By Heather Wastie
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.
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