28 January 2023

Praying through poetry and
with USPG: 28 January 2023

Tamworth Castle and the Moat House, the former Comberford home on Lichfield Street, decorate the welcome sign at Tamworth Railway Station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation on Thursday next (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

I interrupted that pattern to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which came to an end on Wednesday.

I have an appointment in Milton Keynes University Hospital later this morning. But, before the day gets busy, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection.

Inside Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

I was back in Tamworth earlier this week, visiting some places associated with the Comberford family. So, my choice of poem this morning is Mal Dewhirst’s ‘We are Tamworth,’ a poem commissioned for ‘This is Tamworth’ at Birmingham Symphony Hall on 3 July 2014.

Mal Dewhirst, who died in 2021, became Staffordshire’s first poet laureate in 2012. He lived in Tamworth and Tamworth inspired a number of his poems.

He was a writer and film maker, and his plays have been performed across the Midlands, including ‘The Fell Walker’ in Tamworth and ‘At the Crossroads’ at the Garrick in Lichfield, which was commissioned by the Lichfield Mysteries.

Mal was a poet-in-residence in a town market and an archaeological dig, his work has been published in many magazines and journals, and he appeared on BBC Radio and Radio Wildfire. He was also responsible for the Polesworth Poets Trail.

Mal was a regular reader on the Midlands poetry scene and was part of the Coventry Cork Literature exchange in 2011, performing readings in Cork City and Limerick. As a film director, his film Double Booked was shown at the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival in Ireland in 2014.

He hoped to bring ground-breaking writing to new audiences, always seeking to redefine boundaries, and wanted to develop and improvise new work as collaborations with other artists and performers in unexpected places as a melding of ideas, skills and talents.

Sir Robert Peel’s statue outside the Town Hall in Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

We are Tamworth, by Mal Dewhirst:

We are Tamworth
We are Tamworth
We are Tamworth
From the Lamb
from Stonydelph, Wincote, Belgrave, Amington, Two Gates, Lakeside, Riverside, Coton Green, Gillway, Perrycrofts. The Leys, Leyfields, Glascote and its Heath, Bolehall, Dosthill, Kettlebrook, Bitterscote, Castle and town and all our blessed lands.
We are Tamworth.

Where Tame meets Anker,
bringing Birmingham and Black Country tales
to mix with the Anker's Warwickshire words,
all the ripple and flow from here, to the Trent, to the Humber, to the Sea.

Rivers spilling full lap through meadowlands:
where Offa palaced in the castled grounds
of Sandybacks and Plastic Pigs,

Aetheflaeda proclaimed
build me a bridge, a Lady Bridge,
then guard it so that only I might cross.
Build me a mound, a castled mound,
where I might live and watch for dust.

This is Tamworth.
Where Saxon and Viking built their border,
we gave camp to the knights of Bosworth field,
where Roundhead met Cavalier on the Tame bridges
and we gave tea to soldiers as they passed on to the Somme,
always trying to bring some comfort to conflict.

This is Tamworth
where Enigma Heroes learned to swim,
ski’s ride summers of man-made frosts,
Rawlett, preached his legacy of learning,
where Guy built a town hall and gave Alms
then took them away when he didn’t get the vote
and Policeman Peel built his weaving mills,
warp and weft, webbing and tape,
building his new manifesto.

This is Tamworth where the Beatles and the Stones played,
in their constant touring, egg and chip days.
Tamworth, where the original Teardrop Exploded,
and Wolfsbane gave us a massive noise injection,
where every year we see the Assembly Rooms
host the next Battle of the Bands,
which is not when young testosterone filled teenagers
thrash guitars and grunt about being misunderstood.
It is when, just maybe, our Beatles and Rolling Stones might be heard.

Ventura Park and Ankerside, the retail lands
of designer brands and coffee shops,
supermarkets, house and homes,
enclosed by roads that circle and twist and never want to let you leave.

Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays,
for the purveyors of:
fleeces and fruit, cakes and clothes, trainers and towels,
books and batteries, rugs and rollers,
cheese and chutney, shoes and socks, games and gifts.

Town has several co-ops, flower shops, a row of: banks and building societies,
travel agents and estate agents, solicitors and accountants,
they all group together, power in numbers,
creating quarters, where they know each others secrets.
All watched over by the Philosophers of Upstairs, Downstairs, Sidewalk Cafe.

This is Tamworth
Our housing estates that are built on themes; of counties, of plants,
cars, poets, space travel and stately homes – and we don’t waste
people’s time in naming our roads, don’t see the point of adding road or
street or close – makes it so much easier to write an envelope.
And have you noticed that many of our famous people were named after the streets.

Famous people: Marmion, Ferrers, Robert Peel. Thomas Guy, John Rawlett, William McGregor, Colin Grazier, Tom Williams back to Ethelflaeda and Offa, and onward to Julian Cope, Blayze Bailey, Phil Bates, Mark Albrighton. Miss Pym and her suffragettes –
All worthies who have a staked a claim in Tamworth.

Along with the miners of Glascote and Amington, the car workers of Reliant, the spinners and weavers, the potters and warehouse crews. The choirs and bands all hammering the sound of Tamworth.

This is created in Tamworth, along with the crafts and cakes, the paintings and
sculpted forms that bring all the welcomes into the light of valued art.

This is Tamworth
Where the Herald reports our community woes and triumphs
then reminds of how the town used to look.
Tamworth, home where the Tamworth Two were trying to return,
and the Lambs raise goals to the songs of the shed choir.
Tamworth where the town hall is like an orange, it has Peel on the outside,
where the Olympic torch chose to catch its breath,
and jousters, fireworks, skateboarders,
families all strut their thought in the castle grounds.

Tamworth with our French and German twins
Sharing culture and song
Poetry and peace
Bringing markets to share cheese and meat and finest wine.

Tamworth where we race for life.
bring help to heroes
and support those in need.

This Tamworth where our dialect is spoken with a distinction, alright me duck.
These are our words that tell of a proud heritage built on toil
and a strength that sees one Tamworth, perfectly placed
to create our piece of theatre in the world
and remember who we are and where we are from
we can shed a tear and raise a smile
as we share our town with all those who choose to come.

Because we are Tamworth
Super Tamworth
We are Tamworth
from our land.

© Mal Dewhirst 2014

Aetheflaeda ‘enclosed by roads that circle and twist and never want to let you leave’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Myanmar Education Programme.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a reflection from a report from the Church of the Province of Myanmar.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Let us give thanks for the Myanmar Education Programme. May its work amongst the rural communities of its dioceses resource and empower them.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The former Peel School at 17 Lichfield Street, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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