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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Winston Plowes

     

    [TRACK 1]

     

    TONY WRIGHT:

    This is Tony Wright, it’s the 17th of July 2012 and I’m talking to Winston. Can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

     

    WINSTON PLOWES:

    Yes Tony. It’s….my name’s Winston Harry Plowes……I was born in York, capital of Yorkshire……on the 27th of August 1965.

     

    TW:

    Right. So did you grow up in York?

     

    WP:

    Only lived there for three years…….so I’ve no memories of my childhood time in York; I do feel a connection with it though, and then we moved away and lived in Selby, so grew up as a child in Selby……till I was eleven…..then we moved as a family to a place, Pickering, on the north Yorkshire moors…..so all of those places all in Yorkshire……yeah, that was my

     

    TW:

    Are you proud to be a Yorkshireman then?

     

    WP:

    I am, and that’s why I said at the start York, the capital of Yorkshire; it’s nice to be born there, and my family goes way back to the…..to the 1600’s it’s been traced back, as people from Yorkshire and places like Masham and……places near the Humber estuary, where there’s very little going on, in fact, some of my family come from Swinefleet where……there is a grid…..a box on the ordnance survey which contains the least information of any box in the whole of the country; it’s got one pylon line going through the corner, so…….yeah, so……my family history and my upbringing, all in Yorkshire, and then…..then I moved away.

     

    TW:

    Why did you move away?

     

    WP:

    I moved away to go to university, or polytechnic as it was then; I went to Preston Poly, which had the lowest entry requirements of any, but got picked for the thing I was doing, so that’s why I went there, and then began the great hiatus…..away from Yorkshire……until I moved back…..quite a number of years later to Hebden Bridge.

     

    TW:

    Right. So what did you study then?

     

    WP:

    Mechanical Engineering.

     

    TW:

    Oh right.

     

    WP:

    I had a…..very chequered start to my academic career…..I think you can call it a career. It was……yeah….the first age of my life; you know sometimes your life goes in chunks where you’re doing pretty much a similar thing, and that was the first phase of three I think, and….yes, I did Mechanical Engineering; I ……I was……a terrible truant at school; I did extremely badly and did so badly I wasn’t allowed to go into the sixth form; went to tec college in Scarborough…..again, did not that well; I just scraped through, and I spent a lot of my time messing around, and yes, got into the course which had the lowest entry requirement of any Mechanical Engineering in the country at Preston Poly – great place – and I enjoyed being a student, and, you know, moving away from home and all the joys it brings…..yeah, and so…..graduated from there…….not really, not really knowing what I wanted to do when I left…….when I left in school in fact……there was a careers officer; he was also the chemistry teacher, and I sat in his office…..what was he called….Mr Froggett……and he said ‘what are you gonna do with yourself boy?’ and I said ‘well I dunno sir, dunno’ he said ‘well that’s typical; you’ve just said that for the whole time that you’ve been at this school; you’re a complete waste of time’

     

    TW:

    Really? Is that what he said?

     

    WP:

    Well this is you know, this is careers advice of course, and that was what it was like then, and so I thought to myself ‘well I’ll show him’ you know ‘I’ll do something’ and I just looked behind me where there was a massive wall full of pigeon holes with different information about different courses, different career paths, different options that you could take, and I just plunged my hand into one of those at random, and ‘this is what I’m gonna do’……and this was a course, an Ordinary National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering at Scarborough Tec, and I did that for two years, and as I say, I finished there…….I found it interesting, although I didn’t really apply myself that well and…….but I did find it interesting, and I learnt a lot more than I thought I’d learnt actually, because when I went…..when I got to the…..Preston Poly, I seemed to be ahead of the game and I did quite well and academically thrived from that point on, and just missed out on a First, and then I got a research job as a research assistant at UMIST, the Science and Technology University of Manchester, and stayed there; did my Masters Degree and I did further research and….and really enjoyed…..really enjoyed that time too…..until the end when I didn’t and I decided to change things.

     

    TW:

    Right. So what did you change to?

     

    WP:

    Well……….I mentioned about these different phases in your life and I think that’s when…….the first age if you like, the academic bit, the scientist, the research person……the engineer, although I enjoyed it, it was getting to…..by the end I was….I felt, I sometimes felt I was fossilising……fossilising in a…..in a dry atmosphere where….I mean a lot of the time I was working underground because….for the stability of the instruments it was better to have them in an underground environment, and for a lot of the time my office had no windows, and it was a pretty desperate place to work, and whilst you were left to yourself…..left to yourself to do what you had to do and meet the targets and do the experiments that you had to do within your own time, that was quite good to have that freedom and that trust to do that, but it also meant that you didn’t really see many people and……didn’t really get on with my supervisor I was working for, so you know, I felt a bit of a dead end really……and……and I think…….I’ve looked back on this and I…… read my Masters I was progressing very fast; I’d done my Masters after a year and it was expected that I’d do my PhD after four years…..and I was struggling with…….coming to terms with what I was doing and not enjoyed it, so much that I had a real barrier of writing this thing because I didn’t get on with my supervisor; I wanted it to go one way, he wanted it to go another, and it wasn’t happening. At that time I was doing more teaching at UMIST and also doing research on other projects; you’ve got a pretty relaxed time scale in which to write up your PhD so it wasn’t a big issue……but whilst all that was going on, with a lot of this time that I’ve mentioned that was given to do what you….not what you wanted to do, to do your research, but if you’d done your research and you were pretty good at it and you could do it quite quickly, it did leave a surplus, and that time was spent practising to juggle

     

    TW:

    I see.

     

    WP:

    Which was something that I came across…..and I’d learnt to juggle at….at Preston whilst I was a student there with golf balls wrapped in newspaper, which is all that there was then, because nowadays you can buy them from the toy shop but, you know, this was in the eighties and it wasn’t a common thing to come across, and…..and so….so yeah, I’d learnt to juggle already and I found myself spending more and more time doing this and wondering if it might be possible to make a living out of it…..something that I’d have loved, instead of being stuck in this….fossilising in this environment, so….so I reached a sort of crossroads in my life at that point; did a handbrake turn, to continue the analogy, and went in a completely different direction and I said ‘no, I’m not gonna write up this thesis; I don’t need to; I’m gonna be a professional juggler now, and…..

     

    TW:

    A very brave thing to do

     

    WP:

    It is, and many would say stupid and…..people at the time were saying ‘you’re doing what? You’re throwing all that away? Throwing it away? You know, you’ve all these qualifications you’re throwing away?’ I said ‘well actually’ I said ‘I’m not throwing them away because, well for one thing, since I graduated I’ve been working with a wage as a researcher at UMIST for a number of years now so I have actually been earning money in the thing that I trained for, but, no, there’s a plan and I’m gonna give it three years. I know when I start this that I’m gonna get very little money; you can’t just suddenly start in a full blown career; you need to build up contacts, build up your skills, promote yourself; all the things that you need to be a professional entertainer; that’s gonna take time, and three years….after that time if I’m not doing any good I can maybe come back into teaching or research…..so that’s my plan. I’ll move into a house, a student house, live as simply as I can, as cheaply as I can’….I was lucky because at the time I’d no sort of dependents or anything so I could do that and……you know, didn’t have a car or any pets or anything like that, so…..so I did that and so it……so it built up and it’s……it’s proved to be a big success, and I’m doing a job now that requires…..no qualifications whatsoever.

     

    TW:

    So you’re actually earning your living as a….as a juggler or

     

    WP:

    Yeah I mean, this is all so long ago that we’re talking now because I’ve been doing this job now for twenty-one years.

     

    TW:

    Yes. Is it just jugging or are there other aspects to it?

