Tongue and Talk – Pit poetry and Notts dialect…

Tongue and Talk is a three part series exploring dialect poets. It’s broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and produced by Made in Manchester. Episode 2 features an area that’s neither north nor south: Nottingham. 

When I was putting together Dawn of the Unread we were faced with an impossible task: Who do you include? We had a budget for 10 chapters and I managed to extend this to 16. But there’s 100s of authors from Nottingham who never featured. Many of these can now be found in the recent Five Leaves publication Nottinghamshire Writers, though there are many absences too. It’s an impossible task.

However, future projects currently underway are enabling me to address those that slipped through the net, particularly miners. Having grown up in a mining village I’ve witnessed the brass bands marching through the streets twirling batons and holding aloft tribal banners. I’ve heard the sounds of pit life, such as men quenching pay day thirst after a stint down below, looking like a collection of burly Goths with their eyeliner; playfully harassing each other with a quick-fired wit that comes from risking your life every day. But one thing I wouldn’t automatically associate miners with is poetry. This is based on the fact that I was hassled for reading where I grew up. It signified that I thought I was summat. Having said that, it was the eighties: Unemployment, Falklands, AIDS, Russia v America, and, of course, the Miners’ Strike. It didn’t take much to get people rattled.

Over the past six months I’ve discovered there were lots of pit poets within the East Midlands thanks to research by Natalie Braber and David Amos. Poetry served many functions, not least helping pass time as a cage lowered you five miles down into the bowels of the earth. Poetry was a way of making sense of the danger, the regulations, and the slow erosion of an industry that can be traced back to medieval times. It was also a way to reconnect with the world. More recently, poetry is helping to rebuild a sense of community, bringing miners together to share their experiences.

Al Rate and Bill Kerry

Al Rate (left) and Bill Kerry III

David and Natalie have hosted numerous public engagement events such as Songs and Rhymes from the Mines, whereby musicians such as Bill Kerry III are taking the thick dialect of pit poets such as Heanor’s Owen Watson and translating them into folk songs so that they reach new audiences. Al Rate (Aka Misk Hills) has penned new songs inspired by specific pit words, such as ‘powder monkey’ and ‘elephant’s tab’.

To celebrate this and other forms of dialect, I’ve recorded an episode for a BBC Radio 4 series called Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets. It’s produced by Made in Manchester. The series kicks off on 13 May when Catherine Harvey returns to her roots in the North West of England to see if the dialect poetry of the cotton mills of the 19th century is alive today. In episode two (20 May), I’ll be discussing the local accent and then exploring ‘pit talk’ with ex miners, musicians and a new generation of poets inspired by life underground. The final episode in the series sees Kirsty McKay return to her Northumberland roots to witness the erosion of dialect and culture by the encroachment of urbanisation and influx of people moving into the area.

mard-arse

Nottingham’s favourite mard arse DH Lawrence features in episode 7 of Dawn of the Unread.

Episode 2 of Tongue and Talk also features Al Needham (who wrote our Bendigo issue) and Andrew Graves (who wrote our 5th Duke of Portland issue). We also visit DH Lawrence’s former home ‘Breach House’ and discuss his dialect poem The Collier’s Wife (featured in issue 7) I also interviewed Norma Gregory, a historian and writer whose research focuses on forgotten (ignored) black histories. She featured briefly in the final issue of Dawn of the Unread when we told the story of George Africanus and George Powe. Recently she’s undergone a mammoth project called Digging Deeper whereby she’s recording the experiences of African Caribbean miners. But the interview wasn’t used in the end as the emphasis of the programme is dialect.

However, I am pleased to announce that Norma is one of the commissioned writers for Dawn of the Unread II: Whatever People Say I Am. This interactive graphic novel serial explores myths surrounding identity and so Norma will be able to tell the story of one of the many miners she has interviewed recently. I’ve been working on scripts for this for the past year or so. It’s coming soon, I promise.

DOTU Round logoDawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.

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#MondayBlogs: NEW The 5th Duke of Portland

At long last we can finally share our new version of issue 8: Duke and Disorderly which tells the story of a posh duke with a very long name: William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (17 September 1800 – 6 December 1879). I wanted this story changed for two reasons: Firstly, the original narrative was over crammed with information which made it difficult for our target audience to follow. This is my fault because I wanted certain things including (the parallel lives of Sarah Winchester and the Duke represented by their respective building projects and influential father figures; the Archduke Ferdinand shooting incident).

sarah

Secondly, the focus was too much on the two young characters in the story and not enough about the Duke of Portland. When you’re producing a monthly digital comic you get caught up in the flow of deadlines and it’s only as a project develops and more content comes in that you realise exactly what it is you want to achieve. I wanted the stories to have more literary facts, such as David Belbin and Ella Joyce’s Shelves (Stanley Middleton) and Kevin Jackson and Hunt Emerson’s D.H Lawrence Zombie Hunter. The below panels are examples of how we added text and images to build up a more comprehensive biography of the Duke.

duke stuff

Bottom left panel: We were able to add additional biographical facts about the roller skate rink, ballroom and observatory by linking to the books. The drawing on the right is new too.

duke with text

Originally this panel had no text. Now it gives info about the Duke as well as explaining why Ben (the character being run over) is on the Duke’s land.

There were too many characters in the original story and so the first thing we had to do was sharpen the reader’s focus. We did this on page 8 by removing the two characters in the top left panel and introducing Suzy and her new meathead boyfriend. This meant they appeared throughout the page and became more significant to the narrative. The additional text helped us introduce bullying to the story.

dinner time montage

 

We introduced a new character towards the end, a young black girl who Ben hooks up with. She is the opposite of Suzy and likes reading, which fit better with the overriding theme of Dawn of the Unread. Again, this meant erasing peripheral characters so that the reader could focus on key characters.

Point 1: Is the original page and has no text and too many characters.

Point 2: Originally had a random girl taking a photo. This was changed to the black girl taking the photograph (3) as it enabled us to introduce her into the bottom panels.

Blk girl montage

We had to redraw the last two panels to sharpen up the narrative. In the previous pages we had seen how money has had a damaging effect on the Duke of Portland and Sarah Winchester. Now we could demonstrate that Ben had learned something and therefore isn’t tempted to sell his signed book on eBay.

sarah

All of our comics include a small animation (again, this was something that was decided latterly). In this issue I wanted the inside of a trench from WWI to turn red to represent blood. This was vital in the rewriting of the story as it helped better link Sarah Winchester and the Duke of Portland as additional text added later on discusses the Duke’s love of the colour pink.

red trench

The red blood slowly fills the trench on this page.

pink duke

This is the linking panel on the following page. I’d like the pictures on the wall to disappear too as later on in the narrative we discuss how the Duke got rid of pictures.

The writer for our Duke of Portland issue is Andrew Graves who has been shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards for his spoken word show God Save the Teen. I’ve seen it three times, and I hope he wins because he’s a brilliant writer who is able to blend compassion, wit and politics so that you leave feeling a host of emotions.

There’s also good news regarding playwright Nick Wood, who wrote an embedded essay for us about his hopes of one day staging an adaptation of Mick Jackson’s Duke inspired book The Underground Man.  It’s coming to the Nottingham Playhouse later this year.

You can read the new Duke of Portland issue here

DOTU Round logoDawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.