A University of Worcester academic’s poetry collection, which was inspired by the memories and voices of the former workers of a well-known car manufacturing plant, has been shortlisted for an award.
Katy Wareham Morris, Lecturer in Media and Culture, was among those affected when the MG Rover factory at Longbridge closed in 2005, as her father was among its 6,000 employees who lost their jobs. Now her poetry collection Making Tracks, inspired by their experiences, is in the running in this year's Saboteur Awards, shortlisted for Best Poetry Pamphlet.
“It is so rewarding to know that people have connected with this poetry,” she said. “It is poetry written in dialect, it tells real human stories and documents social histories. This is much-needed recognition for experimental, hybrid writing that attempts to articulate and interrogate working class themes, issues and identities; validation that it is indeed 'poetry'.”
The awards are organised by Sabotage Reviews, a platform for reviews of lesser-known literature, particularly poetry pamphlets, short stories and live performance, and are voted on by the public. Winners will be announced on May 15. Ms Wareham Morris’ work has also featured in the Morning Star newspaper's Best Poetry of 2020 feature, selected by other well-respected poets.
Ms Wareham Morris is a University of Worcester graduate in Literature and Media & Culture and is currently studying for her PhD. She worked on the collection for four years, interviewing workers, including her father, Derek Wareham, who was at the plant for 36 years, from the age of 15. The title, Making Tracks, comes from the workers’ description of being “ruled by the track”, the factory’s production line, which never stopped day or night, and also implies the scale of impact that this work had on all aspects of their lives. She hopes it captures workers’ identities, experiences and emotions, but also, acts as a cultural record of life at the plant and of the British car manufacturing industry.
“This is a factory that stood there for nearly 100 years,” said Ms Wareham Morris. “Not only did it play an important part in local culture and heritage, but it made a significant contribution to British culture and heritage, including two World Wars. My dad is still talking about his memories of the factory and I’ve grown to appreciate what a significant part that played in his life and his identity. The plant meant a lot to many generations of families and there’s nothing on the site that captures the energy, the passions and emotions of the place. I wanted to produce a record or memorial for the factory.”
The poems do not all follow traditional poetic forms, with some set out in tables or diagrams, designed to emulate the form of writing the workers dealt with day to day such as factory schedules and programmes. Ms Wareham Morris also uses the Birmingham dialect, with some of the poems written precisely as expressed by her father. Ms Wareham Morris said it was important to her to demonstrate that art and culture can be presented in many different forms, articulating working class challenges.
“Poetry doesn’t have to be written in obtuse language or strict form. It’s about recording experience in enlightening ways, but also so that people can connect with it.”
Making Tracks is available through publisher V Press.