     

    WP:

    No no, there’s all sorts of aspects to it; it started as the focus being juggling and I think, yes, I think the focus still is…..probably half of what I do now is teaching, so I’ll spend a day in a school; I’ll be doing an open workshop at a festival outside and I’ll be teaching circus skills…..and the other half is performing, so I’ll be on a stage…..somewhere….in a theatre or doing something for TV, or I’ll be doing somebody’s birthday party or…..and that’s what I love about it, because unlike the first age; sounds a bit of a grand term, but…..you know, I’m travelling around; I’m meeting people which I realised that’s what I like doing; that’s maybe one reason why I’m here talking today, you know, making contact with other people…..and that’s one thing that I’m about, I can’t be locked in a cellar……and I’ve always been a creative person, so maybe I ended up in a…..in the first part of my career there in a non-creative pursuit which, you know, we don’t always know how things happen to us and why we take certain routes in life, but I think that’s what happened, so I’m glad I changed course and……yeah, never looked back.

     

    TW:

    So have you always been a sole entertainer or were you part of a circus group or anything?

     

    WP:

    No, I’ve been part of all sorts of different things……very early when I started I met a chap at a local community juggling group - Stuart Hill in Manchester – good friend of mine now, and we worked in a double act for all that time…..

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    WP:

    When we’d been working together for twenty years, last year, we had a work’s do, just the two of us [laughing]……we went for a curry, because we thought we should mark it somehow, but, you know, it’s incredible to think that we’ve been doing it so long. I don’t…….there’s quite a few double acts around but some of them change partners, some of them have gone solo then met up with someone else, and some of them have just finished, fizzled out, just because of what life’s like and the changes

     

    TW:

    So do you have a name then?

     

    WP:

    Yeah we’re called The Curious Eyebrows, which is an unusual name and everybody says ‘oh what’s that about?’ you know, but it sticks in people’s minds, pretty much like my own name, and it’s got nothing to do with…..people have names like, you know, Air Spirit or you know……The Bruised Fruits, that’s a good one because people sort of, you know, learnt to juggle with oranges; I’ve always like that name, but a lot of people have names that are to do with juggling or to do with the circus, so….we thought that’s a bad idea; we should have some abstract name then we can do whatever we want under that banner without being tied to…..I think it came from…..we were just devising a sketch for something for TV….it was for a Des O’Connor show or something and we just had some directions at the side of the page and it…..we put in brackets what our facial expressions might be, and I think Stuart had written curious eyebrows at that point and then…..somebody said ‘what’s your name? What’s your name?’ and we didn’t really have a name at that point, and so…… ‘oh there we are, we’ll have that’ [laughing]…..in a meeting we decided we would have that, so……

     

    TW:

    Have you done a lot of television work then?

     

    WP:

    Not a great deal, not a great deal…….you’re at a disadvantage being a traditional variety act, a novelty act, and a lot of what we did in the early years was…….had connections with Vaudeville, so it was a……..a sort of throwback you know, which was interesting for a lot of people, but what people don’t realise is that….okay, let’s look at a famous juggler; anybody, it could be anybody, I mean I know all the names, but……..the man in the street wouldn’t, but if you look at, you know, Francis Brunn, now there’s a people….he’s a juggler, died recently, but….he’s regarded as one of he best jugglers that there’s ever been, but if I showed anybody his act on a…..on a video they would say ‘wow that’s amazing’ you know, but that is his act; he’s trained all his life to do that, pretty much that actual routine. Okay, he’s diversified a little bit but he’s ended up with that, and that is what he does, so if you go on to…..say, a talent show which is the current media by which people would see entertainers of my type, then ‘oh that’s great – what’s he gonna do next week?’…….there’s nothing, he can’t do anything else…….he could change the costume, he could change the music, could do it in a slightly different format, but some of those tricks, when you break it down to the physical tricks that he’s doing, they’ve taken him…..one trick may have taken him years to perfect, until it’s solid enough to be performed regularly, whereas a singer could sing a different song…..you know, so it’s interesting really; it doesn’t……these people used to tour the theatres when every town had a theatre, you know, and most of them have gone, and there was a circuit and you could go round the whole country working place to place, and by the time you’d done them all you could start again, with the same act, because there were so many and it’s taken so long to get round…….so there was new audiences all the time because it was live entertainment, but now it’s not, now it’s mass entertainment with the television, you know, and I don’t have a television, but, so….yeah, so we have done, you know, a couple of talent show things but I’ve not……I don’t fit into that

     

    TW:

    How do you find your audiences then?

     

    WP:

    How do I find my work do you mean?

     

    TW:

    Yeah

     

    WP:

    Practically……well, about half of it comes through agencies……what an agency is supposed to do, it’s supposed to promote you to clients who ring them, then it’s supposed to supply you with all the information you need to know to do a good job…….that doesn’t always happen in the real world [laughing] you know……’oh you’re working in Oldham next Wednesday’….. ‘okay – whereabouts?’….. ‘don’t quite know yet’….. ‘oh well, what do you want me to do?’…… ‘is it a show? Am I teaching?’…. ‘oh we think it’s teaching’….. ‘you think? Oh okay, well if it’s teaching, how many children have I got and how long per class? What age are they?’….. ‘oh you know….’ and it’s all very vague, and you’ll turn up and you have to improvise on the spot because this…..this booking may have been made through an agency who couldn’t find anybody and it’s then passed on to another agency who couldn’t find anybody, and then you get the third agency ringing you, and so it’s untraceable what the actual original requirement was, so that can happen, but also there are some great agencies and I’ve been working for one in particular for most of the time I’ve been an entertainer, and they do their best to give you all the information that you need and if you get there, and you’re suddenly faced with eighty kids in a room the size of your front room here, you know, you say ‘well this isn’t gonna happen – look it says on here that you’ve got this many’ and you can refer back and they can ring the agency and say ‘what’s going on?’ you know, so, and they will back you up, so there are good and bad, so…..so yeah, half comes through agencies, the other half is really word of mouth and regular bookings that you’ve done, people have liked what you’ve done inviting you back…..obviously there’s like an informal circuit of entertainers that I know and people ring me; I do plate spinning which is a thing that not many people do, so I often get calls from people about that……in fact on the way here today my phone went off - ‘can you do the sixth, seventh and eighth of June 2013 in Warwickshire’ - so, you know, because it’s a long way off but not many people do it so they’re quite keen to find somebody, so…….so yes, half of it through agencies and pretty much half through everything else, the informal network.

     

    TW:

    Right. Well I know you have……a kind of…..workspace shall we say, or workshop or studio, I don’t know what you want to call it really, up in Old Town

     

    WP:

    Oh yeah

     

    TW:

    Where there is a group of people who make circus equipment. Are you a part of that as well?

     

    WP:

    No it’s……it’s quite a recent thing that’s happened, but…….I live on a canal boat……which, with the recent weather in Hebden Bridge it’s been interesting, but I’ve been in quite a good place really because I’ve just gone up a foot and then down a foot, you know, because there’s been so many storms and floods, it’s been horrendous. You do end up feeling a bit like Noah, living on a…..on a boat in these times. I’ve got two cats; that’s a start……

     

    TW:

    A start for what? [laughing]

     

    WP:

    Collecting animals!

     

    TW:

    Oh I see, the Ark, okay!

     

    WP:

    Catch up……and…..yeah, but so, I needed a……living on a boat, you don’t get much space so I needed extra storage space, and so a friend of mine had a bit spare up in that mill in Old Town that you mentioned, which coincidentally is also the place where juggling equipment is manufactured, a local company, and then somebody else came along and we thought ‘hang on a minute, there’s three of us now’ – we were all entertainers of one sort or another – and then a community artist came along who does sort of craft things and she needed somewhere to work and make things in preparation and store things, so she joined in, so we’re all sort of creative people up there and we all have little sections in one floor of the mill, and the central area is now mirrored and has music and video equipment, so we can use that to rehearse and devise new things, so it’s become a…..a nice creative space. A cold one, but…..you know, it’s good, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Right. How long have you been up there?

     

    WP:

    Well I’ve lived in Hebden now for about seven years and I’ve been up there all that time, in one guise or another.

     

    TW:

    Right. What brought you to Hebden then?

