Carol Ann Duffy with Company and Sean O’Brien

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Carol Ann Duffy and Friends, Monday, 7th January, Royal Exchange Theatre 

Words by Student Press Office journalist, Sophie Bannister

Photographs by Sara Ellis

The stage is set at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Sean O’Brien is the star of this particular poetry night. He boasts a T.S. Eliot Prize, two Forward Poetry Prizes, a Royal Society of Literature fellowship, and many more prestigious honours. He is clearly a showman, at ease with performing, and enjoys making the audience laugh. His poetry has a steely, political edge, which influences noises of agreement from his audience, nods and claps. Sean does not rush into his readings but spends time introducing each poem properly, interacting with the audience as he does so.

One of my favourite poems of the night is a particularly sarcastic and well-performed piece called ‘The Thing’, which is about the experience of working in the theatre and highlights some artistic differences that occur between writer and director.

Soon, we’re back to the political topic which Sean epitomises well. He sums up our current situation with entertaining descriptions and thoughtful insights. Newcastle, his home, also crops up repetitively in his poetry and through his descriptions of it, we get this small insight into Sean’s personal life. He flits between what he calls ‘sombre’ and ‘frivolous’ poems which keeps the mood light, and the audience engaged.

Sean’s performance is enjoyable, a real treat for the audience. We all feel both impressed and privileged to see this great poet doing what he does best – reading the poetry he has so carefully crafted.

Sean O’Brien takes to the stage

Sean O’Brien is the perfect ending to a night of two halves, the first of which contains both Carol Ann Duffy and a selection of MMU’s finest creative writing postgraduates. The MMU postgraduates who are performing this evening each have a distinctive voice portrayed through their engaging poetry.

First up, Colin Bancroft, draws upon some shocking personal experiences to create poetry that is thought-provoking and comprises of the difficult issue of violent knife crime within society. Although shocking, it is entertaining, with interesting imagery and engrossing plots. We are given the viewpoints of the victim, the attacker, the aftermath of the attack, and vivid, haunting imagery of a, ‘serrated blade, handle white.’ It is clear that he is very much affected by the events depicted in his poetry, so it must have been difficult to decide upon performing these particular poems. When speaking to him, there is the sense that Colin’s time at MMU has allowed him to confront his experiences through writing. He explains how MMU has influenced his writing; ‘It’s brought me on leaps and bounds through the tutoring that I’ve had and the opportunities to work with such great poets’. Colin intends to gain a PhD at MMU once he has completed his MA course explaining that he wants to stay at MMU, ‘because of the university and staff’.

Next in the spotlight is Rebecca Audra Smith. Her reading begins with some unusual love poems and continues onto surprisingly controversial topics. She speaks of gender identity, of a friend who is saving for top surgery and explores the Gemma Barker case (in which Gemma impersonated men to start relationships with other girls) in three poems, which she explains she wrote because, ‘The whole point of poetry is that you’re being honest with yourself, and you cannot ‘fake out’ your reading by only showing certain-faced people.’ Obviously, this was a huge task to undertake. ‘My tutor, Adam O’Riorden, encouraged me to explore the Gemma Barker case. He thought it was an interesting case [that] showed a lot of potential for grey areas.’

Rebecca seems to have flourished under the eye of MMU’s creative writing tutors and explains that, although she had an interview at University of Manchester, the differences between the two courses made her turn to MMU. She has clearly taken full advantage of her time at Manchester through participating in projects like this and her own brainchild, Stirred, which she runs alongside her friend Anna Percy.

Finally, Joe Hobson takes to the stage. He has already graduated from MMU and in the time since, has run a very successful book club and open mike night in Chester, where he currently lives. His poetry is very much based on detail and imagery. Joe takes everyday occurrences such as a quiet train ride or rainfall, then brings it to life with his attentive descriptions and carefully crafted writing style. We are given an insight into his progressive writing style; he explains that every year he tries to write a poem about a dandelion to track his poetical progress which, although amusing to the audience, is a very innovative way to see how his style changes over time.

Joe seems to have thoroughly enjoyed his time living in Manchester. Of the MMU course itself, he explains that the way it is run is informal, and this seems to have worked for him as it helped him to formulate and develop his own ideas, as well as encouraging him to go out and find extra-curricular activities that have helped him to progress as a writer.

L-R Rebecca Audra Smith, Colin Bancroft, Joe Hobson, Sean O’Brien and David Tait

The night has been a varied one. Each poet who has performed has brought a new, invigorated topic to the attention of the audience. Our postgraduates have performed well, showing the scope and depth of the talent MMU has to offer. Sean O’Brien, too, was a real treat for the audience. Everybody leaves with a smile on their face and with words of praise for all who performed tonight.

Sophie Bannister is Co-chair of Manchester Metropolitan University’s English Society, where she is currently in her second year studying English Literature. She hopes to complete a Master’s degree after her time at MMU. You can view Sophie’s blog here

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