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.

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.




Finding an emotional connection

My Dad, Alan T Smith MBE, was a waterways enthusiast and a dedicated, hard-working campaigner for the restoration of derelict canals. It all began when my brother and I were young and the doctor advised my mother that we could do with more fresh air and exercise. So Dad bought a boat and our lives changed. Our small cruiser was soon replaced by a 70 foot ex-working narrow boat and Dad spent a great deal of his spare time digging in the bottom of dried up canals, hauling rubbish out of lock chambers etc or trying to move our boat along channels which contained more debris than water. He loved it.

Last December I did something which reminded me of him. While researching for The Ring project, I heard from one of the interviewees that one of the lock chambers from the original line of the Droitwich Canal still exists and has remained undisturbed for many years. As soon as I found out about it I became very excited, like a child contemplating a slightly scary adventure. I knew it could be dangerous going to the lock on my own and remembered the day my Dad went off to look at a stretch of canal which had recently breached. He drove there on his own and somehow managed to sprain his ankle. This was before the days of mobile phones, so he hobbled back to the car and drove home, where Mom was not too pleased!

With that day in mind, I took great care not to let history repeat itself. I wanted to experience for myself what people involved in the Droitwich Canal restoration had been up against, and this was the perfect opportunity. As I approached the lock, the first thing I saw was the footbridge.



I could see that the chamber was inhabited by trees, and though the gates had rotted away, some of the metal was still intact and in place, the wood having perished around it.


The trees had taken over, prising bricks apart, straddling edges and blocking the top of the steps.




I was a fearless adventurer. Once I had made it to the far side of the lock, I tested the bridge and decided that, after all this time, it was safe to walk across. I made it back to the car without mishap, having made an emotional connection with my Dad, with the lock, with engineering and nature, with history, and when I got home I wrote a poem called All that remains.

The poem is one of nine which will be published by The Ring project in March, along with archive photographs, in a collection called The Muck and Shovel Brigade. All that remains will be opposite this intriguing photo, from Max Sinclair’s collection, taken in 1965. I wonder what this explorer felt as he stood in the water and peered behind the remains of a gate, and I wonder what he saw.

No 3 Unidentified lock,1965

Previous posts on The Ring Project (most recent first): Negotiation & shopping trolleys, Sandstone, slogans & poems to be found, Salwarpe to Porters Mill, Update on The Ring project, The Ring Project

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 …


“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.


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

The story so far

In July, I gave a presentation about my residency for Writing West Midlands (http://www.writingwestmidlands.org) along with Canal Laureate, Jo Bell (http://belljarblog.wordpress.com). Anchor woman for the morning was Roz Goddard (http://www.rozgoddard.com) and it was so good to share experiences with writers I admire and who do so much to promote writing with others. Roz asked Jo and I if we would post the notes for our talks on our respective blogs, so that is what I’m doing, and I do believe I’ve beaten Jo to it! Mind you she’s been a bit busy going across the Bristol Channel in her narrow boat and getting over bronchitis so I’ll let her off.

I am in the process of writing a report to the Arts Council who funded my residency and thinking where my next funding might come from. If you would like to support my work, or have any funding suggestions to make, I would be very pleased to hear from you. In the meantime I hope fellow writers will find the notes below useful, and you may also be interested to know that I will be talking about the subject of funding at The Writers’ Toolkit on Saturday 23rd November when I will be on one of the discussion panels. I heartily recommend this annual event to any writer as it is packed with sound advice, information and networking opportunities.
See http://www.writingwestmidlands.org/?s=writers+toolkit

Notes for presentation at Writing West Midlands Writer Networking Morning
6th July 2013

Summary: My background, How it came about, What I have achieved, Conclusions


Poet – Musician – Performer – Facilitator – Promoter

Published 3 poetry collections

Recorded my own CD

Created own website

Worked with all kinds of people, all ages, abilities and disabilities

Strong interest in oral history and personal stories – reminiscence training – edited 2 books of reminiscences

Motivated, driven, pro-active

Eclectic polymath – don’t fit into a box, exhausting trying to do so many things, wanting to find a way of combining my creative skills, maximise on my strengths through one project.

How it came about – piecing together a jigsaw

Lived in Black Country until moving to Kidderminster in 2006

Needed to connect with where I live

Catalyst – tour of the town by local historian and author Melvyn Thompson

August 2011 wrote first poem about the carpet industry

Went to see district council arts officer who made lots of suggestions of ways forward

Started visiting Museum Archive and talking to key people late 2011 – Museum of Carpet hadn’t opened yet.

