By Freddie Bruhin-Price
There was a celebratory mood last night in the packed Studio Theatre at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. The Carol Ann Duffy and Friends series marked its 30th event by distributing a special anthology of poems, Assembly, written by MA Creative Writing students from the Manchester Writing School. Three of the students featured in the anthology joined Carol Ann and special guest Lachlan Mackinnon, relishing the opportunity to read their own poetry in public.
The audience were encouraged to give a donation at the Blackwell’s book stand with proceeds going to ReadWell. Readwell is a registered charity that takes free books into children’s hospitals. James Draper, Manager of the Manchester Writing School, stressed the importance of the charity’s work explaining that second hand books cannot be accepted under hospital regulations and that ReadWell’s projects enrich the lives of seriously ill children.
The night began with a jazz recital from a bassist, pianist and a tenor saxophonist. Carol Ann then stepped up to introduce a “very special evening,” before treating the transfixed audience to a reading of her poem ‘The Counties’. Introducing the poem, Carol Ann told the story of how, in her childhood, she would write her name and address in every book she owned, and lamented the fact that counties were no longer needed on letters for them to reach their destination.
The House Poet, Liz Venn, revealed that the night had been sold-out for months, before she introduced Scott Fellows, the first of three student poets from Manchester Metropolitan University. Scott read from his forthcoming collection, which, he explained to Humanity Hallows, “is based on time, the passing of time, bereavement, and changing perspectives on life.” His former career as a chaplain was reflected in moving poems like ‘Cancer Patients’ and the short, stunning ‘Empty Chair’. The light-hearted ‘Body Evolve’, inspired by a beauty parlour in Stalybridge offering “cut-price slicing where you’re too thick,” demonstrated Scott’s versatility. It was received with raucous laughter from the crowd that erupted on the poem’s final line “buy one breast get one free.”
Scott commented on the opportunities Manchester Writing School’s MA course offers to “bright young poets,” and observed that, although he was “neither of these things” that he too had benefited greatly from the guidance offered by the School. House poet Liz Venn, an alumnus of the School who has gone on to success as winner of the Bare Fiction Poetry and Poets and Players prizes since her graduation in 2011, invited the audience to applaud once more for the “very bright, very young Scott Fellows.”
Following Scott was poet Carolyn Zukowski, who was an online distance learning MA Creative Writing student, and officially, the furthest travelled of any of the student guests, having flown in from Czech Republic especially for the evening. Carolyn is editor of The Literary Bohemian, and writes poems concerned with “travelling, and being at home.” Her belief that “good poetry is constantly evolving,” is reflected in her upcoming collection, which explores what happens when we perceive “changes in a perfect place.” She read from poems such as ‘Lunar Eclipse’, which came to life with descriptions of “bottled messages left unread” and the atmospheric ‘Cesky Krumlov’, which evoked scenes “in the slow air” of her adopted hometown in the Czech Republic.
The last of the student poets from the Creative Writing MA was Ian Humphreys. Ian has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize three times and is soon to be featured in the Guardian and Ambit magazine.
Influenced by Philip Larkin and Sylvia Plath, Ian uses simple language in his collection-in-progress, whose working title is Out of Service, which, as he described to Humanity Hallows, explore “fragility, and things that don’t work how we expect them to.” He began with his description of the lowly “Telephone Box,” which is “open all hours for the unconnected” and went on to raise enthusiastic response from the audience with his ode to the slow cooker entitled ‘Housewife’s Saviour.’ By the final line “Simmer, simmer, simmer,” the crowd were in stitches.
The opportunity that these events offer to talented, creative poets from MMU is invaluable. Following these readings, which raised excitement about what the future could hold for the poets, and following a brief intermission, Carol Ann took to the stage for a final time. She praised the city of Manchester, enthusing that “these nights are Manchester. We are lucky to have a city that can sustain poetry and nights like this.” Carol Ann welcomed a returning Lachlan Mackinnon as “the most erudite, generous, honest, subtle of poets.” Lachlan read extensively from across his four collections. Highlights included ‘Nocturn’, the melancholy observation of a fellow writer’s life in ‘Some Kind of Shelter’, and a series of elegies, perhaps the most moving of which was ‘Emma’, dedicated to a great friend of the poet’s. “I felt like I had to write something for her, or I wouldn’t write anything again,” said Lachlan of the poem. Its poignant power was reflected in the audience’s fervent reaction, ending a momentous night in heart-rending fashion.
Freddie likes playing bass and drinking all kinds of tea.