Being a Poet Laureate

Ever since the seventeenth century, the UK has had a Poet Laureate, and until 2009 the position was always held by a man. Although women had been considered, none were chosen. In the late nineteenth century, Christina Rossetti missed out when it was decided that, rather than appoint a woman, there would be no laureate at all. In 2009, (now Dame) Carol Ann Duffy was appointed. She said at the outset that her main reason for accepting the role was because they hadn’t had a woman. (1)

Some UK cities have their own Poet Laureate – Birmingham currently has Matt Windle – and some counties do too. Gloucestershire has one (Brenda Read-Brown), Staffordshire does (Emily Rose Galvin) and Worcestershire has had one since 2011. The current Worcestershire PL, appointed in June, is Betti Moretti. There are also several Young PLs:  Worcestershire’s is Rachel Evans and Birmingham’s is Nyanda Foday. So, as you can see, women are doing pretty well on the laureate front now.

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Receiving my award from Maggie Doyle, Worcestershire Poet Laureate Emeritus

In Worcestershire the post lasts for just one year, and I was honoured to represent the county in 2015/16. Are you a poet, wondering if you could be a laureate one day? Have you ever wondered what a poet laureate actually does? The short answer to the second question is that it depends a lot on the person. But if you would like to find out how it worked for me, then now’s your chance!

On 15th September Black Pear Press will launch my latest poetry collection, Don’t Oil The HingesA year as Worcestershire Poet Laureate. The poems fit into three main categories: those directly relating to the county, some of the many I wrote during this very special year, and some which featured in my blog during that period. The book is also a diary of edited extracts from my blog, plus other snippets to give an insight into my life as a writer and performer.

The PL role tends to be an honorary position. Throughout my year, as always, I worked hard to maximise opportunities to earn a living from being a poet and musician. Poetry book sales will never be anywhere near enough to live on, but they certainly help. So please do help me (and the publisher) by buying a copy! If you can’t make the launch, when I will read extracts from the book and welcome several guest performers (see my previous blog for exactly who and where), you can pre-order copies online from Black Pear Press.

I needed an endorsement for the back cover, so I asked The Archers actor, Sunny Ormonde (who performs one of my poems as part of her excellent one-woman show) and this is what she wrote:

“Needing a poem about local life for my show at Bewdley Festival I discovered Heather’s wonderfully funny poems on line. Immediately smitten, I contacted her and was over the moon when she kindly offered to write a special poem for the show and Dad was a fan of The Archers was born. Nothing could have been more perfect – it was a huge hit and continues to be so.

Don’t Oil The Hinges is a delightful collection of poems – a pot pourri of Worcestershire life and experiences. Joyful, funny, touching, informative and vibrant. Heather is one of the finest poets around.”
(1) Carol Ann Duffy becomes first female poet laureate – Alison Flood, The Guardian, May 2009 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/01/carol-ann-duffy-poet-laureate

Don’t Oil The Hinges

My seventh poetry collection will be launched in September!

Don’t Oil The Hinges is a celebration of my year as Worcestershire Poet Laureate — a collection of poems and insights into 2015-2016. On Saturday 15th September the book will be launched at an evening of poetry and song with guests, Kate Saffin — writer and actor; Sarah Tamar — poet; Sunny Ormonde — actor, and Dave Sutherland — singer-songwriter. There may be another special guest too. The venue is Park’s Cafe, 4 Victoria Square, Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire WR9 8DS. I chose it because of its hinges.

My first batch was delivered to my door yesterday by Tony Judge from Black Pear Press who had a hand in the cover design — literally. Talented singer-songwriter and artist Jess Silk produced the artwork and Tony added that final touch by writing the text with his finger, and the whole thing, I think, has a homely feel about it.

DOTH Front cover image

I hope you will be keen to open that door and find out what’s behind it. Here’s a sneak preview:

Wipe your feet

Shag pile, tufted,
high pile, long pile,
loop pile, got a pile!
Wipe your feet!

Don’t bring your muck in here,
our carpet’s cream.
Slippers all lined up,
pick your size.

No foam backing here,
grip gripper underlay,
offcuts in the loft
gathering dust.

Shag pile, tufted,
high pile, long pile,
loop pile, got a pile!
Wipe your feet!

(extract)

You can pre-order your copy from Black Pear Press, price £6.00 + p&p.

If you can, do come to the launch. It’s free to attend and we’re going to have fun!

Dad was a fan of The Archers

Who knew that when Archers actor Sunny Ormonde performs her one-woman show, she likes to include work from poets living near the venue? I didn’t know, until she contacted me by email, asking if she could read one of my poems in Bewdley on October 13th. We chatted on the phone so I could find out what kind of piece she was looking for and it was clear that she wanted humour. It was also clear that she’s a really nice person. During the course of the conversation I told her about my Dad’s ‘addiction’ to The Archers, and it wasn’t long afterwards that I began working on a new poem on that very subject. Sunny was delighted with it and, though I sent her alternatives to choose from, she decided to include Dad was a fan of The Archers in her show, and arranged for me to have 2 complimentary tickets.

As we arrived at Bewdley Baptist Church, my mother and I passed ‘Sold Out’ signs and were guided to central front row seats. Although I haven’t listened to The Archers since the days when I lived at home, I enjoyed every minute of the show, which was entertaining, inspiring, hilarious and, at times, moving. It was packed with poetry, including limericks, extracts from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and of course, my Archers poem. Sunny had asked me how to pronounce my name so I sent her this poem which she also read out:

Heather Wastie rhymes with Tasty not with Nasty,
Heather Wastie rhymes with Pasty not with Pastie,
not with Frosty, not with Asti,
rhymes with Hasty, Heather Wastie!

I love the way she ended her show with a gentle and moving extract from Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine. Throughout the performance she had dipped in and out of her Archers character, Lilian Bellamy, with ease. I was mentally taking notes about ways of moving in and out of character in my own shows.

Afterwards Sunny obviously enjoyed meeting and chatting to people and it was a pleasure to work with such a warm, friendly woman. There were discussions about the possibility of us collaborating again in the future. It did seem to work rather well.

img_0585The show was part of Bewdley Festival 2016. The Director, Dave Collins, contacted me after the event saying “…. the audience loved your poem. Several have asked if it will be available on-line or in a forthcoming book”. I had already decided to blog about the event, sharing the poem, so here it is. Thanks, Sunny, for inspiring me to write it:

Dad was a fan of the Archers

Every weekday evening,
His radio at his side,
He’d monopolise the toilet
From just before 7.05.

His friends knew not to phone him
Till after twenty past seven
And those who called at quarter past
Were usually given

A reason not quite truthful
For why he wasn’t free.
Dad was a fan of The Archers,
A treat after his tea.

And if we drove to see a show,
A concert or a play
We had to leave by five past seven
And whisper all the way

And when I heard the theme tune
I’d sing it way off key
On purpose just to tease him.
He took it manfully.

Sometimes he had to miss it
And catch the omnibus.
This everyday story of country folk
Didn’t appeal to us.

In the days of Walter Gabriel,
He loved his evening treat.
Dad was a fan of The Archers;
It made his week complete.

© Heather Wastie
October 2016