By Joshua Lee
The Manchester Writing School End Of Year Poetry Reading event celebrated its fourth year on the 26th of May, held this year at the Z-arts Centre. There was a relaxed communal vibe in the room as six postgraduates, poets in their own right, approached the microphone with their unique works.
Andy Hickmott was the first to politely capture the attention of the room. Introduced by award-winning poet, and Manchester Metropolitan University tutor, Adam O’Riordan, as a man, “proud to describe himself as a Manchester poet.” Hickmott’s reading benefitted from his local voice, brimming with nostalgia for an older Manchester. His first poem, ‘Fetch Mrs Coats,’ was followed up with, ‘The New Mrs Coats’. There was a pattern emerging, and it was no coincidence. Hickmott’s involvement with the campaign to save Ancoats Dispensary is what led him to invent ‘Mrs Coats’, the central protagonist in a collection of poems Hickmott is due to release on the 8th of June in support of the cause.
Hilary Robinson, a former primary school teacher, was the second poet of the night. Only properly picking up the pen herself a few years ago, Robinson said she found writing as a personal outlet later on in life. The defining moment of her reading was her poem, ‘On Bridge Street’, written about the premature birth of her son. Her warm voice gave texture to poems that were confessional and personal, her aforementioned poem concluding with the line, ‘I have not spoken of that time until today.’ The room fell silent; a biting melancholy evoked the knowledge that Robinson’s words had come from somewhere more than just a slip of paper. It was the most touching reading of the night.
But for mature students with an obvious experience of life, it begged the question, how did the course benefit them? “Poetry has been in my life ever since I was a schoolboy,” postgraduate student, John Fennelly, recalled. “What the Writing School has done is give me the discipline to write – the correct environment.” Fennelly, who says his main influence is Seamus Heaney, drew laughter from the audience with his satirical poem, ‘Larkin In Paradise’, a love letter to Larkin, as much as it is a parody.
Natalie Burdett began the second half of the evening, breathing poetic life into the, perhaps unlikely, subject of Birmingham. And Merrie Williams maintained an unusual approach to poetry as she charmed the audience with a gesticulating recitation of her poem, ‘They Say’. “They say the recommended wait is forty years to start writing about life…”
Mark Pajak brought the evening to a conversational close with his own reading. “I don’t always write about bleak things,” joked Merseyside-born Pajak, before going on to read one of the bleakest poems of the night. It was, however, also one of the most intriguing. In 2015, Pajak was commended in the National Poetry Prize, a celebration of his work which does not come undeserved. Particular praise must be handed to his poem, ‘Sweet’, which contained lines so vivid, they were virtually edible.
It is the hope of this journalist that those unique voices heard at the Z-arts centre don’t stop speaking anytime soon.
Joshua Lee is a writer who is in his first year studying English and Creative Writing at MMU.