     

    WP:

    ………..change of circumstances……..as I say it was about seven years ago……I……I’d just gone through a divorce……had not much money, and I’m thinking ‘well with my occupation as an entertainer, which is precarious, and not the best earning of jobs, but one of the most rewarding, so I don’t have much money; what do I do? I don’t want to take out a massive mortgage’ and I looked into getting a canal boat in the early nineties but didn’t do it then for various reasons; there were no mobiles – that was one reason – you know, you can’t have a landline unless you lay a wire down the canal but you can’t do that, so….I didn’t do it then and I thought ‘ah, this is a chance to do it’ and a number of chance events came together, which is…..that’s life isn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Yeah sometimes

     

    WP:

    And it does happen, and everybody who lives on a boat in Hebden or elsewhere often has an interesting story, how they came…..came on board, and for me, yeah, I thought…..the idea came back to me and I thought ‘well this is a plan I could follow now; it’s maybe a cheaper way of living, although that’s a bit of an illusion; it’s not as cheap as people imagine, and….. ‘maybe I could do that, maybe I’ll go round and have a look at boats; I know a few people with boats and I could look at those’ like you would if you were buying a house….get a feel for it and find out more about it, and ‘I know some people in Hebden Bridge too, so I’ll go and stay there; there’s boats there, I’ll go there’…..and quite a few people have ended up in Hebden haven’t they, who’ve lived in Leeds or Manchester, and wanted to move to the countryside and I thought ‘that will appeal to me as well, and with my job I need to work in cities but living here it’s perfect because I’ve got big cities, areas, big conurbations that are reachable too, so….so that’s good’, so I came here. I was in a bit of disarray at the time…..because of my divorce and things, and…..and I kept coming to see my friend…..who lived on a boat here, and I thought ‘this is perfect…..if I had a boat, this is exactly how I’d want it to be’ and I kept visiting time and time again, until one day he happened to ring me up and he said ‘look, you idiot, you’re not…..you’re not taking the hints are you?’….. ‘what’s that?’ he said ‘well we want to sell you our boat!’ [laughing]….and it wasn’t officially for sale, but they were sort of thinking ‘well really we need to sell it’ for where they are in their lives and the changes that were about to happen to them, but they’d invested so much of their hearts in it because they’d built it themselves, kitted it out themselves; they didn’t build it themselves, but supervised the plans – the planning and building of it – but they didn’t just want to put it up on the market and sell it to any old person; they wanted it to go to somebody who would look after it, for what it was, and thankfully that was me.

     

    TW:

    So is there a kind of…….boat community where you live then?

     

    WP:

    Yeah, it fluctuates. In the summer people go away a bit……you know like…..I mentioned I lived in Pickering for a while, and if I go back there now it seems that there’s less of a community now because a lot of the houses are holiday homes, and I think that happens to a lot of small picturesque places, especially if they get taken over by homes that don’t provide community minded people; not for the fault of the people who live there but that’s just how things change, and the boating community’s a bit like that, because you can get some people who……who don’t want to interact with others, in fact that might be the reason why they’re living on a boat, and that’s fine, you know, but you will get others that really do, and want to build links and build a community which is also fine, and…..it depends how many people are there like that or how many people are the other way, and at the moment it’s pretty good where I am; we do look after each other, and you know, if the canal’s rising rapidly people will come and loosen your ropes for you, and look after your cats in our case when you’re away, or I’ll water their plants when they’re away in the summer, keep an eye on things and…..yeah, so there is that, and I know that goes on in Callis as well; they have a community there.

     

    TW:

    Are you at Mayroyd is it?

     

    WP:

    Yeah…..so we’re not as together as a community as they are; they had to do that in one way because they were battling against British Waterways to have their community recognised, so….so they needed rules and a system, and whilst we don’t because we’ve got in a sense a private landlord, we do have a

     

    TW:

    Who owns that then?

     

    WP:

    Well…..it’s a complicated legal situation, which would probably take the whole of this interview to…..and every now and again it blows up with a controversy because…you know, somebody wants to take the land, for example to build or……you know, then the whole thing goes up in the air and…so far it’s come down in a relaxed way.

     

    TW:

    Well the canals have been given to this charitable trust place in the past week

     

    WP:

    Yes it’s been changed

     

    TW:

    Well, how will that affect you and what do you think about that?

     

    WP:

    Well…………I think nothing will change really. I don’t think

     

    TW:

    You don’t think they’ll put up your…..your rent or your….whatever, that sort of thing

     

    WP:

    Well……could do, but you see we don’t pay our money, well, to British Waterways directly anyway, but….it’s complicated….part of the money that we pay does go to British Waterways but the other part goes to the landowner…..but I mean I think living on the canal has gone up hundreds of per cent, you know, because people have seen it as…..an alternative lifestyle and the people who run the thing have seen it as a way of making more and more money, and British Waterways, their money from the government has got less and less, so it’s got to meet ends, ends have got to meet somewhere, so yeah, it’s gone up massively really…..

     

    TW:

    Is that just in the seven years that you’ve been there?

     

    WP:

    Oh yeah, yeah…….

     

    TW:

    So are you quite happy to stay there for ever and ever, so to speak?

     

    WP:

    Well I don’t know if I’m there for ever…..it is quite a physical lifestyle…..

     

    TW:

    So your knowledge of engineering and that must be very useful for you.

     

    WP:

    Yeah, what little I’ve retained, yeah, although I’m not as practical as many might think because a Mechanical Engineering degree is more suitable for solving second order differential equations than changing…..servicing an engine [laughing], so……..

     

    TW:

    Right. Well that seems to be your…..your second age; you said there was a third age

     

    WP:

    Yes, and I did think before we did this interview today, I was thinking about this and there are these distinct periods in my life, and I’ve been doing this juggling now for a long time and it’s been amazing. It’s taken me to……Peterborough, it’s taken me to St Petersburg, you know….yeah, and I was working in Halifax a few days ago and……we were doing a workshop all day with deaf children and this one lad came along with his mum, and they stayed all day; they were with us for five hours trying everything that we had; so focused and determined to do it, and they weren’t the most naturally able with the skills that we had, but full of determination; they were amazing, and so I ended up giving them equipment at the end of the day, just because I felt that they’d done so….so much of a commitment and it’s when things like happen that you think ‘oh that’s great’ you know, and as I was working, I didn’t even know it was there, there’s a school for children with severe learning difficulties in Luddendenfoot – Woodbank School – if you know it you go through the housing estate

     

    TW:

    I taught there when I was a community artist

     

    WP:

    Yeah well it’s a sort of a dead end through a housing estate isn’t it? I thought ‘there can’t….oh there it is’ you know, and there’s a mainstream school and there’s a special school next to it, and I worked there last week, you know, and it was amazing…..so I’ve had a fantastic time doing this, but I’m thinking….. ‘well, do I still want to be a clown when I’m fifty, when I’m sixty….do I?’…..probably not……I mean it’s an amazing thing to make people laugh and……I’ve mentioned that I am a creative person; I’m always looking for different….ways to express myself there, and since I was a boy I’ve been writing poetry, and this has been something that’s been bubbling away in the background, and…….over the last….four years I think, I’ve started doing more with that; I’ve started going along to open mic readings; I’ve started getting things published in books…..until that side of things has grown……until now it’s taking probably almost as much of my time as the juggling takes; of course it’s…..it doesn’t earn me much money, but I’ve never done things….I’ve never been driven by that…….and so really I’m thinking ‘yes, if there is going to be a third age maybe it is the poetry’ and if I think of what’s been happening so far this summer, where only two weeks ago we had the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival and I was the official poet for the festival which was wonderful. Living in a place like Hebden, I was able to link up with that project, to link up with so many different other creative people, all doing different things within the festival, and to create some poetry with them and with the children that came to some of the workshops, so that was amazing……and Hebden is part of the Rochdale Canal Festival which is right at the end of August, so for a whole week I’ll be poet in residence at the Rochdale Canal Festival, which is a really exciting project coming up………so they’re just two residences I’ve got, then later on in October I’m doing something for National Poetry Day which is organised and directed by a friend of mine, Jo [sp] Bell who is also a poet living on a boat [pronounced boet], if you can force that to rhyme! [laughing]….it’s no worse than the Co-op’s slogan good with food [gud with fud]…..

