Black Country songs

Dialect poems are difficult to bring off. Most of the time they read as entertainments or curiosities. When they work though, the language takes on a dynamism that springs from a joining of both place and voice.

You think of Kathleen Jamie’s Scots pieces, like this one:

Speirin
Binna feart, hinny
yin day we’ll gang thegither
tae thae stourie
blaebellwids
and loss wirsels-

see, I’d rather
whummel a single oor
intae the blae o thae wee flo’ers
than live fur a’ eternity
in some cauld hivvin.

Wheest, nou, till I spier o ye
will ye haud wi me?
From The Tree House (Picador, 2004)

Black Country dialect isn’t quite as separate – but it is still a rich and distinctive vernacular. My father, brought up in Blackheath, used to talk about the words he heard at home and then found in Chaucer. ‘Gleads’ – a cinder – was one.

His mother still maintained the distinction between you and thee. Dad described the time she asked him to go to the shop and he said ‘Thee goo thee’sen’, and Granny drew herself up and said ‘And oo bist thee a thee’in?’

Liz Berry, a young poet from the Black Country is working in the dialect in her first collection. It works for me. Here’s Birmingham Roller

“We spent our lives down in the blackness… those birds brought us up to the light.” (Jim Showell – Tumbling Pigeons and the Black Country)

Wench, yowm the colour of ower town:
concrete, steel, oily rainbow of the cut.

Ower streets am in yer wings,
ower factory chimdeys plumes on yer chest,

yer heart’s the china ower owd girls dust
in their tranklement cabinets.

Bred to dazzlin in backyards by men
whose onds grew soft as feathers

just to touch you, cradle you from egg
through each jeth-defying tumble.

Little acrobat of the terraces,
we’m winged when we gaze at you

jimmucking the breeze, somersaulting through
the white breathed prayer of January

and rolling back up like a babby’s yo-yo
caught by the open donny of the clouds.

Black Country/Standard

wench/affectionate name for a female
yowm/ you are
tranklement/bits & bobs or ornaments
onds/hands
jimmucking/ shaking
babby/ little child
donny/hand

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Black Country songs

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