By Jacqueline Grima
This year’s National Poetry Day will be taking place on 28th September, with everyone invited to join in and celebrate all things poetic. The aim of the event, founded in 1994, is to encourage readers and writers to share their favourite poems in order to increase the size of the audience engaging with poetry.
Anybody can join in the celebrations by organising their own poetry event, having a go at writing or reading some poetry for the first time or simply following events on social media at #nationalpoetryday
Humanity Hallows spoke to some of Manchester Met’s poetry lovers and asked them to mark the event by sharing their favourite poems as well as some poems they have enjoyed about Manchester:
Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Andrew McMillan chose Sharon Olds’ What Left? from her 2012 collection Stag’s Leap:
Something like a half-person
left my young husband’s body,
and something like the other half
left my ovary. Later,
the new being, complete, slowly
left my body. And a portion of breath
left the air of the delivery room,
entering the little mouth,
and the milk left the breast, and went
into the fat cuffs of the wrists.
Years later, during his cremation,
the liquids left my father’s corpse,
and the smoke left the flue. And even
later, my mother’s ashes left
my hand, and fell as seethe into the salt
chop. My then husband made
a self, a life, I made beside him
a self, a life, gestation. We grew
strong, in direction. We clarified
in vision, we deepened in our silence and our speaking.
We did not hold still, we moved, we are moving
still – we made, with each other, a moving
like a kind of music: duet; then solo,
solo. We fulfilled something in each other –
I believed in him, he believed in me, then we
grew, and grew, I grieved him, he grieved me,
I completed with him, he completed with me,
we made whole cloth together, we succeeded,
we perfected what lay between him and me,
I did not deceive him, he did not deceive me,
I did not leave him, he did not leave me,
I freed him, he freed me.
Talking about why he chose this poem, Andrew told us: “In poetry oftentimes, I think we speak of being ‘given permission’; Sharon Olds was one of the first poets who really gave me permission to write about the self in an un-ironic, sincere and straightforward manner. This poem is the final poem in her astonishing collection that deals with her divorce. There’s something so celebratory and even-handed about the poem; it avoids the bitterness a poem like this could easily take on. The musicality of it too, is quite simply sublime. Sharon Olds talks about wanting her poetry to be ‘useful’, which I’ve always found a wonderful way to think about poetry.”
For his city-related poem, Andrew chose ‘Howl’. He said, “‘Howl’ is a famous poem by the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and obviously isn’t about Manchester; but it’s about a city, a city that keeps growing and expanding and the journey to attempt to be creative in that space. It speaks to the idea of walking constantly through a city that’s full of glass and tall buildings and, to that extent, it’s interesting to have it in your head as you wander through the streets of Manchester.”
Creative Writing Lecturer Anjum Malik chose a Manchester-themed poem by Ryan Williams, written after the May Arena attack, that has deep connections to our beloved city and its inhabitants:
A grey Tuesday morning, ‘neath Lancastrian skies
We wake once again to wipe tears from our eyes
Forced to wear robes of weakness and pity
As cowards attack the very heart of our city
Like always, we’ll comfort and hold one another
A Mancunian family of sisters and brothers
For a time our strut is reduced to a stagger
But make no mistake, we’ll rekindle our swagger
We’ll learn how to live with another deep scar
If you think you can beat us, you don’t know who we are!
We’re Collyhurst, Ancoats, Moston and Sale
We’re Oldham and Bury; Ashton; Rochdale
We’re Pankhurst and Turing, the Gallagher Brothers
We’re Morrissey, Marr and a million others!
We’re a city of workers, a city of shirkers
A city of tracksuits, and bibles and burkas
Vegetarian, Rastafarian, Atheist, Jew
100 Red! 100% Blue!
We’re each of us different but never alone
In this Cosmopolitopia we get to call ‘home’
So, come at us again, and again if you must.
Time after time we’ll rise from the dust.
You’ll never prevail – not against us…
This is Manchester, our Manchester,
And the bees still buzz!
Anjum also told us about a favourite Urdu poem of hers written by Kishwar Nahid. Anjum said, “Kishwar is an amazing poet, woman and activist in Pakistan and truly inspiring.”
The poem is called ‘We Sinful Women’.
Talking about his own favourite poems – ‘The Briefcase’ by John Hegley and ‘Salome Maloney’ by John Cooper Clarke – Senior Lecturer Nicholas Royle told us, “As my poet friends are no doubt tired of hearing me say, I don’t read a lot of poetry, partly because I don’t usually know if poems are any good or not. I feel unqualified to judge the form. However, I know what I like and I have loved the poetry of John Hegley since I first saw him perform. ‘The Briefcase’ is an early work that captures the poignancy and humour that are often at the heart of his poetry. Its imagery is powerful and evocative and its last line is wonderfully funny.
“John Cooper Clarke often writes about Salford rather than Manchester, but his ‘Salome Maloney’ is an exception to this rule, specifying Oxford Road and the Ritz. Like all his work, it is bitterly, mercilessly funny.”
Poet and Lecturer Helen Mort, who recently won the 2017 Mslexia Poetry Prize, told us, “One of my all-time favourite poems is the sonnet by Edna St Vincent Millay, ‘I, being born a woman and distressed’. Millay was a bold, non-conformist poet, openly bisexual and totally comfortable writing about her sexuality. In this poem, she sends up the idea that women are demure and fragile by talking about how lust sometimes overcomes reason – controversial in 1923!
“I love the poem’s closing couplet, I’ve always read it as saying: ‘just because we slept together doesn’t mean I want to talk to you.’ I love her wit and defiance.”
You can read Millay’s poem here.
Talking about Manchester poetry, Helen added, “I’m also really enjoying Michael Symmons Roberts’ new collection Mancunia and my favourite from the book so far is ‘On Your Birthday’, a dazzling tour of The Northern Quarter ‘in full vamp / it’s post drizzle glory’. Because I commute to Manchester from my home near Sheffield, I always feel like a bit of a tourist here but Michael’s poem is so intimate it feels like a secret tour of the city.”
Other poems marked as favourites were Frank O’Hara’s ‘Having a Coke with You’ which was chosen by Senior Lecturer Nikolai Duffy and can be read here, and Simon Armitage’s ‘On Miles Platting Station’ which was chosen by Manchester Writing School Academic Director and poet Adam O’Riordan.
To find out how you can organise your own event to mark National Poetry Day, visit the Poetry Day website.
If you are interested in writing your own poetry for competition entry, the 2017 Manchester Writing Competition Poetry Prize is accepting entries until 29th September.