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An Evening with Carol Ann Duffy and Friends

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MA Creative Writing Poetry students Natalie Burdett and Claire Larvin

By Jamie Ryder

Poetry allows one the freedom to unlock their inner most thoughts. It’s the opportunity to write about anything and everything. A select group of people had an opportunity to show off their skills during the live poetry event held by poet laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy. It was hosted by the Royal Exchange Theatre in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University and the Manchester Writing School.  Poetry Masters students read alongside her and poured their hearts out on the page and podium.

After a performance by a phenomenal jazz band, the show kicked off with Carol Ann Duffy, introducing the event and highlighting the special guest Ann Gray. She said the audience were in for an “amazing experience.” Duffy read her poem Mrs Midas that played on the legend of King Midas and his obsession with gold. With lines like “Do you know about gold? It feeds no one,” the poem drew upon melancholic images of a one-sided relationship. It kept the audience’s attention from start to finish. Duffy moved into her second poem which she admitted she stole from the “diary of the wife of Charles Darwin.”  The poem detailed the comparison of a man to a chimpanzee by his wife.

carolThe house poet Liz Venn, introduced the three students who would be reading. The first was Robert Harper who had written for a slew of literary features and runs his own magazine called Bare Fiction. Harper introduced his first poem Sam Makes Do as a kind of twisted interpretation of Christmas. Dark images such as “mend mistakes he might have made” mingled with a Christmas tree to create a visceral experience. Another poem George Brokers Peace remembered WW1 and the experiences young soldiers went through to make the world a better place.

The second student Justine Chamberlaine professed her opinion of poets “making their own myths and legends.” This was seen in her poem Stockport Epic that blended ancient myths such as the Odyssey with an average day in Stockport. Facebook and “a bunch of scousers” played their part in the epic journey. Shadows featured themes of inner darkness and overcoming the shadows in our lives. Chamberlaine said she was inspired to write the poem after finding a “metal plate” from her GCSE art studies. This demonstrates how writers can pull things from the mundane and make them mean something.

The third student Michael Connelly read poems from his debut pamphlet Aquarium. An appreciation for sea life and nature became apparent immediately. His first poem Aquarium presented the idea of man having a fish tank inside him. He wouldn’t eat “seafood out of respect” for the three fish living there. It was a hilarious piece the audience certainly appreciated. His second poem Krill Rations presented penguins being cut off from food supplies. It evoked images of class divide with the penguins being seen as oppressed creatures. Connelly’s last poem was his “attempt at a nature poem” which he dubbed ‘We discover a severed thumb in the woods.’ Grotesqueness jumped off the page and left a lasting impression.

123After the intermission Venn read out two poems that shared the theme of space travel. The Spin focused on the “theory of the planet spinning around the sun.” Let’s send our lovers into orbit mixed love with the idea that people would be much happier professing their love to each other out of Earth’s atmosphere. Duffy returned to perform her “favourite poem” about her daughter. A Child Asleep featured a mother watching her little girl sleep in the light of a full moon. It moved the audience with themes of unconditional love.

She then introduced the special guest poet Ann Gray whom she described as writing out “of the human, out of the heart” and creating a “memorable lyric.” Gray performed from her At the Gate collection which featured several poems dealing with lamentation and the yearning for a lost love. One of them called Your Body depicted a wife identifying her husband’s body. Vivid description of body parts generated a kind of beautiful sadness. Gray read a poem that she admitted made her friends “feel guilty” about the way they treated their spouses. If You Could Come Back featured the endearing foibles a man is capable of.  But they couldn’t be appreciated because the lover was gone.

The event ended on a high note with the performers taking a bow. Each of them earned their place, each of them made the most of working beside Duffy. The students came from a range of backgrounds, yet the love of poetry united them. It’s a reflection of The Manchester Writing School’s diligence and how they aim to nurture talent. Poetry is thought of as subjective, but everyone in the audience came away with a sense of satisfaction.

Jamie Ryder is an aspiring novelist with an appreciation for the fantastical and a love hate relationship with the written word. You can read more of his work on his blog.

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