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.

Kennings

Happy World Book Day! I’ve just got home after visiting local writing group Bewdley Bards who invited me to read from my new poetry collection Don’t Oil The Hinges. One of my poems mentions ‘kennings’. Not everyone had heard of the kenning, and maybe you haven’t either, so here are a few examples. They’re fun to create and can be a good starting point for a poem:

Kennings

Stripe bearer
Honey hoarder
Comb maker
Window basher
Buzz bringer
Little stinger

© Heather Wastie

  • Bookworm = someone who reads a lot
  • Brown noser = person who does anything to gain approval
  • Fender bender = slight car accident
  • Head twister = owl
  • Hot potato = something no one wants
  • Mind-reader = A person who knows what you are thinking
  • Motor mouth = person who talks a lot and/or fast
  • Pencil pusher = person with a clerical job
  • Pig-skin = a football
  • Postman chaser = dog
  • Show-stopper = performance receiving long applause
  • Tree hugger = an environmentalist

Reflections on The Ring

You can find me and my poetry in the middle of a short video capturing artistic highlights of The Ring Project which took place last year. I’m reading from The Muck and Shovel Brigade, a collection of photographs and poetry celebrating the restoration of the Droitwich Canals.

On January 30th from 2:30pm there’s a symposium at the University of Worcester reflecting on the project’s impact. I’m one of the speakers. There are still a few tickets left. Click here for more and to see the video.

If you flick back through my blogs you will find several posts about the project of which I am immensely proud. Here are some reviews:

“Brilliantly moving, funny and informative.”
Cathy Mager, Artistic Director, The Ring Project

“An inspired piece of work!”
Sara-Jane Arbury, poet

“This is a beautiful book! … I was completely absorbed.”
Alison Brackenbury, poet

“… emotive and inspirational. I have been a volunteer for CRT [Canal & River Trust] for nearly 7 years, and while I am passionate about canals, your poetry has somehow given me a new insight into this amazing world.”
Ralph Gaskin

The Muck and Shovel Brigade coverNavvies Salwarpe Bridge low res

Don’t Oil The Hinges review

Many thanks to Greg Freeman, Write Out Loud, for reviewing my new collection, Don’t Oil The Hinges:

“… you can’t help but warm to Heather Wastie’s enthusiasm, creativity, and zest in putting poetry at the heart of a community.”

Read the review here.

And here’s a quote from Canal Laureate, Nancy Campbell:  “I’m enjoying Don’t Oil the Hinges enormously… I love the way Heather weaves introductions into the book, I’ve never seen this done before and it creates a lovely, intimate reading experience.”

Do come and see me performing extracts from the collection at the following events:

Monday 12th November  7.00pm
Licensed to Rhyme
Cafe Morso, 16 Hewell Road, Birmingham B45 8NE
https://www.view.co.uk/birmingham/v/cafe-morso

Thursday 29th November  7.00pm
The Caffe Grande Slam
Caffe Grande, 15 Stone St, Dudley DY1 1NS
https://m.facebook.com/The-Caffe-Grande-Slam-1172745749507985/

Tuesday 8th January 2019  7.30pm
City Voices
Light House, The Chubb Buildings, Fryer St, Wolverhampton WV1 1HT
http://light-house.co.uk

 

Don’t Oil The Hinges is available from Black Pear Press, price £6.

Breakfast Blues

Turtle Song

Having worked extensively with people with dementia for many years, in 2016 I was involved as composer in a Turtle Song project with Turtle Key Arts. It took place in Wolverhampton and was one of the most enjoyable projects I have ever done. Turtle Song are celebrating their 10th Anniversary and have shared a video of one song from each of the projects on their website. Do click the link to see the wonderful work they do. Our song, Breakfast Blues, is here: https://vimeo.com/256636243

Suitcase Stories 2

banner - Reminiscence and music dementia social media banner 2018

I have just started work on a new project, as you will know if you read my recent blog post Grandma’s little box. Suitcase Stories 2 is an 18 month reminiscence and music project for people living with dementia and their carers in the Wyre Forest, Redditch, Bromsgrove and Wychavon districts running from November 2018 to March 2020.

Fortnightly music and reminiscence sessions will run on Mondays at The Museum of Carpet from 10.30am to 12.30pm and Forge Mill museum from 2.30pm-4.30pm and Fridays at Wallace House, Community Centre in Evesham from 10.30am to 12.30pm for just £2.50 per person. I will be kicking things off with Museums Worcestershire staff supporting with their handling objects.

