,
wipe, don’t dab,
cut and sweep, sweep to the right,
cut and sweep, sweep to the left.

Can do it with my eyes closed.

© Heather Wastie
October 2013

Threading into a forest of carpet

After a couple of weeks on holiday, I have been frantically preparing for Kidderminster Arts Festival which starts on Saturday! (See link to Festival at the bottom of this post.) Part of the Town Hall is, right now, being converted into a forest made up of carpet donated by Brintons. There will be special lighting and an ambient soundtrack, created by Andy Edwards, which includes birdsong mingled with recordings of the looms at the Museum of Carpet. Planted in 3 bird boxes (how sweet!) will be recordings I have made combining interviews with poems and songs so that you can hear how I used the words spoken to create pieces for the people being interviewed. These recordings represent all of the places I have worked in so far on this project – The Tulip Tree Centre, Among Friends, the area where I live, the Museum of Carpet and Kidderminster in general.

I took a few snaps of work in progress on the forest this morning. It has been designed by Jo and Kate DeBurgh who are working like crazy to get it finished. It already looks amazing!

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I have also been very busy preparing for performances of “Kidderminster Stuff” of course. There’s just over a week to go to the first show on Friday 16th. See the Performances page for details.

Here’s my latest poem, written for Ben who I met at a party! You will be able to hear me reading this in the carpet forest, followed by a recording of a Polish man sharing his memories of having to leave his beloved country.

Threading

Threading
Tedious
Time passed slowly

Six till ten
First day
Bell went at 7.30 thought I’d finished!
Couldn’t believe it
An hour and a half felt like four

Threading
Yarn on a long spool
Slotted into the tube frame

Finish a spool
One end left over
Realise you made a mistake
Right at the beginning
Go back and do it all again

Bangladeshi bobbin boys
Ill treated by many
Why are you talking to those w …
Polish and Italian
No problem

Threading
Colours in sequence
According to the pattern

© Heather Wastie
July 2013

Finally, thanks to Polly Robinson for sending me a poem she wrote after one of my workshops. You can also find it on her own blog https://journalread.wordpress.com/

“A wonderful workshop with Heather Wastie, the Poet in Residence for the Kidderminster Carpet Museum, led to this poem about the building and the way the effluent from the carpets flowed into the river in times gone by.”

Reeking Dyes

Carpet dust motes in sunlight
dapple the floor through the flights.
My nose itches, snitchily tight.
A glass-topped room and loom below,
while underneath reeking dyes flow,
a myriad of colours, a rainbow
– ten pence a yard –
resting on the river; the ever-changing
river,
red and
green and
yellow and
blue.

Polly Robinson © 2013

Kidderminster Arts Festival link
http://www.wyreforestdc.gov.uk/cms/leisure-and-culture/arts-and-entertainment/kidderminster-arts-festival/kaf-13.aspx

The Tuner’s Eye

I’ve been busy arranging my Weaving Yarns poems and songs into a draft script for “Kidderminster Stuff” with Kate Wragg (August 16th and 17th – see Performances page).  There are a few pieces still to write after interviewing people, including one person I met at a party! We start rehearsing next week.

If you’re interested in a sneak preview of “Kidderminster Stuff”, do come to LOAF at The Coach House Community Arts Centre, Rectory Road, Oldswinford, Stourbridge DY8 2HA on Sunday 7th July at 11.15 when I’ll be doing a half-hour set, followed by Kate Wragg 12.00-12.30. I will also be singing “Tying the Knot” at Mouth and Music, Boar’s Head, 39 Worcester Street, Kidderminster DY10 1EW on Tuesday 9th July 8.00pm.

On Saturday 6th July I will be talking about the Weaving Yarns project at a Writing West Midlands Writer Networking Morning at the Light House, Chubb Buildings, Fryer Street, Wolverhampton WV1 1HT 10.00-12.00. For further information about all of these events see http://www.wastiesspace.co.uk/Wasties_Space/DIARY.html

I’m grateful to my local District Councillor, Chris Nicholls, who gave me some funding to interview people where I live in Cookley. One of the people I interviewed was Geoff Perks who worked as a tuner. He lives in a nursing home and last week I visited him to read the song lyrics I had written about him to check he was happy. He wasn’t at all well but he listened intently as I read and at the end he smiled a broad smile and said he was very impressed. This was so rewarding for me, and I’ve sent the piece to his family. Years ago I edited a bo0k of reminiscences after interviewing people in Tipton and the daughters of one of the people whose memories appear in that book came up to me at the launch and expressed their gratitude. Oral history is so valuable.


