1769 saw the opening of of a stretch of the Birmingham – Wednesbury canal. To commemorate its 250th anniversary, the West Midlands Canal & River Trust and The Poetry Society asked Birmingham poet Hannah Swingler to write a new piece exploring its long history. ‘Being a Brummie’ says Hannah ‘With a heart full of love for my city, its people and its landscape – of course, I said yes!’
‘I grew up enjoying spending time walking along the canals around Birmingham and Atherstone in Warwickshire – my family and I have taken a few all-day cruises along the canals across the years. I have taken to the tiller a few times too – I can’t drive a car and I’m left-handed so the mirrored steering suits me! The waterways are a very blissful environment to surround yourself in – a little piece of nature amongst the chaos of city life – I highly recommend it!’
Hannah worked with the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society to create the poem. ‘Meeting with Phil Clayton, Phil and Ann Wild from the BCNS at Titford Pumphouse in Oldbury was the highlight of the process.’ she says. ‘Their incredible knowledge of the history of the area combined with their overwhelming passion for the waterways made my visit to their headquarters so much more colourful; they were able to provide the reasons how and why the canals appeared in this space in such intricate detail – I’ve never written so much down before! That being said – trying to fit 250 years of history into 40 lines was a difficult task! Choosing the right lens for the story was important to me, usually, I zoom into a moment within my pieces, but because of the vast importance of the canals to Birmingham’s status across the last three centuries, I wanted to provide a larger scope of the story for this piece. The noise of the piece was important to me too; that I could evoke the feeling of industrial change, that the canals carved themselves into this landscape and changed it forever – the noise of such an event – juxtaposed with the stillness of the 20th century and the Renaissance and calm that the canal provides now – that’s what I wanted to create on the page, and with the performance of the work too.’
Hannah performs her poem below and you can read it here.