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Manchester's Poets and their Best Works

Manchester’s Poets and their Best Works

Poetry possesses a beautiful intimacy. Within a few stanzas, poets construct entire universes, kindle myriad emotions, and provoke profound contemplation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the evocative verses penned by the influential poets hailing from the vibrant city of Manchester.

In this exploration, we dive deep into the minds of these Mancunian luminaries, immersing ourselves in their unique works. Their poetry, rich in diverse themes and distinct styles, stands as a testament to the city’s thriving cultural landscape.

So buckle up, grab your favourite brew, and let’s embark on a poetic journey, exploring some of the best works these Mancunian wordsmiths have to offer. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

Tony Walsh

Tony Walsh, a.k.a. ‘Longfella’ is quite the character, he transitioned from social work into the world of poetry, just like an unassuming book you picked up and can’t put down. 

His experiences breathe life into his work, making it relatable, profound, and, in some instances, profoundly moving. Remember ‘This Is The Place’? It became a beacon of resilience after the heart-breaking arena bombing in 2017. 

Talk about evoking emotions. The poem is like a love letter to Manchester, mirroring its strength, spirit, and grit. It’s the lyrical equivalent of a comforting hug. If you’re having a downer, look no further than Tony’s ‘Take My Hand’. 

Fun fact: 

Tony Walsh is a former scientist. He only went full-time as a poet at the age of 45. Quite the career change, wouldn’t you say?

Lemn Sissay MBE

Let me introduce you to Lemn Sissay MBE, a man who’s turned adversity into art. His works are a testament to his resilience, a beacon of hope in verse. 

His name means ‘why’ in Amharic, and it’s no surprise he’s spent a lifetime questioning and exploring identity through his poetry. ‘Reflection’ is like a mirror, showing you what’s within, while ‘Invisible Kisses’ is a symphony of love and longing. 

In ‘Morning Breaks’, Sissay explores themes of awakening and renewal, while ‘Listener’ showcases his incredible ability to engage and connect with readers on an intensely personal level.

What sets Lemn apart is his raw honesty. His poems don’t just speak, they sing of hope, of resilience, and most importantly, of the power of self-expression.

Fun fact

Lemn Sissay’s poems are inscribed on buildings in Manchester and London. His work literally leaves a mark on the cityscape.


Moving on to a man of mystery, ARGH KiD, or David Scott as his mum would call him, behind his peculiar moniker lies a talent that beautifully fuses rhythm and wordplay. 

A musical background means his poetry isn’t just recited; it’s performed with a cadence that’s as rhythmic as a catchy indie track. 

Take ‘Frank’,  for example. It’s a slice of life served with a side of relatability. As you navigate through its lines, you’ll feel like you’ve known Frank forever. 

His ‘Neighbours’ is another brilliant piece—a testimony to Manchester’s close-knit communities. 

Fun fact: 

Aside from being a poet, ARGH KiD is a regular on BBC Radio, where he often shares his poetic insights. Who said poets couldn’t be radio stars?

John Cooper Clarke

Next on the roll call is John Cooper Clarke, the maestro of punk poetry. With his mop of black curls and sharp wit, Clarke is a bona fide Mancunian legend. Imagine if Bob Dylan and Mark E. Smith had a poetry love child—you’ll get John Cooper Clarke.

Have you read ‘I Wanna Be Yours’? It’s a love poem, but with a twist. Think of it as a punk serenade. And ‘Evidently Chickentown’ is a cathartic rant, a lyrical grumble that’s as satisfying as finally getting the bus after waiting for ages in the rain. 

Clarke’s genius lies in his unique approach to poetry, making the ordinary extraordinary with a sprinkle of Mancunian wit and a whole lot of punk.

Fun fact: 

John Cooper Clarke’s influence spans beyond poetry. He’s also appeared in The Sopranos and even had an Arctic Monkeys album named after one of his poems.

J B Barrington

Alright, let’s talk about J B Barrington, the Mancunian poet who’s got a knack for immortalising working-class life in his rhythmic verses. 

