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Carol Ann Duffy & Friends Returns for Series 11

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By Ruth Hudson

This week Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre welcomed Creative Director of the Manchester Writing School, Carol Ann Duffy, as she returned to host the first event of the new Carol Ann Duffy and Friends series. At the event, Carol Ann welcomed both former and current poetry students from Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) MA in Creative Writing.

Carol Ann opened the evening with a reading of ‘Top of the Form’, from her prize-winning fourth collection, Mean Time. The poem gives an account of “someone who thinks the happiest time of their life is behind them.” Following with ‘Litany’, a more “autobiographical” poem, Carol Ann elaborated upon how in our childhood we are meant to know nothing, “where no one had cancer, or sex, or debts.” To which, she recalled her ten-year-old self, sitting on the carpet reading or playing whilst her mum held a Tupperware party. She added: “I came from the kind of background where language had to be very proper.”

Next, House Poet of the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends series, Liz Venn, introduced three poets who were reading for the first time at the Royal Exchange. First to read was Natalie Burdett, who has worked in environmental charities as well her work forthcoming in several publications. Her cleverly constructed love poem, addressed to Birmingham, shed a beautiful light on “Where nothing shines at all, a sycamore seed sprouts against a wall.”

Other poems featured a recollection of a fear of blood and “strange things women hear, especially if they’re in the public eye”, Burdett successfully capturing the familiarity of everyday life and shaping it into something beautifully strange.

Second to appear, coming all the way from China, was Helen Wing, a former MA in Creative Writing student who read from three collections: Archangel, Savage Torpor, and The Trees of Beijing. Archangel is a “series of poems based on flesh and the spirit”, telling the story of “the Angels who St. Austin threw out in the bible in about 380 AD, as a result of this he had to throw out all of the sexed angels into a book called Pseudepigrapha.” With echoes of the dark narrative of poet Sylvia Plath, in poem ‘Mortmain’, Wing touched on the “love of poets of The Silver Age in Russia.”

Liz Venn applauded the variety of poetry that Manchester Writing School had nurtured. She said: “One of the accusations people make about Creative Writing programmes is that they produce so-called cookie-cutter poets. These evenings completely disprove that.”

She went on to discuss the incredible opportunities open to students on the MA in Creative Writing: “One of the reasons why MMU produces so many successful poets is the fantastic range of talented teachers it offers. There is no better example of that than Carol Ann Duffy.”

Mark Pajak, a second year MA in Creating Writing student at MMU, has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and has also served as poetry editor for MMU literary magazine, Avis. Pajak exhibited an array of carnal references, describing his work to Humanity Hallows as “very bleak.” Proud of his Liverpudlian roots, Mark shared, in his chilling poem, ‘Thin’, an account of a story he read in The Liverpool Echo of a person “Locked in a shed in Toxteth, dead.”

Carol Ann Duffy introduced the second half of the evening with a reading of a love poem, ‘Clocks’. She said: “I wrote this poem when I was thinking how lucky we are if we have faith. I think prayer gives the feeling not only of being heard but of being listened to.”

Liz Venn proudly announced special guest, Jo Bell, Canal Laureate for the UK, appointed by the Poetry Society. Jo’s poem, ‘Lifted’ tells of her experience of working in the English canal system, of “Water, [rushing] in like fools.” The audience were later invited to sing, “The roof is finished, the roof is finished”, bringing about a burst of laughter.

The next event in the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends series is on Monday 19th Oct. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the Royal Exchange website

Ruth Hudson studies English and American literature at MMU. She also has blog that focuses on addressing mental health issues.

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