Poetry project for the canals makes waves

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Milnsbridge on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is being put on the poetic map, in the form of poetry carved on lock gates, in the latest addition to the Locklines project run by the Canal and River Trust. The poetry at Milnsbridge was written by Jo Bell, the trust’s canal laureate, and carved into the gate by sculptor Peter Coates. Other poems for the scheme have been written by Ian McMillan and Roy Fisher.

The Locklines project also features creative activities and events to involve canal users and communities near the lock locations. The trust’s arts development manager, Tim Eastop, said: “We are exploring a whole range of projects which we hope will encourage people to visit and support the waterways. We hope that this project makes people smile and take a moment to stop and think about the wonderful canals that are on their doorsteps.” Other canals to get poetry on lock gates are the Leeds Liverpool, the Birmingham Fazeley and the Oxford.

It hasn’t been all plain sailing for the project, though. Its value has been debated on a website for boaters, with some claiming that such carvings will actually shorten the gates’ life span, and questioning the money spent on the project. One such dissenter resorted to his own verse, saying:

 “Pretty words upon the beam are not a thing of which I dream.

My life would be much more content if the money more usefully was spent.

The canals do not require verse their condition now could not be worse.”

Another complainant referred to “strange and meaningless slogans” carved on the gates. But the objectors don’t have it all their own way. Suzanne MacLeod tells them on the same website: “The swelling mini-furore over lines of verse on lock beams does not surprise me. The world is full of utilitarian philistines happy to clamour for more bread while shunning circuses, and I guess the boating world is no different.

“Your heart has to sing as well as merely pump, otherwise your life is going to lack a dimension. Poetry is there to stimulate and delight; if you're a person immune to these human faculties, that's a shame. I've not seen the costs of poetry generation and inscription - nor do I wish to - but the presence of a canal laureate, and of partnerships with vision that dare to look beyond the necessary but humdrum items of infrastructure that concern us all, gives me some hope for the future of our waterways.”














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