Round Oak

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Round Oak Steelworks

by Wendy Crickard


I went out to look at the stars

as a girl, head back circling,

mouth open drinking the ages.

The night-pool spilled silence.

Light, bright tip-fingered reached

A thousand, thousand , thousand years

for that moment,

for that girl,

that I was.


As a wisp, as a gauze, as smoke drawn

as a scarf round shoulders

veiling the deep and the known.

As the light,

as the flare,

as the furnace opened,

as the sky burned,  

as the night ceased.


I went out to look at the stars

as a woman, head back circling

mouth open tasting the clouds.

In the haze of a time

where light never sets,

where bob howlers don’t fly,

where bats don’t wheel,

between the trees

which are gone.


Editor’s Comments
Hauntings are about opposites, cycles, contradictions and in-betweens – they are, as Derrida so nicely put it, that which is both present and not present. In this haunting poem Wendy Crickard provides a vision of clashes, the industrial and the post-industrial,  rural and urban, of innocence and of experience. youth and maturity, earth and air. These clashes result in an unnerving, off-kilter investigation of one of the region’s most important landmarks and businesses, weaving into it the uncanny experience of returning to a place associated with childhood, as a grownup, and finding it altered, either by time or by perception.

Form and content are perfect dancing partners in this poem as Wendy wields her mighty weapon of lyricism in the piece too. The refrains and repetitions in terms of language, sound and image provide a beautiful and melancholic musicality to this poem as well as adding to the hauntological theme.


Wendy Crickard is a Stourbridge based poet who grew up in the Lye. She regularly performs her work in her hometown and in Dudley – recently winning The Caffe Grande Poetry Slam.





Kerry Hadley-Pryce

An extract from The Black Country, Published by Salt 2015


He says he walked past the bus station, through the subway and then up into the town he felt sure hadn’t fundamentally changed in hundreds of years. Yes, there were cars and single mothers with buggies and a shopping area with a fountain, but Harry talks about it like this – and we have to agree – he says if you stripped away all that ‘metropolitan glaze’, underneath was the grime of industry and a certain attitude of self-preservation and something like despair. That’s what he says. To him, it leached out from every paving slab, every bit of tatty flapping bunting, and wheedled its way into the flat vowels and creeping intonation. At once a dead and alive place. And all its glass-making, chain-making, chain-smoking inhabitants look basically the same to Harry on that day. All of them old before their time with perilous expressions, thinning hair and lardy, fleshy midriffs. These were Harry’s thoughts as he walked through his home town that Saturday, past the bargain clearance shop, the building society, the tiny jeweller’s; past the pub with the almost inevitable all male clientele spilling out onto the narrow pavement, holding pint glasses of cloudy flat beer, and talking in surprisingly high-pitched voices with thin own-rolled cigarettes glued to their lips; past the ugly dog-walking, pot-bellied women with headscarves and no teeth; past the youth of the town, mental kids with asymmetrical eyes and crew cuts and nits; past the girls, crowds of them – what is the collective noun for this type? Posse? – posses of girls with dyed hair, too much mascara, and piercing clearly visible in parts of their bodies not meant for public display, whose command of English would only ever remain as enclosed, as limited as the area would allow. Harry admits he slowed to look at them. And one of them, a girl who looked about fourteen going on forty, seemed to spring out from the crowd, stopping Harry in his tracks. This part, according to Harry, is important because as a reflex, he held up his arms, palms outwards, and skipped back. The girl, having been shoved by a heftier friend, first giggled, then feigning sudden disgust at the thought of being thrust into the open arms of a complete stranger (and more particularly, probably a stranger who look like Harry) said, ‘Ewwww,’ and squirmed away, to the light of her pals. According to Harry, as he walked on shaking his head, he heard the girl shout ‘Perv!’ or something like it. And right at that moment, just as Harry was receiving the full brunt of adolescent rebuke, Maddie appeared. Actually she emerged from one of the many charity shops, but to Harry she just seem to appear in front of him, like an angel.


Editor’s Comments

Kerry Hadley-Pryce has a talent for putting her readers on edge … on edge of what we cannot be sure of, but it has edges – the kinds one falls off. In this extract we’re placed in a very recognisable, modern setting – the local high street. Nothing, at first glance, seems out of place.  But, as we start to uncover the “metropolitan glaze” we see this part dead – part alive place, populated by half-beings with “perilous expressions”. This sense of dread and of feeling on edge is a trademark of this great local author. She expertly manifests this in the settings she uses – locations that are, on one hand, safe, everyday and knowable, and on the other, forged with some secret bubbling underneath. This unease is felt best when we consider Kerry’s narrative style – what this editor (Rob) calls the Hadley-Pryce Hear Say Style. As readers, we’re let in on the secret, but kept at bay too. We’ve been pre-warned of the conspiracy but need to earn our stripes as we pass through the pages.

Kerry Hadley-Pryce is a Black Country wench who studied for her MA at Manchester Writing School MMU, where she won the Michael Schmidt Prize. She’s currently researching her PhD at the University of Wolverhampton. Her novel, The Black Country, received enormous amounts of well deserved praise – leaving the literary world biting its nails for her next. Salt Publishing have recently confirmed her forthcoming novel, Gamble, will be hitting bookshelves in 2018.


