Roy Q&A: first trip as Canal Laureate

The shortest day of the year approaches (and 2021 has been a very long year). Roy McFarlane, our new Canal Laureate, is planning a poetry-finding walk along the canal on the shortest day – which he’ll then match in June with a walk on the longest day. The Poetry Society’s Learning & Participation Manager, Julia Bird, asked him a few questions in advance of his setting off.

JB: Tell us about your route – is it through a place you know already, or are you heading out somewhere new?

RM: I’m beginning my journey from Coseley Tunnel South Side. Jogging from Tipton to the tunnel and back again was a regular morning run before a major operation in 2017. During the lockdown 2020 I began walking the opposite way from Tipton to Sandwell and Dudley and back again, which was profound to my well-being and mental health. It was during these walks I would find ideas for poems and my sudden love for herons.

Cosley Tunnel, photo cr R P Marks, flickr

What time do you start out? Will it be dark, have you got a torch? Please don’t fall in the canal on your first Canal Laureate adventure …

I’ll be starting out really early and if I’m brave enough I might walk along the towpath with a torch before the sun rises, hoping not to encounter the White Lady that haunts Coseley Tunnel looking for her children she drowned in despair after being evicted for rent arrears and being unable to gain entry to the workhouse.

It sounds like you’ll need some friendly companions on your walk – who’s going with you?

I’ll be walking on my own for part of the journey but later I’ll be accompanied by Rob Francis, Creative Writing Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, Geopoetics Advocate of the Black Country, Writer and Poet for the final stretch. We’ll go searching for a hidden waterway which can only be found off the beaten track; I’m hoping he can shine some light on this hidden beauty.

Setting out on the shortest day seems quite a ceremonial or ritual thing to do – do you often summon ideas like that?

I’m an early morning riser, always inspired to write something and I often go chasing for that beauty between night and dawn. I’m also a poet of witness and every sunrise is unique; the turning of the globe that pivotal moment when the days become longer, you’ve just got to witness that moment.

Are you looking for something specific to write about, or will you see what bobs up to the surface on the day?

I let the muse take me where ever she desires, I’ll also stop a few people and have a chat and find out what the canals mean to them and hopefully I’ll meet a heron.

Will you be tweeting?

I’ll be tweeting and taking pictures, so tweet back @rmcfarlane63