     

    TW:

    You have to have the accent!

     

    WP:

    [laughing] You do don’t you! So….so yeah, so……the poetry’s creeping in to more and more that I do and I’m loving that, so……and I’ve got a website there that people are looking at every day and

     

    TW:

    Oh you’ll have to write that down for us and we can link it onto our website.

     

    WP:

    Oh yes, that would be nice, yeah.

     

    TW:

    I know you said to me…..it must have been yesterday I guess, that you’re putting poems on all the locks on the Rochdale Canal

     

    WP:

    Oh yeah, that’s part of the Canal Festival; there’s ninety-two locks on this canal and we’re trying to…..have a poem on every lock, and really I wanted to start collecting these at the beginning of the year, but due to when the funding comes it’s not always possible and so the time has been compressed, so hopefully we’ll get there; they’re coming in every day; we’ve got requests on all the

     

    TW:

    When you say they’re coming in, how do you mean they’re coming in?

     

    WP:

    People are looking on line, people are hearing announcements at open mic events, people are seeing our requests for poems in all different places, local people are hearing about it, people from America are hearing about it and I had an e-mail yesterday from somebody from America – ‘here’s a little poem, I wonder if this will be okay’

     

    TW:

    Are these all poems that people write themselves then?

     

    WP:

    Yeah, a lot of the time…..I mean, it can….it has to be something connected to the canal but that could be a poem about boats, it could be a poem involving water, the nature in the canal which is a massive subject in itself, the people who use the towpath – joggers, dog walkers, cyclists, you know, it could be anything to do with any of those things, so a lot of the time these are poems that people already have. They can be poems that have already been published, that’s fine, and we’ve got some, you know, from some well-known people, but people are also writing things specifically for the project which is nice, so…..you know, it’s…..I’ve had people writing in saying….. ‘oh yeah, I’ve written this specially for the project; it’s about this person who lived all her life on the waterways and died recently…..can I choose my lock, and can I take flowers to the lock to accompany the poem?’ you know, really nice….so we’ve had a great response……now I did say…..that I would walk the entire length of the canal which is thirty-three miles, pinning the poems on myself……and then you think about the logistics of it [laughing]

     

    TW:

    That was going to be my next question. Is…..how are these poems going to be displayed? Are they……I was thinking that you might have…..like a template and you could spray paint them on to the lock gate….sort of arms or something like that or

     

    WP:

    Well the logistics mean that we can’t physically permanently alter the lock, so they have to be attached, so they’re on paper, they’re A4; there is a template around the poem of a design provided by the…..The Waterways Trust…….drawing pins or staples, we’re not quite sure, but laminated A4 things so, but you know, some of them might be there for a day and get ripped down by local kids, some of them might stay there a long time…….we don’t know, but there is a sort of procession moving along the canal and events placed to coincide with that during the festival week, and we’re lucky here in Calderdale because much of the funding for the festival comes from here, so those events naturally are concentrated here……and we want the poems to accompany the procession, so…..so thankfully I don’t have to walk the whole length pinning them on, because that wouldn’t link up with our idea, and it’s going the other way as well. I’ve walked it three times already, but by the time I’ve set off from Manchester at six in the morning, by the time I’ve got to Hebden Bridge at tea time it’s very difficult to pass your own home and walk that extra four miles to Sowerby Bridge, where the canal finishes, and I’ve never managed…..I’ve always ended up in the Fox and Goose I’m afraid [laughing] and by the time I’ve had a pint there, the blisters have meant that I couldn’t continue. The first time I did it the blisters were so bad, I thought ‘what am I gonna do? I’m working the next day as a juggler in a shopping centre, juggling on the Mall….I can’t stand, let alone walk, these blisters are so bad’ and contrary to all medical advice I came up with a solution of my own. By…..these blisters were like this…..sort of size; the whole of every heel

     

    TW:

    Like two inches across

     

    WP:

    On your heel, the whole of the heel underneath, so I burst the blister……and all the fluid went out, and then I got masking tape under the heel and up the sides of the ankle to press the dead skin onto the……what was underneath, you know, and in the morning it had adhered, and whilst that fluid is there to help the healing process, it does prohibit walking, so [laughing]

     

    TW:

    So it worked?

     

    WP:

    It worked, and with some foam mattress cut out in the bottom of his shoes….I wasn’t the most mobile of entertainers that day, but I managed to get through……so maybe the wrong footwear had something to do with it, but….yes, so I did it another twice; I’ve done it three times now; I might still do it again this year, but even thinking about it again this year, but even thinking about it, when you’ve got ninety-two laminated sheets of A4, that’s a weighty bundle of stuff to carry, I mean it’s gonna get lighter as you go on, but you know, and to take only a few seconds at each lock, that all adds up, you know, so……it would slow you down quite a bit

     

    TW:

    You’d have to do it over two days wouldn’t you?

     

    WP:

    Well you could do it two or three – you could do it on a bicycle….

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    WP:

    You could do it with a bicycle; that would be a practical way, and all the people that use the towpath, and I’m a keen cyclist myself. On Sunday I did a hundred and twenty miles, so I should be able to manage thirty miles

     

    TW:

    You should…..are you going to have…..keep a record of these….all the poems….keep them like on a website or have them all printed out like in a little booklet or something, so that you’ve got a record of them?

     

    WP:

    A booklet would be wonderful, because it would have a ready-made structure with the lock numbers; that would be nice. Whether there is scope to do that, I would like to do that……there is scope to put them on the…..on the website of the festival, so at least some of them….it might be a bit much to see all ninety-two. What I would like is sort of…..if the website that they had was more sophisticated, you could go and see a schematic of the canal and click on a lock and the poem comes up and it goes on to the next one, or you could even encourage people

     

    TW:

    It’s possible but it takes

     

    WP:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    Really geeky people to get a Google map down, and you have to kind of do it

     

    WP:

    Yeah, and geekiness costs money doesn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Yeah

     

    WP:

    But you could do all that if you wanted to, and if you had the resources….yeah, but it’s gonna be a…..because that’s just part of it…..I mean my job really as resident poet is going to be…..to be doing readings and to be doing workshops and popping up here and there

     

    TW:

    How do you vet all these poems that you get sent in then? Say there’s ninety-two locks but you get three hundred in, how do you

     

    WP:

    Well I wish Tony, because [laughing] we’ll be lucky, you know, well lucky is maybe the wrong word but I’m hoping that we’ll get ninety-two

     

    TW:

    Right

     

    WP:

    I want them all….to be good poems…..in my opinion; it’s only my opinion at the end of the day.

     

     

    TW:

    So is that down to you? Are you the editor as it were?

     

    WP:

    Well it’s down to you….yes I’m the….well I like to call myself the curator

     

    TW:

    Oh right, okay

     

    WP:

    Because I’m not going to exercise a heavy editorial hand, because I think, you know, this is people’s work……it’s all of different styles…….you know, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and as long as the

     

    TW:

    So who came up with this idea?

     

    WP:

    Me.

     

    TW:

    Right. Were you influenced by the Stanza Stones Project?

     

    WP:

    No

     

    TW:

    Do you know about that?

     

    WP:

    Not at the time. I put this proposal into the festival organisers last October, and it was after then that I learned about the…..the Stanza Stones.

     

    TW:

    Because Simon Armitage, the poet, has been kind of a big part of organising that hasn’t he?

     

    WP:

    Yes, yeah

     

    TW:

    I was just curious whether there’d been any interaction – you should invite him over.

     

    WP:

    I’ve asked him for a poem; he hasn’t replied yet.

     

    TW:

    Oh right, okay

     

    WP:

    [laughing] but hopefully he will……..

     

    TW:

    So what kind of influences have you got in the poems you write?

