If Manchester thinks tables are for dancing on, its poets think paper is for partying on. There is energy here and enthusiasm for expression. The bustle of the streets, the charm of the people and eccentricities of the area can all inspire poetry.
Tony Walsh’s recital of This is The Place iat the vigil on Albert Square following the Manchester Arena terror attack shows how powerful poetry can be.
Manchester is a city of poets. The poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University, whilst the chancellor of Manchester University, Lemn Sissay, is also a poet.
And there’s plenty of grass roots poetry going on in Manchester, especially when it comes to open mic events and poetry slams you can get involved in. These include Bad Language hosted by the brilliant Fat Roland, Pen:Chant, Verbose, Ode and many more.
From the street-smart wordsmithery of Mancunian David Scott aka ARGH KiD with his ‘pub toilet sink realism poems inspired by Manchester‘ to the social sting of Claire Mooney, there’s lots of local writers well worth reading and listening to.
Here are many Mancunian poets – native and adopted, and in no particular order – who can weave magic with words; who can make you laugh and make you cry. Write on, Manchester. Some have even been nominated for Forward Prize.
Tony Walsh aka The Longfella
Tony Walsh, who also goes by the name of Longfella, is an outstanding professional poet based in the north west of England. Known for his unique approach to writing and performing, Tony has earned much acclaim for his wide-ranging and thought-provoking pieces, which have moved and motivated audiences around the world.
Raised in Manchester as part of an Irish working-class family, Tony’s artistic journey began at a young age, fuelled by an insatiable curiosity and a remarkable natural talent for poetic expression. Despite having no formal training in literature or performance art, he has risen to become one of the most sought-after modern-day poets, thanks to his powerful and emotive writing style.
With his electrifying performances, Tony has become a regular feature on television and radio, captivating audiences with his soul-stirring and poignant pieces that touch on themes of love, resilience, loss, and hope. His reputation has also spread far beyond the UK, with international accolades bestowed on him for his now-famous rendition of the poem “This Is The Place,” delivered in the aftermath of the tragic Manchester Arena bombing of 2017.
Andrew McMillan’s poem, Manchester, is a modern-day interpretation of William Wordsworth’s Daffodils. Rather than a rural landscape, the setting is Manchester. Andrew, who works at Manchester Metropolitan University, says of the poem: “It’s great to celebrate this city that I love. I live in Manchester and have walked by the places in my poem every day. That’s the job of poetry – to make us look again at the everyday.
“Romantic poetry, like Wordsworth, has given us a notion that great poetry is about the landscape, about pastoral places, so it’s been a great challenge to rewrite Daffodils in an urban setting. Hopefully people will try it for themselves, writing a poem in celebration of where they’re from, because everywhere is worthy of writing about.”
David Scott aka ARGH KiD
This Longsight lad delivers street-smart words with northern wit. David Scott aka ARGH KiD has given us pieces like Nanna Calls Me Cock, takes on difficult subjects in verses like Tearaways, has been poet laureate for Kendal Calling whilst 99 Memories was used in the run-up to the Europa League Final in his role as UEFA League Cup Final poet. His words were also used to celebrate the Mayfield development and he has featured at festivals far and wide including Blackthorn and Rec Rock.
Jackie Hagan is a hard hitting poet who puts two fingers in the face of formal convention and shines a light on working class culture, struggle, drawing on the dark humour of coping. She reflects on her own experiences too, including having her leg amputated – which became the subject of an award-winning solo show Some People Have Too Many Legs. Her second solo show This Is Not A Safe Space, is upcoming and premieres at Contact Theatre on 27th and 28th October 2017.
A former librarian who brings poetry to unexpected places – including his own performances in prisons, hospitals, children’s homes and teaching people about how we can connect through words. He put together the collection God is a Manc, wrote a poetic tribute to Tony Wilson entitled St Anthony and his latest collection is called Men’s Mournings. You may also know him from reading Arm Bands on the Nationwide Building Society advert.
