Longbridge

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Disclaimer: Longbridge is not in the Black Country, the editors know this. We’ve selected this piece because of its inventiveness, quality and because it deals with a site important to the region’s industry and culture.

 

Thursday, 7th April 2005

By Katy Wareham Morris

After World War One and Two, the depression, the strikes, the foreign market boom, the Mini, the Metro, the Austin Allegro, the mergers, the take-overs, the share drops. All the faces, the bodies, the tools gone: the darkest day

Gloom spread its plumage beyond Longbridge borders, the world fell in its nest. 5 years, 14 years, 25 years, 36 years and 2 minutes in the dole office feeling 2 inches tall. Just bear with it, good will come in the shape of Sainsbury’s and the eternal night shift that no one wants, stacking stinking pet food and pop.

Like a slow motion crash that kept on crashing even after the kids’ day out to see Blair, and Pricewaterhousecoopers with their paperwork and no remit and the 3pm locking of the gates. When feathers glued together with a tenner started rustling about pensions, wings folded and everyone hoped the life-saving deal might still go ahead.

Regardless of niceties, ITV Central News told us it was over and Rohit Kachroo said the facts were plain: 100 year history, no party. Hewitt MP was teary, palpable appalling anxiety of the forthcoming election probably. Huddled under the magnificent bird, shielded from freezing winds and flurries of snow, it sung about good business logic and let’s not set hopes flying but there’d be a fight. The scraps kept us singing.

Powell was approached by a certain number of people, a bid from a private consortium, and he’d be delighted to hear from more. Any company would be glad to have a workforce such as that. Suffocated whilst waiting for the golden egg, the phoenix wouldn’t rise again. £10 million here, £40 million there, task forces, hotlines, training, regeneration zones, CV creators, support packages. Rover sneezed and was gone.

 

Editor’s Comments

As this unusual and evocative poem reminds, the good and bad of this site spread its plumage beyond Longbridge borders. Indeed, this plant was a crucial part of Black Country employment, running for 100 years before its demise, resulting in many Black Country communities being without work, struggling with similar changes and challenges as the steelworkers of Wednesbury and Brierley Hill; from decades of valued labour to the eternal nightshifts that no one wants, stacking stinking pet food and pop.

This prose-poem beautifully weaves the familial and domestic with the socio-political, working almost as a tapestry of the plant’s closure. On the surface, it’s a list of images, facts, figures, important people, car models and media outlets. Wareham Morris delicately places these parts together, one feeds the other, like component parts of the car’s engine – remove the poem’s coil and you remove it’s spark. This mix of image and tone of voice fuse and build, redolent of the expert engineering as well as the seismic waves of this kind of employment / industrial crisis. It is more than the sum of its parts, creating the image of the slow motion crash that kept on crashing. 

 

Katy Wareham Morris is a writer and lecturer in media and culture. She is particularly interested in identity politics and digital humanities. Her debut pamphlet, Inheritance was a poetry duet with Ruth Stacey, and was published by Mother’s Milk Press in 2017. This collection recently won Best Collaborative Work at the 2018 Saboteur Awards. Her first full collection of poems, Cutting the Green Ribbon is with Hesterglock Press and was published in May 2018. Her poems have also featured in webzines including I am not a silent poet and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She lives in Stourbridge, West Midlands with her family. Her website can be found at katywarehammorris.com , or on Twitter @katy_wm

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The Lye

lye

Careless Green

By Roz Goddard

 

sang the song of nails and chain

and the iron forge smashed on its

iron plate, and men – soft machines

themselves – stood hip-wise

to the street and called to passing

girls; and the cut snaked grey

under the bridge and secrets stayed

in the bricks of tunnels, stolen kisses

and fumbles out of the mid-day heat.

 

And mothers hung the wash over

raggedy gardens and there was the

strangeness of your neighbour’s house,

gobs of liver in enamel bowls,

peculiar sideboards and silent fathers by

firesides, dreaming; rose petals that

came to nothing, glass umbrellas

and collared doves who circled, came back,

then took off forever,

as only some of us did.

 

Editor’s Comments

This poem is taken from Roz Goddard’s superb pamphlet, Spill (Flarestack Poets). In it, the narrator takes us through a quintessentially Black Country setting with its forges, close-knit neighbours and canal bridges. What Goddard does brilliantly is mix the odd and the off-kilter with the everyday, domestic and familiar. The men are traditional; hard-workers, gardeners, silent, but also daydreaming sentimentalists – they’re soft machines themselves. This off-kilter or threshold space is where secrets get caught and stored, where formative romantic moments occur, where only few take off and never return. Goddard’s trump card is her idiosyncratic details, like a series of snapshots, each building part of a series of unknown and potentially unending tales. There is something unending about this poem – we’re looking forward and looking back. The images float, like her collared doves, between nostalgia and the future, between domestic and wild, between beauty and strangeness.