There will also be monthly music workshops/performances in Bromsgrove on the 2nd Tuesday of the month from 1.30pm to 2.45pm just £2.50 per person.

This project is generously funded by Arts Council England, Elmley Foundation, Bransford Trust, Wyre Forest District Council, Redditch Borough Council, Bromsgrove District Council, Worcestershire County Council, John Martins Trust, Wychavon District Council and Museums Worcestershire.

If you want further information and to book contact Jenny Davis, Project Manager from Arts Uplift CIC jenny@artsuplift.co.uk 07946 585978

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!

Genevieve Tudor’s Sunday Folk

I’ve featured on Genevieve’s lovely show in the past, but not for ages. I sent her a copy of the Tales from the Weavers’ Cottages CD and she played a track during this episode. It was a joy listening to the whole programme. She takes time to talk about the background to each track she plays, and is a generous interviewer, as you can tell from the interview on this programme.

I suggest you sit back, relax and soak it all up!

And if you would like to hear all of the Weavers’ Cottages songs, follow this link.

A poem for World Poetry Day

Navvies in Salwarpe Cutting

Fifty years of debris, wet mud, dead trees and silt,
a mine of old bottles, lobbed from the bridge.

Small in the world of cranes,
Priestman Cub and Priestman Wolf will be halted
for Bromsgrove Fitches, too plain,
the hope of a rare Worcester Spreckley intact.

According to Dave, there are three kinds of silt:
Slurp, which goes a long long way;
Wobble, less wet; and Crumble. What you need
is a little bit of slurp and the right amount of wobble
for the silt to roll like lava out of the skip and down the bank,
below the makeshift railway, narrow gauge tracks,
the pop pop of diesel loco.

Mommy Mommy, there are men in our dustbin!
The navvies’ cartoon, a carnival slogan.

Look at them now in the channel
and there where the drag lines and buckets can’t go,
under the bridge hole, standing in mud that’s five feet deep,
digging it out by hand.

© Heather Wastie

From The Muck and Shovel Brigade, published March 2018, available to view at selected venues and online here https://theringart.org.uk/projects/droitwich-canal-restoration/

On Wednesday 4th April at 2pm I will be performing the whole collection in a free event at The Railway Inn, Kidderminster Road, Droitwich. Click here for details.

 

 

 

Negotiation & shopping trolleys

A few weeks ago I sent off the final copy for the book of poems about the restoration of the Droitwich Canals which I have been working on for The Ring. More on that later!

There are several anecdotes which didn’t make it into the book so I have been sharing some of them in my blog. For this post, I am grateful to John Burman, Roger Squires and someone who wishes to remain anonymous …

Negotiation

“One of the landowners refused permission for us to go on the towpath, said it was his land. I went back to the original Act of Parliament which said that the width of the canal shall be 50 yards. I showed him this and he agreed it was right. I said banks erode, yes, but the keystone on the apex of a bridge isn’t going to shift. So we measured 25 yards from the keystone and it went well into his garden. We agreed that’s where the boundary should be. In the end we came to a compromise by erecting a heaver* fence so that he could get a lorry into his field and we could get down the towpath.”

John Burman

*A gate without hinges that can be heaved off its posts and laid aside to let vehicles etc go through.

Shopping Trolleys

“The amount of shopping trolleys we used to get out of the canal was ridiculous. We’d go trolley hunting and get twenty out of the canal on a Saturday morning. People would take their shopping home then dump them and kids would use them as go-carts round the town. What we’d do with all these muddy rusty trolleys is fish them out, put them in the van, take them to the supermarket which owned them and leave them outside their front door for them to recycle. It was time wasted as far as we were concerned. In the end, we came up with a plan. One of our members would wander round the town and visit all the street corners and car parks where these trolleys had been left. Before the next morning, all these shopping trolleys only had three wheels on them. Kids aren’t interested in a trolley with only three wheels on, so the town slowly started filling up with three-wheeled trolleys. 108 trolleys had a wheel removed and never went in the canal. Eventually the town council brought pressure to bear on the supermarket and before long they changed the system so you needed a pound coin to release them. So it worked!”

Finally, here’s the seal which was on the cover of the first guide book produced to encourage people to walk along the route of the Droitwich Canal. The book was produced by Roger Squires using a Roneo duplicator, operated by turning a handle. I’m sorry to say that I’m old enough to remember using one of those! I like the Latin motto which translates as FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE MANY.

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Here’s a link to my previous post about The Ring.