     

    WP:

    Well, that’s…..that’s a difficult one to answer because I seem to change like the wind. There are threads running through it……there was a few of us, well four of us, and got together, and we became known a few years ago as The Miserabilist Poets [laughing] which is something that somebody invented for us, and……yeah, a lot of the stuff that we write, we were writing, was utterly miserable; nothing wrong with that, you know, it’s an emotion…..like many others, and……but the book that we jointly self-published was said to be so dark and heavy that it would leave a mark and a stain on any bookcase shelf that it stood upon……well I’m proud of that book; I think there’s some good stuff in there from all of us, so that continued bubbling…..bubbling around in the background, but I’ve been…..also interested in writing Ghazals; now this is a form of poetry that not many people will know about.

     

    TW:

    How do you spell that?

     

    WP:

    Ghazal, that’s a Ghazal.

     

     

    TW:

    And where do they come from?

     

    WP:

    It’s an…..an Urdu form of poetry; it’s sometimes known as the Indian sonnet

     

    TW:

    I see

     

    WP:

    But that’s…..that’s really a very misleading term. It exists in couplets, that’s the only similarity it has with a sonnet….there’s a lot of rhyme in there, there’s a lot of what people see as restriction criteria that must be within the poem to make it work

     

    TW:

    So it’s a longer version of a Haiku.

     

    WP:

    …….there is…..there are some similarities in the type of subjects that are written about in Haiku and the Ghazal, but no, no…..well I could go through them quickly but there is no title for these poems; they’re transferred by word of mouth traditionally so they didn’t need one…..they have a rhyming scheme which is a rhyme and then a refrain, so the end of every couplet is the same refrain; the same word or string of words. Immediately before that there is a rhyme, so going through the poem there is a rhyming set of words. In the first share or couplet, that ends with this refrain in both of the lines, not just the second one…….and the last one, that’s special too, because it has a sort of a signature of the poet; his pen name or his real name actually appears in the poem, so these poems are designed to by sung…….

     

    TW:

    Well immediately it made me think of like…….that song ‘A Simple Twist of Fate’ by Bob Dylan; he has that phrase that reappears all the time at the end of each one, so I thought of it as a musical thing but I didn’t realise it was suppose to be like that…

     

    WP:

    Yeah very much, very much, and you come across them in Bollywood films and things, and….yeah, they’ve got their origins in both Arabic and Persian poetry forms, the Ghazal mainly in the Persian, but……yeah, they came together, those two languages came together in Urdu and it’s the most popular form of poetry in Urdu still today, but not many people know about it over here, so I’ve been writing these things in English which has its own problems. Because of the structure of the English language, it makes it harder.

     

    TW:

    So have you been reading translations of

     

    WP:

    Yeah……yeah, which is interesting isn’t it; when you read a translation of any poem, whether it’s a Ghazal or a free verse or whatever, and you think ‘wow, this is amazing’….well how much more amazing must it be in its own language?

     

    TW:

    I can understand that. I’ve got this…..CD there – ‘Beowulf’ Seamus Heaney – and he’s done a new translation, and because he’s such a great poet….I’ve actually heard a ‘Beowulf’ in Anglo-Saxon and it just flows beautifully, it’s absolutely wonderful……but when you listen to the Seamus Heaney version, there’s a kind of lilt to it shall we say, a kind of…..a pacing of the words that just draws you in, even though what the actual words are saying are all about heroic deeds and heraldry and all the rest……but it’s kind of how you interpret the words that you use isn’t it?

     

    WP:

    Yeah, well it’s a particularly difficult job for a translator of this form because…..while certain musicality can be retained, no rhyme can be retained because it’s so complicated, and so…..it’s like….writing them is like partly writing a poem and partly writing a crossword puzzle, because it’s all….you change one little bit and that throws everything out then, and they are very difficult to write, but I’ve come up with enough of these, and I mean some of them…..must be okay; they’ve won competitions and they’ve been very well received, and……and also…..and so they are traditional Ghazals, but I’ve come up with some free verse Ghazals which throw away most of those……criteria, those restrictions as some people call them……and so, for a person reading modern poetry, they wouldn’t recognise them as Ghazals, but certain aspects of them remain; no title, same number of syllables per line……the subject matter is generally melancholic, which fits in with my miserabilist [laughing] tinge, so…..so yeah….so I’ve got a book coming out in October……

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    WP:

    …… ‘First of All, I Wrote Your Name,’ it’s called and that’s published by Stairwell Books in York – back to York – which is nice

     

    TW:

    Prodigal son so to speak

     

    WP:

    Yeah….and so……yeah, that’s coming out in October, that book of traditional and modern Ghazals in English.

     

    TW:

    So do any of your poems sort of reflect back onto your mechanical engineering days, or do they include…..you know….the juggling kind of aspect of your life; do you try to bring part of your old life into your new vision, shall we say?

     

    WP:

    That’s an interesting question Tony, and actually they don’t….it was funny, somebody was asking me the other day – ‘oh, you live on a boat; you’re perfect for the Canal Festival’ and I said ‘yeah, that’s probably one of the reasons why they picked me’…….but I suddenly realised I don’t write that much about the canal…..I’ve only done a few poems, so I’ve started to put that right, but no…….. thinking about it, no….the engineering, the……circus stuff, they don’t really enter into my poems that much

     

    TW:

    Well it’s just seems to me that engineering is about putting things together to make something, and juggling and entertaining in general…..is doing different movements or….or facial things, or…..whatever, to be a whole, because it’s a performance and the people watching won’t see all the mechanics of it; they only see the final…..and poetry seems a little bit like that; you have all of these structures that you’re using when you’re writing, but when people listen to it, you’re performing it, again, all they hear is the final version. I just wondered if……you know, there’s any connection between that way of looking at life really.

    WP:

    Well if there is, it’s so deep that I haven’t noticed it, and I was thinking when I started out in the poetry performing thing, I was thinking ‘well I’m gonna find this very easy and natural for me, having stood in front of audiences of thousands of people, it’s not going to be difficult to be in a pub function room where there’s twenty people and read some poems’…..wrong…..it was quite a surprise. It was a completely different thing.

     

    TW:

    Was that sort of stage fright, or….

     

    WP:

    No, but certainly nervousness and I was thinking ‘wow, this is actually quite difficult to do’ – surprisingly so – I thought it would, you know, I’m used to standing up and improvising and speaking to people; big audiences and……I thought ‘no, I’m going to have to get used to this’ and I’ve enjoyed the process of learning about that and…….I even read yesterday, you were talking there about……listening and watching a poet and not realising what’s gone on behind there; Ted Hughes, who everybody knows because we’re living where he was born……and he’s been an influence on me too…..when he had to do a recording – it’s a famous recording – I can’t remember what it’s called now……yeah, it came out……and a lot of his famous poems were on there; he couldn’t read them very well, he wasn’t happy at all with how they came across on the tape, and he had to get in touch with a theatre director, and he said to this man…… ‘make it so my voice is real; find my real voice for me please – I’m struggling’

     

    TW:

    That’s very interesting

     

    WP:

    Isn’t it? Because people who would read that would say ‘oh the mighty Poet Laureate’s natural orator deep, sonorous, slow Ted Hughes’ – no, he had to learn that……and the gentleman that he worked with on those recordings is this year the guest speaker for The Elmet Trust’s dinner, so…

     

    TW:

    Oh that’s interesting

     

    WP:

    I only read that the other night; I didn’t realise that had gone on myself.

     

    TW:

    Right, because there are some poets who are reading their own stuff…..for example I’ve read….listened to Dylan Thomas speaking his own things, and once you’ve heard that, it’s very difficult to get his voice out of your head when you’re actually reading it in a book.

     

    WP:

    Yeah but that’s one reason why the written word’s so strong isn’t it? You read a book, you watch the film, and it doesn’t work for you, because you’ve made your own film in your head, and…..some poems are written for the page, and some are written for performance, and really some of those poems are so biased in one direction or the other that they struggle to cross over….

     

    TW:

    But do you aim for one or the other, or

     

    WP:

    More for the page as I go on actually, but I’ve recently found a….a form of…..of poetry which I’ve really enjoyed performing, which is……Found poetry, so in this style we’re looking round us maybe in this room, and I can see all sorts of words on your books, on the packaging of different things that you’ve bought, you know

     

    TW:

    Is that a bit like the Dada idea, of found objects being art, but also Wayne Burrow’s idea of you write a lot of things and you cut them all up and then you rearrange them?

