It’s been three years since the publication of Liz Berry’s Black Country collection. I remember devouring it in one sitting (that was greedy of me; it’s a rich dish, the better for savouring). It became my 2014 favourite, and remains high on my list of favourite poetry collections.
An infrequent Twitter visitor, I was pleased to spot a retweet for Saturday’s Warwickshire Poetry Voices event (thank you, @NineArchesPress) and promptly bagged a free e-ticket. After a short drive across the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border, my sat nav obligingly located nearby parking and I had time to enjoy a coffee beforehand.
The programme began with readings of favourite published poems and own work by members of Rugby poetry group (fresh from a workshop with Liz Berry, the lucky creatures). I particularly enjoyed hearing Maya Angelou’s empowering Phenomenal Woman and laughed aloud at Sophie Hannah’s If People Disapprove of You, both new to me, both striking a chord.
Liz Berry’s was a short reading in the time allotted, but a joy nevertheless. She gave her audience full permission to stretch [your] legs and have a good wriggle (proving that you can’t take the Primary teacher out of the poet 🙂 ) before opening with ‘Bobowler’, (a large moth) a poem commissioned by BBC local radio for National Poetry Day, celebrating the Black Country’s favourite dialect word. Berry followed with ‘Homing’, her love poem to the Black Country accent with its consonants/ you could lick the coal from. ‘Birmingham Roller‘ celebrates this dull grey city bird, the tumbling pigeon, in a dialect poem rich with gems such as tranklement and jimmucking. ‘Stone’ is a love poem for a rarer gem, the husband who gives a milk pan (and, more recently, we’re told, a glue gun) as a Christmas gift. Before concluding her reading with’Christmas Eve,’ Berry explained that, in writing the poem, she wanted to do for the Black Country what Dylan Thomas achieved in Under Milk Wood. And doesn’t she just!
Throughout, I barely glanced at my copy of Black Country. It was clear from the outset that these are love poems to the local language this Dudley-born poet grew up hearing, borne out in Liz Berry’s responses to questions from the audience afterwards.