Hannah Barlow is a Mancunian studying in Cheltenham who decided to try to find a poem which would cure her homesickness.
And why not? Manchester may be the European City of Science 2016 but it’s also a city of poets and poetry, from Thomas de Quincey and The Masque of Anarchy, (Shelley’s poem about the Peterloo Massacre), to John Cooper-Clarke and Mike Garry. Poet Laureate Carol Anne Duffy teaches at Manchester Writing School and the chancellor of Manchester University, Lemn Sissay, is a poet.
Contemporary writers have used poetry to reflect on Manchester’s past. Mike Duff’s King of the Scuttlers is about two youths from Angel Meadow, a notoriously impoverished part of the city, who had to fight their way out of Salford one Saturday night after a clash with a rival gang in Greengate.
with his belt round his knuckles
his hat pulled down
he’s king of the scuttlers
the hardest man in town
Beasley Street, probably John Cooper Clarke’s most famous poem, captured the squalor of inner-city Salford in the 1970s.
The rats have all got rickets
They spit through broken teeth
The name of the game is not cricket
Caught out on Beasley Street
But in God is a Manc, Mike Garry, who also wrote St Anthony, an ode to Mr Manchester, Tony Wilson, the city takes us to new heights.
God is a Manc
And Mary’s from Gorton
Jesus and Joseph were both born in Moston
Judas Iscariot’s from London – well Luton
He came here to leach when he was a student
The 12 apostles were the original Manchester scuttlers
St Peter from Ancoats
St Paul from Crumpsall
Mary of Magdalene worked on Clayton Vale
She once lived in Lightbowne but then moved to Sale
In Manchester, poetry isn’t just in books. You can see poems written by Lemn Sissay in lots of places on the city’s streets, most famously Hardy’s Well on the side of the Wilmslow Road pub of the same.
The pubs of Manchester have long been popular with poets. In the nineteenth century, the Sun Inn on Millgate near where the National Football Museum is now, was a gathering place for local writers. It became known as Poets Corner, and according to one onlooker was ‘the rendezvous of the rhyming fraternity of the county.’
They’re still popular with poets with open mic nights and poetry slams taking place at lots of venues across the city including Word Central at Central Library and One Mic Stand at Contact Theatre.
“Manchester has such a vibrant diverse spoken word / poetry scene,” says Chris Jam, part of what he calls a Mancunian movement to ‘open the wonder worlds of the spoken word.’ He is artistic director of Wordsmith and involved with MiC Bytes and Speakeasy – all events which encourage people to get up and be vocal with verse.
“There is a niche out there for all styles and all levels. I would recommend dabbling with these forms on some level to the vast majority of folks. It’s fun, rewarding and liberating.”
Chris is helping to publicise a new spoken word night, Ode, at NQ bar Odd, with the launch night on Thursday 30th June.
But why is poetry so important?
“Poetry like all arts is vital to the greater part of our being: the unspoken,” says Chris. “It just so happens that with poetry we are dealing directly with language, and I often say to students that poetry is the language of the soul.”
But back to Hannah and her quest to find a poem which would cure her homesickness.
After looking into the spoken word scene, she found Matt Panesh – aka Monkey Poet – a writer willing to go ape with his adoration of the city. Prompted by Hannah, he wrote Manc Melody and recited it for her round the back of the Arndale Centre.
Hannah says it puts into words how she feels about Manchester. It’s a poem that ‘connected all the dots.’
Manchester’s melody sings, spat from the stinging rain
Atom-splitting, dancers spinning, fields revolutions recent and arcane
Northern power housed in passion shaking high society’s chains
Cottoning on, a united city builds on its common wealth and aims
Hope heavenwards, hands outstretched, straining for the stars
Each person a mother; a brother; a lover, accepted, respected and part
Social standard, co-opted, adopted, made from the same flesh, the same heart
Together we’re standing, tomorrow demanding, the best for our children, a sure start
Everyone’s bizness, this busy beeness, a hive, a collective mind,
Remember, remember, Manchester’ll tell you, to survive you’ve got to be kind.
Listen to Hannah’s journey here. https://www.mixcloud.com/wolrabh/an-ode-to-manchester-manc-melody/
Follow Hannah @wolrabh
Follow Matt @monkey_poet