Darlaston

Hemmed

By Harry Gallagher

 

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Hemmed in, she and Valparaiso
were never on speaking terms.
In a world smaller than her eyes, so
isolated in her yearning

for more than table setting
and a part time typing job. He
smiles once weekly when she lets him
cackhand his way round her body.

Children gone to the factory,
husband gone to the dogs.
Dreams gone the way of flesh, she
burned them with the fireside logs.

Amid these pottering blackstreets,
in clipclop tracks she found her trap.
Wrapped up tight in shipcanal sheets,
held her breath and never came back.

 

Editor’s Comments

Harry Gallagher is a poet from the North East of England. Much of his work is inspired by his experiences of industrial life and post-industrial upheaval. He’s spent a lot of time in the Black Country and this poem came about during a span working in Darlaston. In a recent chat with Harry, he told me: “I quite liked the town but there was just a feeling I had that if you were stuck amid heavy industry and you felt out of place, then it was a very long way to the sea. As if the canal was a clue to a whole other world that, back in the 1800s/early 1900s, would remain forever out of your reach”. Hemmed tells the story of heartbreak, isolation and disillusionment –  from a personal and domestic sphere as well as the wider social one. His images are simple and direct, like L S Lowry’s snapshots of everyday life. The message, however, is brutal, gut-wrenching and tough to swallow – you’ll find this trope in much of Gallagher’s work, he’s a poet who’ll gi’ yo’ a proper cogwinder wi’ ‘is lines!

You can find out more about Harry Gallagher’s poetry here.

Broad Street Canal Bridge, Wolverhampton

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Histrionic water

By Heather Wastie

 

In Wolverhampton,

fish take me by surprise.

 

Looking down from Broad Street Bridge,

then from the towpath edge

 

I need an explanation

for such unexpected clarity,

 

a long exposure of minnows,

lush reeds and sulky sediment.

 

It’s ironic, says the cut water,

I have been cleansed

 

by a vandal-induced stoppage.

Tearfully the water speaks:

 

It was you who saved me

from oil slick, effluent, blackened

 

polystyrene icebergs, mattress tangled

shopping trolleys, half inched bikes,

 

malicious metal spikes,

contents of living rooms tipped.

 

I was soap sud soup with beer bottle croutons,

peppered with cans and the odd chunk of meat.

 

You saved me from scum,

from smothering polythene,

 

wire running red, the callous garrottes

of those who would see me dead.

 

I fear the onset of duck weed.

You saved me to be stirred.

 

 

Editor’s Comments

For many, the Black Country is associated with plagues of smoke, industry and industrial decay, conurbations of urbanised space. In this song of ecology, Heather Wastie reminds us of the greener side to the region. In this, the canal thanks its guardians for their conservation efforts, saving it from the soap sud soup and beer bottle croutons. In this thanks, we’re also subject to the wrongs we’ve done and continue to do – the heritage of our ecological ignorance. The reader steps down from the hustle of the city and is surprised by the clarity and lush of the picturesque, sitting right in the heart of Wolverhampton. It’s no mistake that the main voice of the poem is nature itself, the canal itself – Wastie uses the Romantic traditions of giving sublime authority to the spirit of nature. The narrator of the poem, much like the reader and those who stumble over these patches of rural beauty, is overcome by the vision. As the final line concludes, you saved me to be stirred. 

Heather Wastie has strong links with the history of canals. In summer 2016 she began touring a double bill of theatre, poetry and song, Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways, with writer and actor Kate Saffin (Alarum Theatre). In 2017 the company was awarded Arts Council funding to support a 15 week 50 show tour between April and August. The show will continue touring in 2018. She has recently completed a poetry commission for The Ring project / Canal & River Trust in Worcestershire, telling the story of the restoration of the Droitwich Canals.

Find out more about Heather here

Wren’s Nest

Nan Sunday

by Lee Armstrong

wrenner

We never minded the
misnomer, to us the name was always
Sunday; Nan Sunday, licensed to make tea.
But it was Saturday afternoons we strained
uphill in one of Dad’s asthmatic bangers –
starts first time, just needs the right amount of
choke – a cargo of fish and chips and a
doorstop loaf from Singh’s.