     

    WP:

    Yeah it is, it is…..it’s all interlinked, and…..and so, taking those words and making something new, or even presenting them pretty much untreated as it’s called, and seeing them in a different light, as, like you say, art or poetry rather than just words on a mug, so….so I’ve had fun, I’ve had fun with those performing them because people don’t expect them, and so I can stand in front of an audience and say ‘okay, so here are the results of a poetry experiment’……. ‘experiment in poetry? What’s this?’….. ‘yes, all the words in this next piece I’m about to read can be found on this – a tin of Spam’ [laughing]….you know, and I’ll read a poem which is exactly what it says on the tin [laughing]….I’ll remember that, I must come up with that! So…..you know, and I’ve been looking at the match reports in The Guardian by their Chief Football Correspondent Kevin McCarra, and taking individual words from his match report, and making something completely different from them. I’ve sent them to him, he likes them; we have a bit of occasional dialogue……and I’m now working with crossword puzzles, so I will make one poem from the clues and then another from the solutions; now obviously the one from the solutions, you’ve got a much more limited vocabulary there, so it’s gonna be a much more abstract poem, but if you introduce them and tell them that this is poem number one and then I’m gonna read its echo, which is the solutions poem, you know, if the first poem mentions something like…..an orange comb, if people retain that in their mind when there’s a pause and they hear the second poem, and they hear about a windsock, they can think ‘oh yes, that’s somehow an echo of the first’ – they’re both quite abstract, but you know, usually the first one makes more sense and more reading, so that’s….I’m interested in that……so I’ve been doing those two and…..and my whole project for the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival was called Found in Hebden, so it was using all different sorts of Found poetry techniques…..all recorded on the website!......so that was fun.

     

    TW:

    That sounds really interesting

     

    WP:

    Well even to the extent of…..and this is one way in which I’ve found to bring my performing experience into my poetry is in one style of Found poem, a Found poem, is a visual Found poem, so this is a poem where the appearance of the words and letters is equally, if not more important than the meaning of the words themselves, so people have experimented recently with…..producing the words of a poem using advanced computer aided design techniques, so if you look at a bank note very closely under a microscope, not a microscope, under a magnifying glass, it’s very intricate isn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Yes

     

    WP:

    And so you can see poems that are built up like that, where some of the print is extremely fine but it goes to build up something that’s big, and that big thing is a letter in itself

     

    TW:

    Well this a poem for the page as it were

     

    WP:

    Absolutely, only, yes, well it’s a poem to be seen, certainly; if not on the page, somewhere else. People have been writing poems on objects to make them interesting, so the words are important and they are a poem, but it’s how thy’re presented, and I took a poem by a famous…..member of the Imagist movement, William Carlos Williams, an American poet from the beginning of the twentieth century…..his poem The Red Wheelbarrow is only a very short poem……and I found a red wheelbarrow, going back to where you were saying about found objects being art; I found a wheelbarrow and painted it red; it was on somebody’s roof and I think that this wheelbarrow was ready for its final journey to Eastwood, to the waste disposal site, and I gave it a last artistic hurrah, so I think it had a wonderful end to its life, and I painted it red……and the poem also includes these white chickens, so I made some cut out white chickens with bases and I thought ‘well I’ll throw a few eggs in’ so there were some eggs as well, and I appeared on the…on Platform One of Hebden Bridge Railway Station during the Arts Festival, and it was great actually because I had a captive audience, because if somebody was stood on the platform next to me I approached them with my marker pens, and said ‘madam, would you care to write on my chickens?’….and I was getting people to reproduce the words of the poem in red on the white chickens, and in white on the red wheelbarrow, and I think it made a very interesting visual interpretation, and tribute to the poem and to the author……and I say captive audience because they couldn’t say ‘no I’m just busy’ because they were there waiting for the train [laughing]…..they had to stand there for the five minutes it took the train to arrive, so, and…..in doing that, you know, connecting back to what we were saying about living in the artistic town and a creative town of Hebden Bridge……I had the words of the poem printed on a bit of paper so somebody could choose a word or part of a word, or the whole thing, which they wanted to write scruffily, neatly, long and thin, short and fat, wobbly, you know, in bold, in capitals, any way….that was the artistic input, the way in which they wrote it, and where, so you get the…..seventy-year-old lady who was on her knees trying to write under the wheelbarrow because that’s what she wanted to do, for some reason - it doesn’t matter what the reason was – I had a person who said ‘oh I know this; this is William Carlos Williams’ and it didn’t have the author’s name on it; I said ‘how do you know that?’ and he said ‘well I did my thesis on it when I was a student’….so there we are…..and I was just introducing the poem to another man and he said ‘yes I could tell you quite a lot about this gentleman’ and I said ‘oh why is that sir?’ and he said ‘well I am a professor of American literature’…..all this within an hour on the railway station! And so this art was created, and….and still exists in town, because I was going to….and I felt quite sad, Tony, to take this wheelbarrow on its final journey to the elephants’ graveyard, you know, to Eastwood, and I rang the organiser and I said ‘I’m gonna collect it today and take it down’…. ‘you are not – it’s staying! It is a lantern in the window for the Arts Festival

     

    TW:

    Excellent!

     

    WP:

    A very small legacy if you will, and so it’s on display as a piece of art in a shop in Hebden Bridge.

     

    TW:

    Which shop?

     

    WP:

    It’s in…..well it was the Festival shop itself on Albert Street, which is now being occupied by….the jewellers who got flooded out on Market Street

    [END OF TRACK 1]

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Interviewee Galleries: Cayn White

    Material supplied by local musician and performance poet, Cayn White. Read his interview.

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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Cayn White

    EVA:

    Hello, I’m Eva and I’m interviewing Cayn White who’s a punk poet in Hebden Bridge.  So Cayn, when did you first get into poetry?

    CAYN WHITE:

    First been into poetry since…I don’t know, since…I were about twelve to begin with just from school and poets such as Simon Armitage, and then got into punk poetry which I’m doing now about five year ago and started performing on the 10th of September 2005.

    So who would you say is your main influence?

    In performance poetry it would have to be people like John Cooper Clark, Attilla the Stockbroker and Nick Toscak, who pretty much – I already knew what I wanted to do with poetry. Nick and Attilla showed me how to go about doing it.

    So when it comes to your poetry, what would you say is your main subject matter?

    Main subject matter is really just from weirdness of life really cos I do various different subjects – ‘I Dated A Psychopath’ or ‘Biscuit Falling Into t’Tea’ or ‘Spunk In An Ex-girlfriend’s Tea’ all that type of stuff.  Even if they don’t seem to be connected, they just pretty much explain how strange and surreal life can actually be and it is basically connected to the real world which is summat I don’t think most poets do any more.

    What would you consider a good poem from life?

    A good poem – it’s got to be simple, it can’t be summat what..it’s got to relate to you for a start, it can’t be any of this ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ crap to be honest, it’s got to be summat you can relate to your own life, but actually can better the action and pretty much just keep it simple.  Don’t use words that someone’s gonna reach for a dictionary cos gonna lose interest, so it’s just got to be simple and easy to relate to.

    How do you go about writing a poem?  Would you say there are rules?

    Again the main rule is just to keep it simple, make sure you know exactly what you’re talking about, and just try and enjoy it, enjoy writing it, cos if you’re gonna do a poem what you don’t enjoy, say you don’t like the subject matter, you’re not really gonna get owt out of it if it comes round to performing, so that’s pretty much the rule – keep it simple and know the subject.

    Do you say that your poems have to rhyme?

    No, not at all.  Certain poems do and it can add – cos it adds to the rhythm, but other great poems what don’t – I’ve done a poem like ‘A Glimpse of God’ – that don’t rhyme, it just tells a story and that’s much more effective than poems like ‘Biscuits’ that do rhyme.

