New Starts Here by Dave Pitt
This week’s blog is the last of our Wolverhampton Literature Festival series – but by no means the least. We sat down with the final piece of Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists, Dave Pitt, to talk about his experience of being part of a collective, wandering Wolverhampton Market and writing poetry, finally answering the age-old question – what exactly does psychogeography mean?
‘I’m one third of Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists, so I think that’s how Tom must have gotten my name,’ Dave tells us. ‘I’d never heard of him or of Overhear before that so I went to Purshouse straight away going what is this? Someone wants a poem out of me!’ he laughs. ‘Being part of this collective is good for all three of us, because when you start slacking, you’ve always got someone to give you a kick up the backside. Now, Emma and Steve are both very good at what they do, I feel like they’ve got themselves together so if either of them says to do something, I do it – no questions asked. Emma told me to do Overhear, so here I am.’
He assures us that is wasn’t just peer pressure that got him interested in the project, though:
‘When I got a bit more info on it, I thought this is great! We’d been talking about something similar and we’ve very happily been gazumped by Tom and Overhear. It’s a great project and seeing what it’s done so far here, in Birmingham, in Latvia… it’s brilliant. I’ll be collecting all the one around here and when I get the chance to go off to Birmingham I’ll walk around and pick up the ones there too.’
Dave tells us about choosing a venue to write about for Overhear; aptly, his poem ‘New Starts Here’ began with him deciding he wanted to get away from his usual haunt to try something else.
‘I do a lot of work with The Arena, so I think a lot of people were expecting that I’d put that down as my venue,’ he says, ‘but actually, when I was looking at the options, The Arena was the one thing that was off the list – I’m here all the time, I wanted to do something different!’
‘When I saw that the Market was an option I thought, oh, yeah. My first job was on a Walsall market when I was sixteen, so thirty years ago now – oh my god I feel old – and there’s always been something special about them, for me. I’m hoping there’s going to be a bit of a resurgence soon,’ Dave says. ‘I understand why people want to buy online and the convenience of it but honestly, there’s just something about markets you can’t get anywhere else.’
Dave’s love of the markets was already on its way to becoming a poem prior to his being commissioned by Overhear, as he goes on to say:
‘The idea for this poem has been around since before this project; I’ve actually been picking up on bits and pieces for a while,’ he tells us. ‘When they first opened the Market where it is now, the first day I went there, there was this old couple walking arm in arm, absolutely hysterical. They were just killing themselves laughing so hard, walking though the market giggling. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but one would lean in and say something to the other and that would set them off again. What a gorgeous little tableau to see playing out! I thought, I’m having that, and I got out my notebook and wrote it down. There was also this video going around of an elderly couple on Dudley Street where there’s a busker playing, and this couple are just ballroom dancing in the middle of the street. It’s just lovely – so of course I wanted that in a poem too.’
“…They nodded their head and tapped their feet, at a sedate 40 beats a minute. “We used to dance all the time, day we bab?” “Yow asking,” she sed, knowing he was. And he day say anything. He just wrapped his arms around her and let the dancing begin.”
‘They always say, with poetry, it’s the five senses but for me markets have always been about the kind of characters that are on there. It is a particular type of person that works on the market, and a particular type of person who visits them,’ says Dave. ‘There’s a line I didn’t manage to fit into the poem which is – you never get called sir on the market, and that kind of sums it up for me. The things I’ve seen on the markets, that couple and the other moment in the poem where this stall owner goes into the cafe and says:
“My darling, my dearest, my illustrious one! Cup o tea please bab.”
‘You can’t make that stuff up. It’s too wonderful!’
The list of real-life moments Dave witnessed on the Market goes on:
‘There’s this community spirit in the market that feels unique. I love the fact that they’ve usually got some commercial radio playing over the Tannoy system but occasionally you get someone sticking on a CD and you can see people just nodding their heads as they go past,’ he says. ‘I was watching it happen one day where there was one guy who put on his reggae CD and the stall holders next to him started dancing, and the punters walking past were catching the beat – and you could tell some of them didn’t know they were doing it. I thought, I’m having that too!’