Michael Symmons Roberts
Professor at the Manchester Writing School who has recently published Mancunia, a collection inspired by the city and its history. Here we come across characters like a merchant mariner, the co-ordinator of misreadings and even the superintendent of public spectacles. He also authored Edgelands with Paul Farley, which explores the familiar yet oft-neglected places in life – think gravel pits, mobile masts and even business parks on the edge of Trafford. Author of Men Who Sleep in Cars and The Stately Pleasure Dome, a poem about the intu Trafford Centre which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
Here is a fast-paced urban word wonder, who reels off poems like rap and is a self-confessed Grimeaholic. Great if you want a taste of poetic flair mixed with musical daring – drawing on themes of growing up, crime, love and loss. His pieces include Sewer Side Love and Bell Tower and he was also part of the Manchester Voices launch, performing to an audience at Central Library.
Hosts Spoken Weird poetry nights, played a key part in Afflecks Creatives and was recently part of The Other Side of Violet Spoken Word Extravaganza in Manchester. She approaches poetry with gusto, delivering punkish pieces which shine an honest light on modern life. From lines about love and identity to reflecting on times of synthpop-intensity, she stirs up something worth speaking about. Her book The Dance of a Thousand Losers is out now.
Dialect and song delivered with a smile. Sid Calderbank is a traditional dialect poet who has been researching and collecting songs, stories and poems of old Lancashire for the past 30-odd years. He’s determined to keep the ancient language of our area alive, as he showed in reciting a number of traditional verses at The Manchester Voices project launch at the Central Library and regularly performs across the county.
Ian Keith Moss
Described as The Man Who Killed The Hamsters in his biography by Stephen Dobson, Ian Keith Moss is a 1970s Manchester punk musician who adds edginess to poetry. The German Shepherd records co-owner is set to release two volumes of new material on the label – 39 songs of his spoken-word with a musical backing. The first, Words and Music, will be released on 22nd September, the second, Music and Words, a fortnight later. All proceeds from sales will be donated to UNICEF.
Kim Moore published her first collection The Art of Falling back in 2015. She’s also been shortlisted for the Forward Prize and the Michael Marks Award, and in 2014 she won a Northern Writers Award. She puts together verses like My People which encourage you to look at the life around you in a different way. She also takes part in live readings including Bad Language.
A word-spinning, soul-brimming performance poet, DJ and radio presenter who came to Manchester from London in 1986 and has been making an impression ever since. He’s added an other-worldly spoken-word element to gigs including Some Kind of Illness’ Manchester performances, co-created the Speakeasy and Wordsmith groups and helps host Ode spoken word nights in the city centre.
A writer who brought joy as creative-in-residence at Afflecks where she inspired hundreds of people to release their inner writers and artists. She’s also gained a reputation as a prolific performance poet across the country. You may also recognise her from the Nationwide Building Society adverts. Her attempt to do 60 things before she turned 60 last year turned into a show, followed by an ongoing 61 things before she’s 61.
Carol Ann Duffy
She may have been born in Glasgow and educated in Liverpool, but the Poet Laureate is Professor of Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University and has lived here for over 20 years so we’re claiming her as one of ours. Duffy draws on her rich cultural experiences to influence her work. Her first collection in 1985 ‘Standing Female Nude’ seems to speak out for the voiceless, with the title poem closing with a sense of alienation: ‘Twelve francs and get my shawl. It does not look like me.’ It is through poetry Duffy has fought to break down the barriers of this alienation and exclusivity the literary world can sometimes feel part of.