    What is a punk poet?

    Just a word really, it’s basically, well the punk scene started out who all got big in about seventy-six, seventy-seven, and not] just bands and musicians like it is now, it involved everything, it were just one big sub-culture so you had your musicians and your bands, there were also like your comedians, poets, and it were just all classed as one thing, so it’s just basically a poet what’s out for moments just stuck in the past.

    I’ve heard one of your most well-known poems, which is the ‘Biscuit’ poem.  What’s that based on?

    ‘Biscuits’?  Well what happened was…2005, in July one of me mates passed away and I did this stupid thing where, I think it were cos of the shock of it all really, I were in mourning, so I just stopped eating and drinking, I mean I were nineteen at that time so the death of me mate hit me pretty hard and at one point I thought ‘well I’ve got to eat and drink summat’ and so I were dunking this biscuit into me cup of tea, it would have been about three o’clock in t’morning or summat daft, and as I were doing it the biscuit snapped off and fell into the drink.  I thought ‘well I have to try getting it out’ so I focused on me energy as I’m trying to fish bits of me biscuit out, and while I were working on that, I pretty much forgot everything else what were going on, so I kind of made the joke that the most important thing in the world, instead of death and also that cack, is actually when your biscuit falls into your tea, so it’s basically what happens there and then can be more important than summat that’s happened since a month or a week.

    Do you get sick of people always requesting the ‘biscuit’ poem?

    I wouldn’t say I get sick of people requesting it cos it means that they know the poem and they enjoy it, so the fact that they come asking for the poem, it is a flattering thing.  I would say however that I do get sick of performing the ‘biscuit’ poem night in night out because I wann try other stuff, and it seems to be if I do a serious set which I’ve done before, it does seem a bit stupid to end on a note about biscuits falling into cups of tea, and it can diminish your set.

    What’s your favourite poem to perform?

    By me or by other people?

    One of your own.

    At the moment I’ve got one which I’ve just wrote called ‘Boring Poetry Night’ which is pretty much being stuck in a boring poetry night, and I performed it a couple of times and so-called real poets tend to hate me for it because it’s…it’s my views and apparently it slags them off, so I enjoy performing that because it gets a decent reaction, mainly an angry one, but still a reaction, and ‘A Glimpse of God’ because no-one expects that type of poem from me, especially that type of death, and now whenever I perform it you can just hear the entire room go completely quiet.  This different atmosphere just appears.  I think if you can do that with just one poem then you’re on to summat.

    Do you have any musical background?

    I’ve got background where I play stuff that you won’t usually consider music.  I’m currently in a band called ‘The Dole Dossers’ and another one where I play bass for a group called ‘The Liberators’ .  I do backing vocals for a bit of a side project, which is a folk band called ‘Folk In Shite,’ so that’s pretty much my background to date, and I’ve done a few gigs with ‘The Dole Dossers’ – we actually came second in a Battle of Bands contest which were a bit amazing, and ‘The Liberators’ are just getting ready to do a couple of gigs in January.

    Are you the first in your family to be involved in poetry?

    No.  The first one and the only one I’m aware of to be honest were me mam.  She did some stuff which got published, I think it were one of the Penguin books anthologies years ago, and she did summat in a local punk fanzine in 1979 which I can’t remember t’name of, but she did a poem in that which were just having a go at mods. I’ve seen a copy of the poem – she certainly wasn’t the best poet in the world but it’s a basis for inspiration if I ever need it, so I think that makes me a secondary generation to be honest.

    Have you ever done any gigs with any big names?

    Too many.  I’ve done John Cooper Clark last October in front of four hundred at the Carling Academy in Newcastle.  The first ever gig was ‘Supporting ‘Attila the Stockbroker’ but the less said about that one the better.  I’ve mostly supported people like Nick Toscak, Sham 69, Anti-Nowhere League, ‘Sub-Humans’, ‘Conflict’ – it’s endless to be honest.

    What would you say was your most interesting gig experience?

    Not the first one – the first one were an eye-opener because I just thought ‘yeah, punk poet, easy – anyone can do it, in fact I don’t even need me notes for this poem and I can get drunk beforehand’ which unfortunately in the real world, that don’t work because I forgot me notes, well I forgot my words, I got stage fright half way through me poem and on me way home I got beat up, so that were my first major experience.  Others have either been…well I think every gig can be an experience; either the people you are talking to or stupid things like getting arrested after a gig, so every gig can have its experiences given the right price.

    How do you remember all the words?

    I just…cos I don’t have time to practice when I’m at home, I just – like I go to open mike nights or me own gigs and initially I read from the paper and eventually after a couple of nights the poem will sort of get stuck in me head.  It’s not a tried and tested method that I use, it’s just write it down and hopefully it sticks.

    So how would you go about preparing for a gig?

    Mainly I’ve learned is when preparing always carry your poems with you, so if you are stupid and really drunk and forget your words you’ve got them in front of you.  It depends on the venue and the crowd, so if it’s strictly a poetry crowd I kind of prepare in a different way sorting out me set list.  If it’s just a punk rock gig where not many people are gonna listen anyway, I can be a bit more rude so I’m not as nervous about that; have a few beers, sort out a quick set list and just get on with it.

    Have you played with all of your heroes?

    Nearly all of them, yeah.  In the punk scene definitely nearly.  Wouldn’t mind playing with….wouldn’t mind doing gigs with bands like ‘Stiff Little Fingers’ the main punk band what’s influenced me, but whether that happens or not is a different thing.

    Have you been published?

    Just self-published.  Me first book came out ‘Drunk and Incapable’ earlier this year which sold out all hundred copies within a month, and I got published by…in an anthology ages ago which I don’t like advertising because it basically ripped off poets anyway, and Channel 4 Teletext got hold of one of me poems as well.

    Is the ‘biscuit’ poem in this book of yours?

    Well I had help with the book, to get it printed and stuff, and the person said she’d only actually pay for it for me if two poems were in.  One were ‘Glimpse of God’ which I didn’t mind being included and the other were ‘Biscuit’ poem, which I spent about a week refusing to put the poem in the book because I think it’s just summat what – I prefer poems like that to be shouted out on stage rather than be read by someone in an armchair.

    What advice would you give to up and coming poets?

    Quit! [laughing]  No…learn your stuff, don’t get too stupidly drunk, don’t be afraid of being big-headed at times.  If you’re getting into something like that and you’re going to be on your own on stage with sometimes anything between five people and four hundred people watching you, over confidence can be a good thing, you do need self-belief cos if you don’t believe in yourself no-one else is gonna believe in you, so you do have to get up there and you do have to know you can do it.  Don’t be afraid of getting nervous, but just know –  know that you can get up there and do it, just have a laugh with it, don’t take it too seriously and don’t take yourself too seriously.

    What would you say is the future for Cayn White?

    Pretty much the same as for the past few years really.  More gigs, got a new book coming out in t’New Year – ‘Same Shit Different Cover’ and a second documentary’s been done where we’re getting interviews with people like John Rob from Goldraid and John Cooper Clark and Attila, all lined up for interviews.  Got the  CD ‘Menace To Variety, that’s coming out and a three month tour from January, well four month tour from January to April which is currently getting booked.

    How would you like to be remembered, and would this include ‘biscuits’?

    Well what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna get remembered for ‘biscuits’ whether I like the poem or not.  As to how I’d like to be remembered…don’t know, probably just as a punk poet that did his own twist on it really, but definitely not just for ‘biscuits’ and definitely not for some of the more embarrassing stories!

    Have you always lived in the valley?

    Yeah, I were born and bred in Luddendenfoot which were about four miles from here, and before moving into Hebden itself earlier this year. There isn’t really any reason why I’d want to leave, I’ve got quite a lot of friends, my family’s here, well not here but further up the road and I’ve pretty much everything I want.  It’s either in Hebden or Luddfoot to be honest.

    Did the local area influence any of your work?

    No…no, not initially and probably not obviously, but I think it depends really.  If I lived somewhere like Manchester my style might be a bit different, but I can’t really honestly say if it’s been a big influence or not.

