For years you kept your accentLiz Berry
in a box beneath the bed
Homing was written in 2014 as part of Berry’s award-winning poetry collection The Black Country. The collection is an ode to her birthplace and family heritage in the Black Country in the West Midlands. Homing directly addresses its subject, presumably Berry’s mother or grandmother, who endured elocution lessons to rid themselves of their harsh dialect.
Berry expresses anger and sadness in her references to ‘the teacher’s ruler’, ‘the box beneath the bed’ and ‘years of lost words’, while interrupting the flow of the poem with dialectal words of celebration and defiance. Where others might see an opportunity to mock and ridicule, Berry sees comfort, identity and a connection with her heritage, which she wants to consume entirely.
She uses the metaphor of homing pigeons to create the image of the dialect returning to where it belongs after being away for so long.
Homing by Liz Berry – Context
Liz Berry is a modern English poet born in 1980 in the Black Country. Originally a local moniker for the industrial region, the local government adopted the name in 1987. The region was renowned for its production of steel, coal, brick and iron, with the landscape during the Industrial Revolution adorned with forges, foundries and steelworks. It is believed that the name came from the black soot emanating from the factories and covering the landscape in a layer that created the appearance of a soot-like black cast.
The Black Country has a strong regional identity, with Black Country Day celebrated annually on 14 July. It is perceived by many on the outside as a place of poverty and neglect, and is often ridiculed for its industrial landscape. However, it is probably the last remaining region in the UK that has preserved an Anglo-Saxon dialect spoken a thousand years ago, resisting the change experienced by other regional dialects over time. The dialect is renowned for preserving 80% of its Germanic ancestry, compared to the rest of the country where only 25% of it remains.
Homing appears in The Black Country, in which Berry’s work is heavily influenced by her strong interest in, and connection with, her home region. The collection employs examples of the dialect and regionally specific vocabulary. It won critical recognition and numerous awards.
Berry is quoted as saying that she felt she could reconnect with her heritage and rediscover her native language through the collection, yet was acutely aware that the dialect is often considered ‘not proper’ or inferior to other forms of the English language.
She now resides in Birmingham with her partner and child.
The poem consists of 25 lines arranged into five stanzas of equal length. The equal stanza length could convey the perceived need of many people from the Black Country to conform to wider societal norms. Conformity would allow them to avoid typecasting and ridicule.
Using direct address, the poet is speaking directly to someone who we assume to be her mother or grandmother. The narrative voice is from a first-person perspective, allowing Berry to convey her personal feelings. The direct address to her loved one conveys her sadness of a life lived in the shadow of societal norms, while also conveying her love and admiration of their roots.
It is written entirely in free verse, opting for a conversational approach. This could indicate her defiance and unwavering pride in her heritage, and her refusal to conform or to hide her true identity.
The enjambment in the third and fourth stanzas and the list in stanza four speed up the rhythm of the verse, conveying Berry’s passion and admiration for the Black Country, while the use of end-stopped lines in the other stanzas conveys a sense of defiance and a finality to her message.
Identity: Berry uses language and dialect to express a strong regional identity.
Heritage: Linked to language, Berry expresses pride in her Black Country background and the title suggests that heritage works like a compass, helping people to locate their true selves.
Injustice: The person being addressed has had their identity and heritage suppressed by social prejudices around language and place, though the speaker goes some way to correcting this injustice.
Home and belonging: The natural speaking voice has been hidden, even in the family home, but Berry is adamant that the family tongue should be unshackled; language is therefore equated with home and belonging.
Linking to other Poems
- Name Journeys – Raman Mundair
- A Wider View – Seni Seneviratne
- Thirteen – Caleb Femi
- On An Afternoon Train from Purley to Victoria, 1955 – James Berry
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