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Molineux 1988

Michael Jarvie

For the overworked programme seller who pocketed my fifty pence piece, and the turnstile operator hunched inside his stall like a jockey without a mount, my North East accent immediately gave the game away and cast me as the Other. It was ever thus for the away fan. You inevitably felt like an interloper, condemned to creep in through the equivalent of the tradesman’s entrance.

But this journey from New Street to Wolverhampton wasn’t simply a physical one of a body in motion through time and space, it was also one embracing the phonetic and semantic structures of language itself – from Brummagem to Black Country in less than twenty minutes.

My own hesitant pronunciation veered from ‘Molly knew’ to ‘Molly know’ like a photon not sure whether it was meant to be a particle or a wave. The old girl, though, was in bad shape, however you pronounced her name. Two of her stands were no longer in use, and the rusting hulk seemed an apt symbol for the present state of this once great industrial heartland which had been given a good kicking of late by the untrammelled forces of the free market.

Despite the pervading sense of drabness and decay, the game was anything but dull. Swathed in the familiar old gold and black, like an angry wasp on Benzedrine, and with his hair almost cropped to the wood, that working-class scrapper from the Moat Farm Estate – Steve Bull – was at his brutal, bruising, belligerent best. Finesse was never his forte, but rather  raw, unstoppable power.

After the Wolves ran out 5-3 winners, with Bully adding yet another hat-trick to his tally for the season, I stayed behind and listened to the full time results over the tannoy. Perched on the terrace in front of me were two frail old men, leaning on their walking sticks, as if they were a couple of crane flies with missing limbs. Had I been so inclined, I might have seen them as symbolic as well.

Editor’s Comments

With one Walsall fan and one Lye Town fan on the editorial board of this blog, there was a lot of teeth sucking at this marvellous piece from Michael Jarvie. What we both agreed on is that a) Stevie Bull was absolute dynamite, and b) Jarvie’s writing is too. In this piece Jarvie waves the flag for the cultural importance of local football teams and local heroes, especially in times when their towns (Wolves, still a town then) got a bit of a kicking from economic policies in place at the time. Steve Bull’s pitch presence, despite the down at heel surroundings, links perfectly with the traditional working-class attitude of Black Country communities, despite their sometimes down and heel surroundings. Is it any wonder football is so often eulogised in poetic terms? What he also manages expertly is expressing the beautiful, playfulness of the region’s dialect, and the important, albeit slight, differences between us and Brum. I’ve (Rob) said this before about Jarvie, but it’s worth repeating, he’s a writer’s writer.

Michael Jarvie is the author of a collection of short stories, The Prison, and a recently published novel, Black Art. Find out more here –

Aldi, M5, Junction 2


You’ll Never Know – Wayne Dean Richards
The old man’s rage is inconspicuous behind glasses thick as the bottom of a bottle: no money for the Asda across the road much less thinned lenses.
First one of the younger guys says it, then the other, like an echo, “Fuckin’ old cunt!”
The younger guys decide the smile the old man returns is a taunt and they’re right to, behind them the sound of the M5 a relentless whine or a cry for help, it’s hard to say which.
As usual the old man’s parked some way from the entrance to Aldi: where empty wrappers congeal, weeds sprout through cracks in tarmac and stray dogs stop to shit.
“What’re you smiling at?” one of the younger guys says, spittle gathered at the corners of his mouth.
“You’ll never know,” the old man says, striding towards them with years’ worth of ready in hand.


We were proud to kick-off our Writing the Black Country blog with a flash from the respected local writer, Wayne Dean Richards, and we are delighted to share some more of his work here. Wayne tells us that this flash was inspired by a very specific Black Country location, “the Aldi near Junction 2, where I do indeed part with some of my readies.” He goes on to claim that “any resemblance between me and the old c**t is purely coincidental,” although most folks would agree that overexposure to Aldi is likely to send anyone of the edge. This is familiar creative territory for Wayne, addressing repressed resentment at the paucity of life, and the consequences of that repression.

Quarry Bank

An extract from Bella

R. M. Francis


I remember drivin’ up from The Delph towards Cradley, an’ we were stopped at the lights at the top ‘a Quarry Bank. Tony was with me an’ ‘e’d pointed it out. Iss a crossroads ‘ere an’ iss all concrete, brick, tarmac. Iss grey, cold an’ stoney. Back in the day they’d mek nails an’ chain if ya went down one road, an’ they’d mek glass if you turned around. Most ‘a that ‘ad died out so it was just a shadow of a place. A place you used to get somewhere else. A dried industrial space that day mean nothin’ else. The lights at Quarry Bank am four-way with three lanes at each openin’, iss busy wi’ people headin’ to the shops, to work, iss always busy an’ ya never gerr’across, you’ve always gorra wait. It ay nothin’ ‘cept a border between a couple a places that ay proper towns any road. Tony was wi’ me an’ ‘e sid it.