    Can you make a living from being a punk poet?

    I’m going to hope I can at some point. Some people do – John Cooper Clark does through basically being the first real punk poet and charging a blooming fortune for gigs, when he decided to show up. Attila and Nick Toscak, they both make livings from it.  I think to be a punk poet – because you’re not just a normal poet, you’ve got – it’s more of an edge to it, so some people are willing to bend over backwards booking you, others won’t. Nick Toscak can do tours over in Thailand just from being a punk rock poet.  Because I’m stuck in England at the moment I can only do what gigs are offered to me for however much, so to make a living for me it would have to incur a lot more hard work.

    How do you make ends meet now?

    Signing on. To put it mildly, it’s t’first time since I’ve received or asked for any benefits at all, and so that were a bit of a shock to t’system, and realised I needed Government handouts to survive, but apart from that and obviously a bit of money I do make from performing, it’s pretty much just signing on.

    It must be quite frustrating.

    It is, because knowing I can go on to better things and I can do better.  I also know if I got my finger out a bit more and did more gigs, if it’s physically possible to do more gigs, I could make maybe not a comfortable living, but I could make some form of – I could survive on a day-to-day basis.

    Do you find all your own gigs?

    Pretty much yeah.  When I first started it were a case of just asking other people and begging other bands and other poets for gigs, and these days I can do a gig – I recently did a gig up in Rawtenstall and I got a few extra gigs from it, and so other people are now watching me and thinking ‘oh he’s good, he know what he’s doing, he can do it, we’ll book him for our gig’ and because of that and because of the documentary that came out, other people are booking me all over t’north of England at the moment so

    Documentary?

    Yeah.  It were a weird one.  I performed at a poetry night which were round at someone’s house and there was a Sheffield University student there called Pamela Eddington, and she’d just been co-producing a film over in Sheffield called ‘The Beat is the Law’ which is worth checking out, and she wanted to do a documentary about me, so a couple of months back we ended up – I ended up having every gig for the space of a month, filmed and before and after gigging, having to give interviews and it was pretty stressful, but we persevered with it and it got shown at the Odeon cinema down in Sheffield and it seemed to go down pretty well and a sequence has been done for the New Year,

    Is it on You Tube at all?

    No.  We decided that we don’t want it on You Tube because we’ve still got a bit more editing to do to make it better, which I think if you an always make summat better there’s no point presenting it to the public because you’re ripping them off in a way, and so we’re gonna try and make it as best as we possibly can then just try and give it more of a general release.

    How can we find out more about you?

    Just ask in any pub really…., or pretty much just check me…just e-mail me and I’ll put you on the mailing list of gigs.

    What’s your outlook on life?

    …[laughing] that’s a bit loaded!  Outlook on life – don’t particularly have one, I just take every day as it comes and just hope for t’best, when I go to bed, everything’s still gonna be okay in t’morning.  Not very profound to say I’m a poet, but there you go.

    Do you ever get writer’s block?

    Ye, pretty much all t’time.  I can write probably between two to five decent poems or songs and then…I won’t be able to write owt for a couple of months, but in them couple of months I normally don’t have time to write anyway because I’m gigging.

    Lots of punk poets are political.  Are you?

    Not as such.  I used to be.  In t’first couple of years of performing I used to be very political, to t’point where I used to be head to head with certain political groups and I kind of decided that through my performances I wanted an escape, because I mean politics affects every walk of life.  I wanna escape that walk of life, even if it’s just an hour a night where I’m offering someone summat different, and I thought the whole politics in punk poetry, that seemed to be like an unwritten rule where people thought you had to be political to do punk poetry, and I just wanted to break that barrier and just give them another side of it.

    Do you read a lot?

    Not as much as I used to.  I read…I pretty much don’t read any poetry since I started writing it myself.  Books, I normally read a bit of fiction but mainly music books, like books about ‘The Clash’ and Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthie, basically books about performers rather than books by performers.

    The papers?

    I can’t…no…not many, probably just the free one on the train cos I can’t really afford the daily ones, and also I can’t really trust what I read a lot of the time.  I mean I used to see people reading stuff like ‘The Sun’ or ‘The Daily Mail’ or ‘The Daily Star’ or ‘The Times’ and taking every little line as gospel and I really..if I buy a paper it’s gonna be for t’football results and t’little comic strips, I can’t really take what they say in the news as gospel and I really can’t take it seriously these days.

    So could you tell us any gig stories?

    Pretty much I did the gig in Newcastle with John Cooper-Clarke and he turned up a bit late so he missed me first set, which was probably just as well cos I nicked one of his poems anyway, and during one of me poems I did one called ‘I Dated A Psycopath’ and on stage I move around a lot, and then on the stage at Newcastle they had this stupid rug which wasn’t on the floor properly so I tripped over in front of four hundred people, I fell flat on me arse which didn’t really go too well, and then backstage I bumped into John Cooper-Clarke who in return head-butted me, so that wasn’t a good way of meeting one of your heroes. 

    I did a gig in Leeds once and I missed me train so I had to catch a train from Leeds to Huddersfield and then walk from Huddersfield down to Luddendenfoot.  I were walking on the dual carriageway at two o’clock in t’morning after far too many beers and two o’clock in t’morning, not really getting any traffic going up and down the dual carriageway from Elland to Ainley Top, so being absolutely merry I thought I’d take the mick a bit and pretend to be a car, so I’m just walking down this dual carriageway going ‘beep beep’ and all that cack, and this car comes up and pulls up beside me, and it’s a police car…’have you had a bit too much to drink there sir?’   I thought ‘I’ve not time for this, I wanna get home, I can’t have time to prat about with the police’ so I thought I’d be a bit sarcastic with them ‘no, I think I’m a blooming car’ at which point I were bundled into the back at a rate of knots, turned around and spent t’night in Huddersfield Police Station which were a bit…when they let me out I had to walk to Luddendenfoot all over again cos I lost all me money, conveniently.

    Any other stories?

    They are pretty much the two main ones which most people like to remember, and I pretty much like to forget.  Obviously the Attila one where afterwards I got beat up, and me big brother were walking home with me that night and we have this unwritten rule between siblings where you’re meant to stick up for your younger brother, and me big brother somehow managed to drink more than me which I didn’t think were possible, and decided to hide in a garden and just watch me get jumped by three people.  Best one – I’m at a gig, it was at Marshall’s Bar in Hebden which is always asking for trouble even walking in there, but I were doing this anti-racist poem by Attila called ‘Asylum-Seeking Daleks’ and it features all these brain-dead, bone-head racist comments and this guy heard these comments and said ‘oh yeah you’re speaking me language, you’re speaking me language’ so I ended the gig, saying ‘I’ve got to go now cos me knee’s playing up cos I injured it at work and me throat is messed up, and your head must be completely messed up if you think I’m speaking your language’ at which point he got a bit offended and going ‘you and me are gonna have to go outside’ and I’m going  ‘it’s nice of you asking me out and stuff but I’m straight’ and he says ‘well so’s me fist’ so at this point I’d completely lost semblance of being on stage and forgot I had mike and just muttered over t’microphone ‘not if I break your fucking knuckles, at which point this guy’s storming the stage and he had to be restrained.  I had to be escorted out of the venue a couple of hours later so I had all these musicians on either side of me, straight into a car what were waiting outside and pretty much rushed home.

    Do things like that happen a lot in gigs?

    Fortunately not, no.  Sometimes I can be a bit of a wind-up merchant, like performing in a venue for Leeds United fans wearing a Derby County shirt, but normally gigs these days go a bit more peaceful fortunately, because I’m getting too old for all this running away lark.

    Is your younger brother a future poet do you think?

    [laughing]..he’s not a future anything.  No, he hasn’t got the inclination to perform or do anything, he’s just happy being sat up in Sowerby being a vegetable, so I can honestly say we won’t have a performance career from him any time soon.  Me older brother however is a stand-up comedian, so I think the book actually just stops with me.

    Thank you very much Cayn. 

    No worries.

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About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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