Wheezing our way to the
top o’ the Wrenna, the streets receded
into quarry; a limestone bald-spot in a
comb-over of council-houses.
‘Wren’s Nest’ was reserved for foreigners;
the fossil hunters and nature walkers who
performed strange rituals on
rocky outcrops.

By the time we stopped,
She’d be stood in the
doorway; head bobbing above the
parapet of green privet. Moon-faced, cheeks
a watercolour pink. Guardian at the
last bastion of carbolic soap and the
beef dripping piecey; keeper
of the crocheted doily.

We watched the wrestling
while the grown-ups stitched tales of
people we barely knew; like characters
in some half-forgotten book. Every
sentence a Black Country sol-fa:
dow, bay, cor, yow, goo, day, gi.
Language bent out of shape; hammered by
tongues on time-old anvils.

Whistled by the kettle,
she’d disappear into the kitchen,
where a sink-full of whites soaked for
eternity, and a mangle dreamed of museums.
Then return with a fistful of china,
fingers like thick sausages, forearms
crying out for a tattoed anchor.
A teapot carrying a teapot.

We got the call on a Sunday night,
As if she had a point to prove.
A thousand shibboleths laid to rest.
Consigned to memory. Compressed in rock.
But I go there often these days, that sudden
yearning for grey paes, or trilobite
words that escape from the cairke-hole,
like crumbs of DNA.

 

This evocative poem is the work of Lee Armstrong, a Dudley based writer, currently studying at Newman University in English and Creative Writing. We at WtBC, are thrilled to be one of the first to present his work to the world.

Much like the famous fossils on the Wrenna, Armstrong gives us a glimpse of time stood still – of history both personal and social. He takes us all to Sunday Tea at Nan’s, a nostalgic and cosy realm of homecooked foods, of wenches who are as tough as they are loving. In doing this, Armstrong avoids Betjeman-esque tweeness and oversentimtality, instead allowing the images, and their contradictory companion images to do the ‘spaykin’. There is real joy in his playfulness of language too – the ‘asthmatic banger’ that just needs the ‘right amount of choke’, the ‘crotcheted doily’ that sits amongst ‘stitched tales’. What is most beautiful and exciting about this piece is the fusion made between the vernacular, heritage, landscape and memory. The space shared between ‘grey paes’, ‘cairke-hole’ ‘trilobites’ and ‘time-old anvils’ acts as a poetic discussion of an almost undefinable, invisible Black Countryness – one we natives know very well, but struggle to set down. Armstrong sets it down – it’s part-mythic, part-historical, part-freeflowing, part-fossilised. Keep your eyes peeled for more from this incredible talent, his future in literature looks very bright.

The Cut

A tour through the towpaths with Liz Berry

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Come wi’ me, bab, wum to Tipton-on-Cut, starts Liz Berry’s poem – a call, from a knowing voice, to investigate one of the most significant sites of the region. The cut, it’s everywhere and nowhere – perfect territory for Berry, who leads us, through her poems, into these haunting sites and to experiences of transformation or epiphany – often preceded by passing through something mucky, animalistic, feral.

In the main, the cut is probably seen as a place of leisure and pleasure – dog walking, fishing, boat trips, family bike rides, but it shares this sense of wholesome enjoyment and domesticity with its sense of history and heritage.  We get this in Berry’s “Tipton-on-Cut” where Telford’s fabled waterways with their mix of old pubs, the church, parklands also hold the crumbling altar of BDF Steelworks. It’s evident in “Goodnight Irene”; over the canal bridge, the Baptist Chapel / still brave on the cut […] past the marlpit, the warehouses, / the Indian shop, the streets left to squatters, their pebble-dashed terraces emptied by time.  

Another clash is between the wild, untamed, natural with the constructed, manufactured, manmade. The canal networks were forged with drills, digging, labour and engineering, but what was also created was habitat, eco-systems and, curiously, those odd places where the wild and the natural tangle with the industrial. When we think of the landmarks of the canals we think of grasses, water birds, wild flowers, but also old glassworks, ruined steelworks, industrial estates, locks and gatehouses. We think of housing estates and parks, but also woodlands, and also railway tracks and motorway junctions. Canals are places of graffiti and litter and places of conservation and natural beauty. Liz Berry’s poetry works with these clashes too. In her poem, “Gosty Hill” the space is shared between the natural – Iris, Rose of Sharon and Vixen, Mole, Adder – and the manufactured – Ocker Hill, Engine Arm, Withymoor Pit. Berry fuses the organic and manmade too, in “Black Delph Bride” the cut becomes a being: Black Delph, Black Delph, my girl she floats,  / her bridgesmaids: eels and voles and stoats.

