Sunday, September 6, 2015

Black Country - Liz Berry

 Birmingham Roller.

“We spent our lives down in the blackness……those bird
brought us up to the light” – Jim Showell, Tumbling pigeons & the Black Country

Wench, yowm the colour of ower town:
concrete, steel, oily rainbow of the cut.

Ower streets am in yer wings,
ower factory chimdeys plumes on yer chest,

yer heart’s the china ower owd girls dust
in their tranklement cabinets.

Bred to dazzlin in backyards by men
whose onds  grew soft as feathers

just to touch you, cradle you from egg
through each jeth-defying tumble.

Little acrobats of the terraces,
We’m winged when we gaze at you

Jimmucking the breeze, somersaulting through
the white-breathed prayer of january

and rolling back up like a babby’s yo-yo
caught by the open donny of the clouds.

Tranklement/ ornaments (bits & Bobs): wench/affectionate name for a female: yowm/ you are: cut/ canal: onds/hands: jimmucking/ shaking: babby/ little child: donny/hand (child)

Black Country is an area of the West Midlands metropolitan county in England, north and west of Birmingham. It includes parts of the boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. During the Industrial Revolution, it became one of the most industrialised parts of Britain with coal mines, coking, iron foundries and steel mills producing a high level of air pollution. The region gained its name in the mid nineteenth century due to the smoke from the many thousands of ironworking foundries and forges plus also the working of the shallow and 30ft thick coal seams. Elihu Burritt, the American Consul to Birmingham in 1862, described the area 'Black by day and red by night'.


It mizzled the night you died
but you’d already gone
back to your owd mon’s garden
with your yellow frock on.
In the beds, goosegogs furred,
peas climbed cane wigwams,
your brothers shirt danced
on the line. And you, thirteen
again, sensing light above,
raised your hand to shade
your eyes from the sun.

Mizzled/ rained: owd mon/ dad

Liz Berry was born in this region & still lives there now (Birmingham), so it makes perfect sense for her debut collection of poetry to be set there as well, but what makes this collection stand out is the language used. Liz Berry has drawn on the dialect of the Black Country and by combining this with its history & her own has created an extraordinary collection of poetry rooted into the landscape and yet at that same instant somersaulting, turning as though a bird in flight. The words come off the page almost as if they were incantations as though by reciting the “owd words” you are not merely harking back to the past but raising it fully formed into the present, with the dialect forming a vital part of the poems not just as some form of  tranklement, (love that word) but a way of placing this region its landscape and people on the map. This is not just a wonderful personal debut collection of poetry it’s a paean to a world that is changing, to a landscape that was carved out for a specific purpose, that now no longer exists. Liz Berry’s Black country, is like the region - there’s a darkness born out of the landscape, but there is also a humour, a tenderness that reflects it’s people and is there as a defence against all that the darkness represents.


For years you kept your accent
in a box beneath the bed
the lock rusted shut by hours of elocution
how now brown cow
the teacher’s ruler across your legs.

We heard it escape sometimes,
A guttural uh on the phone to your sister,
saft or blart to a taxi driver
unpacking your bags from his boot.
I loved itsthick drawl, g’s that rang.

Clearing your house, the only thing
I wanted was that box, jemmied open
To let years of lost words spill out –
Bibble, fittle, tay, wum,
vowells ferrous as nails, consonants

you could lick the coal from.
I wanted to swallow them all: the pits
Railways, factories thunking and clanging
The night shift, the red brick
Back-to-back you were born in.

I wanted to forge your voice
In my mouth, a blacksmith’s furnace;
Shout it from the roofs,
Send your words, like pigeons,
fluttering for home.

Black Country (Chatto & Windus, 2014), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, received a Somerset Maugham Award and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2014, it was also chosen as a book of the year by The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Mail, The Big Issue and The Morning Star.

Liz Berry received an Eric Gregory Award in 2009, an Arvon-Jerwood Mentorship in 2011 and won the Poetry London competition in 2012. Her pamphlet The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls was published by Tall Lighthouse in 2010. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, been broadcast on BBC Radio and recorded for the Poetry Archive.

Points of View

“These are poems of great vitality and charm. Seasoned with the dialect of Liz Berry’s home territory, but with a linguistic and lyric freshness independent of that, they offer nourishment – right bostin fittle, in fact – to readers hungry for the real thing.” (Christopher Reid) 

“Ecstatic, quicksilver poems, ablaze with originality, curiosity and a passion for words.” (Ruth Padel)

"Liz Berry makes you look at the world differently. Her book is a real appreciation of a place that’s not often appreciated. She is a fresh, exciting and distinctive new voice. Her work is that rare thing, a collection that leaves you feeling full of real optimism and hope"(Jeremy Paxman, Forward Prize Judge)

"I have wondered why the wit, warmth and energy of the West Midlands had no voice amongst the younger English poets. Now it has. Liz Berry is the Black Country’s shining daughter."(Alison Brackenbury)

"Superb… a sooty, soaring hymn to her native West Midlands, scattered with words of dialect that light up the lines like lamps. Expect to hear a great deal more from her in years to come.(Sarah Crown, Guardian)"


Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for posting this.

Sometimes I find poetry like Birmingham Roller difficult due to the dialect.Thus I will need to spend a little bit of time with it to appreciate it. I find that such time spent is often worth it.

I really like Birmingham Roller. It makes me think about the very strong Brooklyn accent that some of my family members speak with and some might be trying to suppress in our own speech.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Brian, being an English chap from the southern counties (Kent ) I often have trouble with the dialect from other regions of this Isle. But I'm happy that they exist and that I have access to colloquialisms from these parts as I believe they enhance the language and stop it becoming a dead language. Also being used within poetry adds another element to the verse and possibly a political edge particularly when the region's past has been defined in a specific way that due to economics has been sidelined. But apart from that I just love the way certain words sound I mean "tranklement " just love that word.

Violet said...

I like 'Homing', but I really don't like reading things written in dialect. Recently, I wrote about Dunbar, the American poet, and his poems written in dialect just rotted my socks. People in his day loved them, but I didn't. Dialect raises all sorts of political issues such as class, socio-economic 'placement', stereotypes, etc., and those are important things, but I just don't like reading dialect. Trainspotting nearly broke my brain.

Maria Behar said...

These poems remind me somewhat of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" ('Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe...), but of course, the unusual words in these poems are part of an actual dialect. Nevertheless, this is the first thing that came to mind when I read these poems.

I've always wanted to visit England, especially the moors, as I'm a Bronte addict. Is the Black Country considered part of the moors? Forgive my ignorance, if you will, and please enlighten me.

I can almost hear the poet herself reading these words, hear the soft rolling of them off her tongue.

I especially love your comment that Berry has "...created an extraordinary collection of poetry rooted into the landscape and yet at that same instant somersaulting, turning as though a bird in flight." Beautiful.

Great review, Parrish!

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Violet, I personally enjoy Welsh's writing & use of dialect but can understand that it can be an obstacle to reading his books. As to Homing I love that poem it's why I got the bookout of the library.

Hi Maria yes I can see that with the way the words are formed. The Bronte's moors were West Yorkshire which is north from the black country which is in the Midlands. If you look online you can find her reading her poetry

@parridhlantern said...

Here are some recordings for those interested

Maria Behar said...

I will check ou thosr recordings! Listening to the music of language goes hand in hand with reading it.

Thanks for telling me ecactly where the moors are! : )

Maria Behar said...

Did the above on my phone. Sorry for the typos.....

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Maria, no problem. Enjoy