Had clear idea what I wanted to do – write poems, monologues and songs from interviews, perform and publish

Applied for WCC grant but not successful

Got local funding to work at local day centre – wrote – shared individually & to group

Worcs Arts Partnership – voluntary body run by county council arts officer – sub group – voluntary member – told them about my project – they loved idea and ‘adopted’ it by allocating a small amount of funding for me to spend as I thought fit

District arts officer (on that sub group) offered me funding so did project at centre for people with dementia which match funded small amount per session

Shared work produced plus some from previous project

Contacted local district councillor and he gave me funding to work with people within walking distance of my house. Great pleasure sharing what I had written directly with these people – in a room at a nursing home, with a couple in their living room

Museum of Carpet had opened Oct 2012

Had kept them in touch with what I was doing

Wondering how to use Worcs Arts Partnership money – deadline approaching – suggested to Museum they have Writer in Residence. They knew the quality of my work and immediately said yes.

Contacted Jonathan Davidson – suggested I use WAP money as match funding for ACE application – include workshops

Museum said would like to work with teenagers and looked after children.

Put together project idea also including w/s for adults

Got funding. Agreed timetable with Museum Manager.

What I have achieved

Set up a blog and have posted new work every week since mid April. Having a deadline focuses the mind! NaPoWriMo 2011 good practice for this! Also posted work by guest poets and writing by others I’ve come into contact with

Set up Facebook Page and Twitter account both of which I’ve kept active

Started writing to local press and got coverage in local newspapers

Interviewed Museum volunteers who once worked in the industry, looking for the nugget in what they tell me which I can turn into a poem or song

Ran writing workshops for adults and young people.

Forged links with local youth centre, posting their work on blog which they printed off, laminated and displayed in youth centre.

Ran workshop including photography for looked after children – notoriously very difficult to get them to attend but filled 10 of 12 places – came from across Worcs. Produced Powerpoint calendar from their work (designed by one of young people).

Gave performances for local groups who contacted me when they saw project mentioned in local paper – Sight Concern & residential care home

Managed to get local film company to produce film of one of my songs for free – now on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nxl9kX3bgJk

Got more funding from district council to put on 2 performances of show about Kidderminster with local singer/songwriter. One performance site specific – amongst exhibits in Museum of Carpet.

My work part of installation at Kidderminster Arts Festival – audio files in a forest of carpet


Worked far more hours than covered by funding (as always)

Museum is fledgling self-funded organisation which has not had time to build up infrastructure. Staff very supportive but limited capacity so have had to be sensitive to their needs and be able to get on and do it!

This has worked because I’m fascinated by subject and have strong links with location

If I was worried about something I asked for advice from others

Continually asked for feedback from people to include in report to ACE and inform me of how it was going. But you can’t capture glowing faces!

All the time looking for ways of linking others back to my project and making them aware of it eg wrote poem after Civic Society tour, now on their website and another linked one; asked for information from people on an established Kidderminster Facebook group and got lots of responses which are now combined in one song ie I went to their group rather than waiting for them to come to my page.

Want to continue residency, put on more performances and work towards a publication. Looking for more funding for residency, have lots of material for publication so looking for publisher and have product to sell by way of performances. Pretty chuffed with how it’s gone!

Replacing heritage

I was delighted this week to receive a piece for my blog written by John Moyle who tells me he has recently started to write of his experiences of the carpet industry for his University of the Third Age [U3A] Creative Writers’ Group, and also for the benefit of his grandchildren. You will find his very interesting piece on the Your Stories page.  Many thanks, John.

On May 18th I was inspired to write a poem after a short tour organised by Kidderminster Civic Society. Here it is together with a few snapshots by way of illustration.

Replacing heritage


(Record of a Kidderminster Civic Society tour led by Nigel Gilbert)

From telling ivyed wall of dyer Watson,
rutted cobbles remembering wheels,
incongruous mountain bike, eyebrowed
by eighteenth century arches,
Church Street chopped,
the congregation stopped,

turned back to Arch Hill rise,
closed eyes the only way to see
the manor house demolished 1753,
the site of the town’s first Spool Axminster loom
and rows of weavers’ cottages
discarded far more recently, their memory lost

in retirement homes. But some remember
Bread Street and Milk Street, and others know
that Orchard Street was very briefly Fish Street,
that Paddock Street was once misnamed as Haddock Street!
That Rack Hill took its name from racks
of dyed and drying Kidderminster cloth.


And where did all the waste go? Into the Stour.
And where did all the heritage go? Carried away
in a frenzy of tidying, elbowing Baxter from Bull Ring,
bullying listed dwellings to rubble.

And now we grimace and glower
at the grubby “entirely self cleansing” tower
of 1960s strength, and cheer with revenge in our eyes
at the news of Crown House’s imminent demise.


© Heather Wastie
May 2013

For further information about writer and historian Nigel Gilbert see http://nigelgilbert.co.uk. My poem will appear on his website soon and also in the Kidderminster Civic Society Newsletter – see http://www.kidcivicsoc.org.uk for information.