See, ‘round ‘ere weem always lookin’ back. Weem built from what come before us. Chains, steel, nails. Soot an’ smoke in the skies. Most of iss gone now. We’ve still got red bricks an’ concrete, corrugated metal an’ all that. But we ay got forges. We ay got mystic blacksmiths. We’ve got almost barren high streets. We’ve got slick, glass, brass an’ plastic we’ve built over the works with – stockin’ rows of dead ‘eaded credit controllers, PPI reps, retail consultants. We’ve got Merry Hill – an indoor town that spreads out in sanitised pound-zones. Then there’s what’s left. Little dry suburbs that sink between ‘ills, where dead factories am wrapped in weeds, an’ big ‘ousin’ estates, all wet an’ grey, an’ all punctured in electric light – them no go zones unless you’m from theya – each zone ‘as iss own ‘alf deserted Labour club, iss own brand a’ menacin’ teen, iss own birr’a cut or brook or strange patch a’ green land that mopes between a terrace row an’ the mechanic’s.     

Tony was wi’ me an’ ‘e sid it.

Pokin’ out through a crack in the curb was a thin, green vine, an’ on the vine were tiny green tomatoes. Tony said it was like Detroit, ‘ow it was the biggest industrial hub in the US,  ‘ow nature ‘ad started to claim back the city now it’d run iss course. There was summat frightnin’ about that, it come out ‘a the ground, thass what them meant to do, but it was meant to be ground controlled by us, not weeds. I wondered what else was lurkin’ under our industry, waitin’ to come back. It med me think of Saltwells an’ where wid play when we was kids.



R. M. Francis is co-editor of Writing the Black Country. Currently researching his PhD at the University of Wolverhampton, he’s the author of two chapbooks of poetry – Transitions (The Black Light engine Room, 2015) and Orpheus (Lapwing Publications, 2016). His first full length collection, Subsidence, is due out with Smokestack Books in the near future.


Fatherless Barn


Fatherless Barn

Stephen Clarke


It could have only been reckless inspiration

that pushed me onto the red bus to Fatherless Barn,

my little pocket note book fizzing with ideas.


I’d bought shelf brackets and NoNails glue

from Dave’s DIY shop in the high street

and as I stepped out the bus pulled up, and I was on.


I sat at the front on the top deck, like a kid again

going solo for the first time, half expecting to see

uncle Dennis sitting on a low wall in old fashioned clothes


waiting for me, three stops up the road: his cigarette

bewildered in his fingers, his eyes lost in grown-up thought,

back from the dead in sunny black and white.




Editor’s Comments

This unusual and ghostly poem from Stephen Clarke deals with a little known place in the region, Fatherless Barn – or, as it was once known, Father Leys Barn. The voice of the poem takes us on an impulsive bus trip to this place, which is not just an area, but also the name of an estate and a church – somewhere in the borderlands between Halesowen and Colley Gate. Once on board the reader is transported to a state of mind where the ghosts of father-like figures (uncle Dennis) return, where the whimsical and hasty attitudes of childhood spring forth, where nostalgia mixes with the now. This is an imagined memory, from a fabricated journey to a place that we may only be able to see in dreams – but no less beautiful and no less rich in this fine poet’s vision.

Netherton born Stephen Clarke is one of the region’s most widely respected poets. As well as having a successful career as a performer and teacher of poetry, his work has been published both nationally and internationally, including Faber and Faber, Offa’s Press and The North.



Spring 2017

Niall Griffiths


in the Wolverhampton underpass

the footfalls echoed

the walls were tagged and swirled and said BAGGIES TWATS

a busker played Oasis on a guitar

I gave him 20p


how lucky I was to find you

heartbreak’s returning with the sun

exist in the moments like the daisies and spiders

because one of us cradling the other’s head

amongst tubes and bleeping machines

will soon come


those birds on their way again

past gun and hawk and squall and scorch

to throwing-star the sky


I was so lucky to find you

I sat in a pub all the long afternoon

drank myself sodden

soot and steel, strange shapes outside

in the city behind the glass


in the garden the spider hangs

green and gorgeous jewel

there is a cat tigering the lawn

and the dew still glimmers


there will be agony gargantuan

a sadness swallowing everything

how lucky I was to find you

how very lucky I was to find you


Editor’s Comments
Niall Griffiths is a Liverpool born, novelist and poet of Welsh and Irish ancestry. Author of nine novels, Griffiths’ work explores the marginal, the disaffected and those losing control. There is, however, always an element of hope, beauty and humour, always a fusion of the untamed and the restrained. This mix gives Griffiths’ work a wild, lush quality that marks him out as one of contemporary literature’s most important talents.
Similar themes can be found in this Wolverhampton based poem. This blurry vision of the city is one glimpsed at through beer soaked eyes from ‘behind the glass’ of the pub window. We move through sadness and alienation into hope and love. The reader is taken through the underpass, passed graffiti and a busker – contemplating the ‘soot and steel’ of the cityscape. But, all the time, recognising the ‘gorgeous jewel’ of the natural springing forth. This poem, in various ways, is a salute to Wolverhampton’s motto – Out of Darkness Cometh Light …. or perhaps the reverse.