Literature, News

Manchester Cathedral Writer-in-Residence Tom Branfoot on the power of poetry

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Featured image: Bradley Sansom


Tom Branfoot is Manchester Cathedral’s new Writer-in-Residence and he wants to use poetry to make a difference.

“People have a right to choose how they are seen in the world,” says Tom Branfoot, Writer-in-Residence at Manchester Cathedral and Manchester Writing School alumnus. For Tom, poetry is the means by which the Greater Manchester community can achieve this.

Although he was raised Catholic, it was not religion that drew Tom to his current position – he notes that the mission of the Cathedral is to be inter-faith – rather it was the inspiration of other writers. Tom had witnessed poets such as Ella Frears doing interesting work in similar positions, and saw it as “something to aspire to in, maybe like, ten years or so”. Realising he had nothing to lose in applying, he sold his ideas about cultural and community outreach and has been working to promote literacy and poetry since.

As Writer-in-Residence, Tom’s brief is to develop and deliver creative projects linked to local charities, Manchester Met and the community, to facilitate poetry workshops and organise cultural activities. One project is inspired by the cathedral’s muniments room, which contains its archive for which Tom is running a workshop entitled ‘Archive’ at Manchester Poetry Library in November. It will draw not only upon the cathedral’s years of history, but also ask participants to examine the body as an archive of all its experiences.

Determined that everything he does with the residency should be accessible and free, Tom is raising awareness and appreciation of poetry particularly as a form of action. Through workshops run in collaboration with organisations such as long-term unemployment charity Volition and the British Study Centre, Tom feels connections can be made between experience, language, education and political resistance.

“Poetry, and teaching poetry, opens a space for people to impose themselves within a language that has been so corrupted by various operations of dominance over historical time,” says Tom. When people attend the workshops, they can express their own individual personal experiences. This can be as a member of a minority group, or experiencing the fallout of having lived through a decade of austerity, poetry frees people to express their personal experience in a more radical way.

Political and radical poetry is integral to Tom’s work; he won the 2022 New Poets Prize with This Is Not an Epiphany, a pamphlet of poems on social survival in the face of austerity, within the person and the landscape.

Originally a musician, Tom’s poetry emerged from songwriting. He came to Manchester Met to study English and American Literature. As a once-fresher himself, Tom’s advice for new students is to “look after yourself”. He adds, “Focus on your mental health and ask for support.”

Things have now come full circle. Once a Manchester student, Tom is now using the power of words to benefit the community. He would love you to be involved.

Follow Tom on Twitter @tombranfoot. This Is Not an Epiphany is available to buy at poetrybusiness.co.uk. His new pamphlet titled boar is coming out with Broken Sleep Books on October 31st.

About the author / 

Christine Johnstone-Swift

Christine Johnstone-Swift is a Creative Writing student at MMU. She loves fantasy fiction and cake.

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