Dr John Cooper Clarke
The Bard of Salford’s punchy performance poetry was nurtured in the pubs and clubs of Manchester where he forged his style of wild black hair and jeans so skinny it’s hard not to wonder how the blood ever got to his feet. An DVD/CD anthology of his work ‘Anthologia’ with footage from performances at the Manchester Ritz and Hulme Hippodrome is due to be released on 16th October. With lines such as ‘sleep is a luxury they don’t need/ A sneak preview of death’ from his infamous ‘Beasley Street’, Dr Clarke’s work gives a dark yet hilarious commentary on the characters and chaos of the city – and we love it. He is a man who can make McCain’s oven chips seem appetising.
The recently elected Chancellor of The University of Manchester’s poems explore powerful themes including race and alienation, as in ‘Before We Get Into This’ – ‘No birthdays nor Christmas/No telephone calls. It’s been that way/Since birth for what it’s worth/No next of skin.’ Involved with Commonword, a Manchester literary publishing cooperative in his younger days, Sissay emphasizes the use of poetry as an agent for change. Look around you – his poems can be seen all over Manchester from ‘Hardy’s Well’ – painted on the side of the pub of the same name on Wilmslow Road – to the Northern Quarter.
Garry gets into the grit of Manchester and pulls out the diamonds, turning the banal like ‘Pay as You Go’, into the beautiful – lines like ‘Their friends, their friends and their friends of theirs’ show the links in the lives we lead in modern Manchester. Author of ‘St Anthony: An ode to Anthony H. Wilson’, and ‘God is a Manc,’ the ultimate ode to his home town: ‘The bible is a wonderful read/But not a book everyone believes/So when I read between the lines/My theological conclusion/Is that God the creator is a Mancunian.’ How true.
Poet and performance vampire who brings the shock of the gothic to her work with five collections of poetry to date. In her most recent collection, ‘Everything Must Go’, she explores the curious hold of a throat cancer diagnosis over her life with stunning bluntness – ‘There’s a scatter of shadows across my throat’. Curator of an exhibition on ‘Women and the Gothic’ currently on display at The John Rylands Library.
In her performance collection, ‘Some People Have Too Many Legs’, Hagan provides a darkly funny poetic take on her own leg amputation. With other poetic pieces including the lines which describe her growing up seeing ‘the tea my father chain drank’, this is Northern poetry at its most frank and unashamed. These are factors Hagan has used to bring poetry to the people – for twelve years she has helped to organise Seymour Poets, an isolated adults creativity project based at blueSCI Arts and Wellbeing Centre in Manchester.
A creative writing teacher at Bradford College with an open-mic legacy in Manchester who regularly blogs his poetry and is co-editor of the ‘Best of Manchester Poets’ anthology. His reflection, ‘Maybe even the happiest connection/ Beauty – whatever that means’ from a recent piece entitled ‘What is it and what could it be’ shows the uncertainties in the lives we lead. No question, no capitalisation, just words – a punchy, performance style from a talented wordsmith.
Gerry Potter (aka Chloe Poems)
Potter’s collections are full of colour and character, often covering LGBT themes and celebrating voices which were once suppressed and silenced. In one of his latest collections, ‘The Chronicles of Folly Butler,’ Potter invites us to follow an enticing character who is as influenced by ‘the North’ as he is. ‘Before extreme shyness, before understanding trauma, in colourful council of infancy, Folly Butler takes root…’
Performance poet and stand-up comic from Manchester, which he describes as ‘one of the coolest and most beautiful cities’. Who could dispute the truth of his poem ‘Crisps,’ a love letter to one our favourite snacks in which he perfectly summarises a problem many of us encounter all too often – ‘When I eat a bag of crisps I never want to stop/ How I wish the manufacturers would fill them to the top.’
Poetry is play and certainly tons of fun when it comes to the work of Berry. Recently returned from the Edinburgh Fringe where his show, ‘Up Your Game: Downfall of a Noob’ explored the hidden dangers of turning to video-games to survive a break-up. Berry also hosts workshops to create performance poetry with a powerful impact on children, with unforgettable lines such as, ‘There is no dragon scarier in any earthly place/His face looks like his bottom and his bottom like his face.’’