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Brave old world: industrial anthology launched at new open mic night

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While some poets were nibbling at canapés on Tuesday night at Buckingham Palace, there were many other poetry events going on up and down the country, just as usual. One of them was the launch of a new open mic night and anthology at The Works’ Canteen, at the Black Country Living Museum at Dudley, West Midlands.

The museum café is actually a rather cosy venue, but the subject matter of Black by Day: Red by Night, an anthology based on entries to two poetry competitions run by the museum, is anything but, and a far cry from the finery of Buck House. Dealing with steam and industrial landscapes, the winning poem from this year’s competition, by former Birmingham poet laureate Roz Goddard, ‘The Break-in’, is about the temptations of an abandoned colliery. The title of highly commended Silvia Millward’s poem, ‘Old Factories Become Monuments as Scars Fade to Green’, speaks for itself.

Possibly the most poignant moment of the evening came when former colliery worker Gary Westwood, whose poem about himself as a young man, getting on the coach to go to the pit in the dark, hadn’t made the anthology, got up and read it anyway.

Here’s where I have to declare an interest. A poem of mine, about getting stuck in the Dudley tunnel during an incident-packed canal boating holiday in the Midlands in the 1970s, somehow sneaked its way into the anthology, to join far more illustrious names, such as Jacqui Rowe, John Gallas, Ivy Alvarez, and Pippa Little.

The evening was ably and entertainingly compered by Dave Reeves, the Black Country Museum’s poet in residence, who edited the anthology, and is also presenter of the monthly live literature show for internet Radio Wildfire. His “old English train blues”, about a ramshackle and long-closed Midlands railway, The Old Wuss and Wuss, with squeezebox accompaniment, rounded off a fine inaugural evening for the new open mic venue. I wish it well. Greg Freeman         

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