So, we get the clash and often fusion of green space and grey space, rural and urban, manmade and natural, tame and wild, safe and unsafe, passive and active. In Berry’s hands, the cut is a strange thing, constantly shedding its skin, constantly building, demolishing and rebuilding.  She writes of the unnamable, slippery, in-between, spaces for transformation. Take the old tribal cliche of a young child being sent out from the village into the wild to prove their self, to earn their place, to become adult. They leave the tribe and complete a task, returning as adult. But, in that moment they are between states, no longer child, not quite adult. The subject needs that odd, off-kilter time-space to transcend their role. This is the very roots of narrative – transformation, transition, revolution. They are places away from the safe, structured world and its systems and rules. They hold the possibility of subversive, transgressive, rebellious activity.

This is why we see so much transformation and rites of passage in Berry’s poems. It’s no accident that “Gosty Hill”, with its mix of green and grey, is the site where I baptised mah wench as well as where I’ll be waitin at Delph Run with brick in me ond. The same can be said of “Tipton-on-Cut” where, after being led passed the drinkers, the workers, the sites and sounds we end in bacchanalian reverie as we lie on ower baltied bellies on the towpath / to sup the moon, like the head of a pint, / from ower cut.

The cut can be seen, especially in Berry’s visions, as arenas of shape-shifting, coming into being, of transformation and the carnivalesque.

Dudley

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Two Extracts from two Anthony Cartwright Novels

 

We thought we’d do something a little different with this blog post and give our readers the opening sections of Cartwright’s first novel and his most recent novella. What we get here is literary time travel – one author, 13 years apart.

 

Extract from Afterglow, Tindal Street Press, 2004

The bag of flesh and blood was slippery in his gloved hands. Luke took the long plastic sack and held it aloft with his left hand and plunged the knife into it with his right. Half a pig – half frozen, ice crystals glistening in its pink marrow – tumbled onto the bench and splattered his overalls with blood and preservative. He took the side of meat at either end and turned it again and lifted it to the machine. It was like wrestling a giant bar of soap. He got the thing into position and plunged the blades down into the meat. There was a grinding sound and the familiar low thud of the cut flesh dropping out onto the conveyor belt. Down the line a dozen pairs of hands picked up the pork chops and arranged them in plastic cartons before placing them back on the belt. After he’d checked everything was clear of the machine he released the handles and stepped back to begin again.

 

Extract from The Cut, Peirene Now! No.2 Peirene Press 2017

 

The young woman runs burning along the side of the marketplace down, the High Street, away from the fountain. Away from the Fountain and the cool, litter-strewn water. She is tall, long-legged. Her hair is ablaze and flames spit from the unravelling scarf towards the motley crowd of people who give chase. Someone is screaming, but it is not the woman. She breathes fire. There is the slap of cheap sandals on the pavement behind her.

‘Stop her,’ someone shouts. ‘Just fucking stop her’.

A man runs at the edge of the crowd, a camera on his shoulder, filming, does not stop the running woman. The procession ripples across shop windows and puddles from the earlier rain.

Then she falls, arms and legs and flames, and the men and women and kids crowd around her, with their heads bowed, their arms across their faces against the smell of burning hair, burning flesh. The scarf melts into the young woman’s face. The people roll her on the ground, with some sense of what to do. What to do if a woman comes running through the market on a Friday afternoon in the middle of England with her head on fire.

 

Editor’s Comments

Anthony Cartwright uses the rich and deep-rooted social structures and culture of working class Dudley to explore wider political issues and social concerns. His fictional adaptations of Dudley and its inhabitants become the microcosm for questions of class, race, alienation. He explores these issues by depicting cultures and characters that are in transition, in flux, that are borderless. The action in his novels trace lives and cultures that need to re-establish their sense of place, class and history. In this exploration, Cartwright delivers storyworlds full of uncanny and abject experiences, specifically in the way he treats descriptions of Dudley and in the challenges facing its inhabitants. Place in his work is much more than a backdrop to the action, it is almost a being itself that imbues those that inhabit it with its energies. Characters find themselves in a post-industrial landscape, where the hallmarks of the past are both a pleasant reminder and a constant source of bitterness at its loss – an inseparable bond with the characters, a bond that is full of longing and full of threat, something that is repulsive and attractive in equal measure, and most of all, something that is constant but cannot be grasped at. What Cartwright conveys in his work is the region in its post-industrial state. A state where communities struggle with the breakdown of their way of life. This is what the reader faces – the unpicking of the fabric of safe, communal life and from that, the inevitable release of the repressed.