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.

Writing workshops

Kate Saffin and I (Alarum Productions) have planned a series of 3 online writing workshops you may be interested in. They’re on Thursdays 2-4pm, a month apart, using Zoom. If you’re unfamiliar with Zoom, we’re happy to help you set it up.

We are offering these workshops as Pay What You Can events. Here’s some info with links to further details and booking:

Life writing – Feb 25th – with Kate Saffin

The term ‘Life Writing’ is still quite new. In this workshop we’ll explore some of its different manifestations – autobiography, diaries, reminiscence… before getting down to some writing, using prompts to help us think about different moments in our lives. Click here for more.

Bringing the past to life – Mar 25th – with Heather Wastie

Using observation, memories, senses and imagination we will write an article suitable for a newsletter, newspaper, magazine or blog, describing a place or event connected to an element of history that interests us.  We will also be creating a piece of poetry that connects to our chosen subject. Click here for more.

Monologue – April 22nd – with Kate Saffin

A monologue is a performance by a single actor – sometimes as part of a play (Shakespeare was very fond of them) or sometimes it is the play. We’ll explore the different approaches to monologue and then get down to writing one. Click here for more.

If you have any questions about the workshops, do ask!

Alarum Productions logo

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

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

More found poetry

In 2015 I blogged about ‘found poetry’. It’s one of my most viewed posts. Yesterday, I uploaded a podcast on the same subject, showing how poems can be created using articles in newsletters or magazines and by listening to audio recordings.

IDC Alarum Prod logo 1

The podcast is number ten in a series put together for the Alarum Theatre I Dig Canals project which tells stories of women’s involvement in campaigns to save the UK canals. We have researched published material from post war to the 1970s and interviewed women who got involved from the 1960s onwards.

As part of the project, I ran a writing workshop, the results of which can be heard in the podcast. It features the work of writers who came along and some pieces by me too. In each case, you can hear the source material followed by the poem.

I produced something similar in 2014 when I was commissioned to make a soundtrack to be played in the branches of ‘trees’ in a forest made of carpet inside Kidderminster Town Hall. It was a surprisingly magical installation where people sat beneath the trees as if it was a real forest. My contribution was made up of poems and songs I had written inspired by interviews with people who worked in the carpet industry. Here’s a link to the recording.

Photo of carpet forest

The writing I did about the carpet industry was the inspiration behind starting this blog. All of the poems have been posted on it and are available as a collection, Weaving Yarns, from Black Pear Press.

‘I Dig Canals’ writing workshop 13th Feb

Second flyer FINAL

Back in 2015, I wrote a blog, which gets regular hits, called Found Poetry – 3 ways. It shows ways of creating poems using other written pieces.

On Thursday 13th February 10:00-1:00 I’m running a workshop which will include writing from found sources, both written and oral. The location is unusual – a (stationary) narrow boat moored on the canal near the historic Dudley Tunnel.

Many of today’s canals would have been lost had it not been for a group of dedicated campaigners. The phrase I Dig Canals was a campaign slogan in the 1970s when the word ‘dig’ had a double meaning. Reading today about that period, you would think only men took part in the work to save the canals, but of course women were there too. The I Dig Canals project was set up by Alarum Theatre, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to unearth hidden stories about women’s involvement in these campaigns in the Black Country in the 1960s and 1970s which I remember from my childhood and teenage years. Here I am on our family-owned narrow boat Laurel, an ex-working boat.

Heather Smith on Laurel

The Workshop will take place on board The Vic Smallshire, Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust, 501 Birmingham New Road, Dudley, DY1 4SB. Participants will use oral history recordings, written accounts and documentary sources such as magazine articles to create poetry or prose pieces that capture the essence of the stories. The workshop is free of charge and those attending will be invited to perform their work at the final project celebration on Saturday 4th April at 6pm at Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust. Some of the work created will also be included in a book.

To book, email Nadia Stone, Project Manager idigcanals@alarumtheatre.co.uk. Click on the link below for the I Dig Canals flyer with further information.

I Dig Canals flyer