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Adam O’Riordan celebrates his new poetry collection with Carol Ann Duffy & Friends

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By Emily Oldfield


Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy took to the Studio stage of the Royal Exchange Theatre for the latest event in the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends series this week. The event featured a reading from award-winning poet and Academic Director of the Manchester Writing School Adam O’Riordan, who was celebrating his new collection A Herring Famine.

The evening also featured its signature showcase of both new and established poetic talent, accompanied by live music. Guests were welcomed with atmospheric jazz music from a three-piece ensemble consisting of Richard Jones on piano, Paul Baxter on double bass and Johnny Hunter on drums.

A range of student poets from Manchester Writing School, including Georgi Gill, Victoria Gatehouse and Elisabeth Sennitt Clough, then followed with their work. With humour, tenderness and energy, these were engaging readings showing a diversity of skill. Hosted by the Royal Exchange’s House Poets John Fennelly and Mark Pajak, the event was a fitting celebration of creative talent welcoming in the first day of spring and just a day before World Poetry Day.

The House Poets provided a warmth and wit well suited to the evening, with quips like, “Politicians are like nappies – need changing often… and for the same reason!” amusing the intimate audience. Pajak also memorably read from his own work, with lines like “Her spine wags and is steadied by a man’s hand” showing the skill of a poet previously commended by the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition 2014. John Fennelly’s work expressed both humour and themes of the exploration of humanity as he mused, ‘”Like a lot of poets, I’ve got more hypochondria DNA than mitochondria DNA”.

The highly-anticipated Adam O’Riordan then took to the stage, introduced by Carol Ann Duffy with the words, “He’s sexy, elegant, and has written some of the most heart-breaking love poems.”

O’Riordan is an established poet, having previously received the Eric Gregory Award and the Somerset Maugham Award. He has authored poetry collections including In The Flesh, short stories in The Burning Ground and his latest collection of poems was published in February. These are poems, many of which featured in the reading, exploring some of the contradictory states which dominate how we live: hunger and satisfaction, absence and abundance, ends and beginnings.

Not only does the collection consider the 1944 Herring Famine but crosses space and time, taking in other historical events including a reflection on local history with the Strangeways Prison Riot in 1990. Published by Chatto and Windus, A Herring Famine has already received positive public attention and reviews.

The evening was testament to the talent and diversity of creative writing at Manchester Writing School, where O’Riordan is also Programme Leader for both the MA and MFA in Creative Writing. Other highlights included Carol Ann Duffy reading her own poem ‘Prayer’, in an evening which resonated with themes of love, passion and devotion.

Carol Ann Duffy and Friends evenings have brought together a number of poets, running for over 13 seasons. This has included some of the Writing School’s most exciting new talent as well as established writers such as Elaine Feinstein, Liz Lochhead, Michael Symmons Roberts and Jean Sprackland.

For more information, visit the Royal Exchange Theatre Website.

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Emily Oldfield

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