Walsall Celebrates Round Britain Women’s Cycle Race With Poetry In Motion

Ian Henery, Andrew Clayton and Phil Buckley are three ordinary chaps, living in Walsall and enjoying the creative muses of poetry, music and photography respectively. So why did they turn out last Tuesday with a converted ice-cream trike to delivery poetry to the people of Walsall? The story behind the project turns out to be almost as interesting as the performances from the day.

The inspiration for Poetry in Motion, this unique mobile poetry pulpit, was the AJ Bell Women’s Tour of Britain. Stage 2 of the race was held on Tuesday 5th October in Walsall, beginning in the Arboretum and finishing with a 300m sprint up Lichfield Street in the town centre.

The day brought with it a range of additional offers to spectators and local residents – a hive of stalls and activities in the Arboretum itself, the maker’s fair in the Town Centre under the gaze of Sister Dora’s statue, and big screens in strategic locations including Gallery Square.

Andrew has no previous experience of tricycles or mobile events, but having thought about how to contribute to the day’s events he was trying to work out how poets and bicycles could be matched against each other. Then the perfect vehicle came up on eBay and everything began from there.

Ian Henery is a past Poet Laureate of Walsall and published author. He heard about Poetry in Motion and set about recruiting from his network of contacts to ensure enough poets were present on the day to deliver their well-crafted words. He himself spoke at Gallery Square under the shadow of the New Art Gallery.

Phil Buckley, a noted local photographer and local Facebook group administrator joined the project to help promote the event and also introduced Prof. Gatrad OBE, DL who agreed to give a short address from the poetry trike during the day. He outlined the benefits of mode switch from motor vehicles to bikes and foot, the way small changes add up to benefit our climate, and how we can all play our part through project such as his WASUP initiative.

The event was a roaring success despite bouts of heavy rain, rather strong winds, and quite low temperatures for the time of year. While the cream of international elite women’s cycling were tackling the hills around Barr Beacon, Andrew was struggling to push a heavy trike up the market to listen to Prof. Gatrad. As the professionals were heading for the finish line, poets were sheltering in Gallery Square and nipping into the coffee shop for a warm drink. But nonetheless in four hours over a dozen local poets ascended the platform across five locations and delivered work on a range of subjects from current affairs and cycling to mental health, identity and the effects of pandemic and lockdown on society.

Music was provided by Maurice Malcolm, and Al Barz concluded the day of poetry with his audience enthusiastically shouting “Lycra” and “Biker” in response to his prompting.

The future looks bright both for the bike and the poets. No doubt they will be back, although as Andrew observed afterwards, it’s probably better to go for a summer’s day with a light breeze and some proper sunshine!

Ian Henery and Andrew Clayton

Photo Credit – Phil Buckley

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