‘All these little things I saw, I kind of put all together into this poem. I was trying to get across, not that there’s a bread stall, there’s a Thai food stall, there’s a café, but the feeling of the place. The way it made me feel and the way it obviously made other people feel – I think the word is psychogeography; you walk into a space and its got that vibe. It’s a great vibe!’ he laughs. ‘Having the markets as my venue was an absolute gift.’
We ask Dave if this is his usual practice, to visit places and magpie the things he sees and hears.
‘Oh, definitely. I always have to get right into something to write about it,’ he says. ‘Once I got this commission, I was there as often as possible. I’d go to the market, walk through, get a cup of tea, sit on the bench, do a couple circuits, come back, wander off again… it was a process of watching and listening and picking up on the energy of the place. There are some people who can have a bit of distance and reflect on a thing and turn out a beautiful piece but I don’t think I’m good enough to manage that,’ he laughs, ‘I have to be in there, be part of it.’
So we know what Dave puts into the poem, but what does he hope people will be able to get out of it?
‘The best compliment we ever have – not just me, but Emma and Steve as well – is when people say I don’t like poetry but I liked that,’ he tells us, ‘because it’s not that they don’t like poetry, it’s just that they were force-fed the work of dead middleclass white people when they were at school and they don’t know that there’s more to it than that. So I hope that there are some people who hear the poem and go oh, okay and decide to give poetry a bit more of a chance.’
‘I hope it makes people take notice of what’s around them too,’ Dave says. ‘The general public, as we’re going from one place to another, we always have our heads down, hoods up, headphones in and we don’t take anything in. We take it for granted that there’s nothing worth seeing here. I’ve gone down with friends to London before and they’ve gone oh, it’s brilliant down here, look at that and I’m the guy in the corner shouting we’ve got all this in Wolverhampton!’ He continues, exasperatedly, ‘I’ve always said if you picked up Chapel Ash and dropped it down in Shoreditch everyone would say it was amazing, but it’s in Wolverhampton, so they think it’s shit.’
Dave uses the experience of being on fellow poet, Steve Pottinger’s walking tour as an example of how a person can so easily discover something new in the everyday: ‘He picked a road that I go down quite a lot and he just went look at that, pointing to the other side of this fence – and I’d never seen it before!’ he laughs, ‘because I hadn’t been looking for it.’
‘For a long time, I was made to feel like I should be ashamed of this place,’ Dave says, ‘ashamed of my accent and my background and my upbringing but I’m not anymore. And when you get rid of all of that, you start to see what a great place this is, the landscape and the buildings and all the different people and cultures. I come from a very working class, factory-working Black Country family and I’m proud of it; I’ll sing about this place and I’ll fight for it and defend it until I’m blue in the face.’
We ask Dave if that tends to come through in his writing.
‘A lot of my writing is character-based rather than about place,’ he says. ‘I hope it comes across in the Market poem that it’s not just about the things that are there, it’s about the people.’ He pauses. ‘Then again, you can only write what you know, so I guess most of the characters I write are from around here anyway! What I mean is, I wouldn’t say that everything I write is based in the two square miles of WV1 but this place does influence everything I write. I can walk from the house I live in now to the house I was born in quite easily; I’ve been around here a long old time, so there’s obviously going to be a patina of it across everything I do.’
‘It’s a real shame that I spent ten, fifteen years of my life hating the place because I was told it was something to be ashamed of, a joke. That’s not really acceptable, for me or for anyone else.’ He leaves us with this thought: ‘When people hear the poems as part of this project and walk around, look up and focus on things, maybe they’ll realise – like I did – that, you know what? It’s actually alright around here.’
To let Dave guide you into seeing the unacknowledged loveliness of Wolverhampton and the people who live there, collect his poem ‘New Starts Here’ from Wolverhampton Market from 28th January using the Overhear app, available to download from https://www.overhearpoetry.com/.