There’s a lot of dialect poetry about, but inevitably it has a limited audience since its appeal mostly lies in the chords it strikes with speakers of the dialect in question. There are exceptions – Robbie Burns is the obvious one, and Pam Ayres has a good following – but those poets who write in the less attractive-sounding dialects are barely known outside their own linguistic boundaries.
The industrial landscape of the Black Country is generally considered ugly and disheartening. So, like Scouse and Brummagem, the dialect of the Black Country is perceived as ugly and comical. This is reflected in the majority of verse written in this dialect, and many people grimace or chuckle at our tortured vowels and quaint terms.
There are, however, a few serious poets using Black Country speech, and I’m pleased to see that, as well as being commended in the National Poetry Competition in 2011, Liz Berry actually won first prize in the London Poetry Competition 2012 for this beautiful ode to a tumbler pigeon, “Birmingham Roller“. Her own reading of it – with a gentle Dudley accent – has been sensitively linked to footage of these amazing birds by Sasha Hoare.
Pigeons are a traditional hobby of the Black Country working man, especially those who laboured down mines and in metal foundries. There is a soft beauty, a joyful freedom, a cool purity and cleanliness that these men recognised in the handling and flight of a pigeon, although they were usually too tough to admit that. What they did own up to was that waiting for a homing pigeon to return from a race was always exciting, and could mean a tidy sum for those who gambled on them.
Liz’s example has kicked me into action, and I shall be posting some of my Black Country dialect poems here as soon as I have figured out how to include the sound, because I fear most of my Blog friends will find the written word an unsurmountable obstacle to understanding.