The Tuner’s Eye

for Geoff Perks

There’s more to making carpets
than meets the casual eye,
so said a canny tuner
and then he told me why.
He spoke of cops and shuttles
and how he tuned the loom.
This is what he told me
one day in his living room:

CHORUS
A cop is like a sausage,
a sausage made of jute,
jute inside a shuttle,
watch the shuttle shoot.
The sausage will unravel
as the shuttle flies across.
The tension must be perfect
for the weaver, he’s the boss.

Hold your finger up
and put the jute around,
turn it round and up
then turn it round and down,
enough to fill a shuttle,
that’s the time to stop,
that’s how machines would do it,
that’s how they made a cop

CHORUS

The shuttle’s double ended,
its points are very sharp,
you keep your wits about you
as the weft speeds through the warp
A shuttle can be dangerous
and blood has been spilled,
shuttles have shot out
and weavers have been killed.

CHORUS

The weft keeps on going,
at the end of a cop
another piece is tied to it –
seamless, doesn’t stop.
His dad was a weaver,
his grandfather too,
from bobbin boy to tuner,
he’s seen a thing or two.

CHORUS

© Heather Wastie
May 2013

Knotting frames and hand spinning

This afternoon I performed a selection of Weaving Yarns poems and songs at a local residential care home where I met a Setter, a Weaver and a Picker (who started out during the war working on munitions in a carpet factory when she first left school). It was very rewarding seeing the responses to my performance, and the knowledge I have built up over the past year or so enabled me to have meaningful conversations with carpet industry experts!

When I first visited the Museum Archive well over a year ago, I came across a photo which intrigued me. It was a long line of girls seated at a very wide hand loom. I didn’t know exactly what I was for a long time until on June 6th I went to one of the regular “Meet Melvyn” events to hear Melvyn Thompson talking about hand knotting.

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Part way through his talk, the photo in question appeared on the screen and it all made sense! It’s a Brintons 40 foot loom for hand-knotted carpets (second photo below). The talk was fascinating, and at my workshop following it, I started a poem. The finished piece is below.

Oriental Knot40ft loom

Knotting frames
for Melvyn Thompson who solved the mystery

There’s a line
from Turkey to Kidderminster
girl after girl after girl

tucking tiny fingers
between the warp threads
posed and squashed on solid planks

buckled legs preserved in knots per inch
following a pattern
to last a lifetime

© Heather Wastie
June 2013

During another of my workshops, I watched Elizabeth sitting at her wheel and spinning. Sadly I didn’t take a photo of her.

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I listened to what she had to say and wrote a poem for her:

Hand Spinning
for Elizabeth Gelhard

Lazy Kate wraps wool around a bobbin
sitting in the garden chatting to a friend.
Spool to kate to spool to niddy noddy.
Pull it, run your finger, don’t think about your feet.

Take the whole day to fill up a bobbin
clockwise, anticlockwise, spin it twice.
Spool to kate to spool to niddy noddy,
Pull it, run your finger, don’t think about your feet.

She washed the wool, carded it and rolled it,
hung it out to dry, now it’s soft in her hands.
Spool to kate to spool to niddy noddy,
Pull it, run your finger, don’t think about your feet.

An act of meditation loved by Queen Victoria.
Niddy noddy maidens, mother of all.
Spool to kate to spool to niddy noddy,
Pull it, run your finger, don’t think about your feet.

© Heather Wastie
June 2013

Lazy kate, bobbin, spool, maidens – parts of a spinning wheel
Niddy noddy – a skein maker

Many of my Weaving Yarns poems and songs can be heard in performances as part of Kidderminster Arts Festival, on Friday and Saturday August 16th and 17th. Details will be on my website very soon!