This bloke knows how to transport you right into the heart of Northern England, where the brick houses and narrow alleys are the backdrop of everyday struggles. 

Now, if you’re looking to dive into some serious nostalgia, check out ‘Things Me Mam Used to Say’. It’s like taking a one-way ticket to the land of memories, with Barrington’s words echoing your own mum’s advice in that unmistakable Mancunian accent. 

His piece ‘Woodchip Anaglypta and Nicotined Artex Ceilings’ packs a poignant punch, highlighting the raw realities of working-class life with vivid and evocative imagery.

Barrington’s words create a radio drama of the working class, beautifully composed and lyrically rich. Get ready to be moved by J B Barrington’s authentic and unfiltered poetry that captures the true spirit of the working class.

Fun fact: 

J B Barrington is not just a poet; he’s also a performance powerhouse. He has supported renowned bands like Sleaford Mods and The Fall with his lively stage presence.

Mike Garry

Alright, let’s dive into the world of Mike Garry, a poet who’s made waves with his powerful and thought-provoking works. One piece that demands attention is ‘Men’s Morning’,  a collaboration with musician Joe Duddell. 

Garry’s poetry goes beyond the surface, diving deep into social issues, personal experiences, and the beating heart of Manchester. 

This gem explores the complexities of masculinity and mental health, hitting you right in the feels. Now, let’s talk about ‘God is a Manc’,  a love letter to Manchester that’ll give you chills. 

Garry’s passionate words capture the city’s resilience, its spirit that refuses to be crushed. And don’t miss ‘St. Anthony: An Ode to Anthony H Wilson’, a heartfelt tribute to the legendary figure in Manchester’s music scene. 

Fun fact: 

Mike Garry used to be a librarian. He’s a strong advocate for libraries and often talks about their impact on communities.

Dame Carol Ann Duffy DBE

Dame Carol Ann Duffy: the poetry powerhouse who knows how to leave a lasting impression. This dame has poetry in her veins and a way with words that will make your heart skip a beat.

Duffy made history as the first woman to hold the prestigious position of Poet Laureate in the United Kingdom. Talk about breaking barriers and blazing trails! Her poetry is a reflection of her distinctive voice and unapologetic style.

When you delve into Duffy’s works, get ready for a journey that takes you through the depths of love, loss, politics, and identity. Her collection, ‘The World’s Wife’ is an absolute gem, giving a powerful voice to the unsung heroines of history and mythology.

With Duffy, you’re not just reading poetry, you’re having a conversation with a witty, insightful, and captivating storyteller. 

Fun fact: 

Carol Ann Duffy was the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly gay poet to be appointed UK Poet Laureate.

Jackie Kay, MBE

Ready to meet Jackie Kay MBE? Born in Edinburgh but adopted by a Glaswegian family, she found her poetic home in Manchester. Her writings are a celebration of identity, belonging and the twists and turns of life.

Her collection, ‘Fiere’, is a showcase of her storytelling genius. It presents a rich tapestry of narratives that resonate deeply with readers, offering a profound exploration of the human experience.

Meanwhile, ‘In My Country’ is like a rich tapestry of cultures, as colourful and diverse as the Northern Quarter on a busy day. And ‘Brendon Gallacher’ is a heart-tugger, a tale of an imaginary friend that’ll take you on a nostalgia trip. 

Reading Kay is like having a heart-to-heart with an old mate, it’s comforting and inspiring all at the same time!

Fun fact: 

Jackie Kay not only writes in English but also in Scots and Scottish Gaelic. Talk about being multilingual.

Louise Wallwein, MBE

Raised in the edgy underbelly of Manchester’s punk scene, Louise Wallwein MBE is a poet who channels the raw, unfiltered spirit of her city. Her verses have a way of gripping your soul, each line bleeding emotion, each word echoing with the hum of city life. 

One of Wallwein’s notable works is ‘Glue’, a deeply personal and powerful piece that explores their own experiences as a care leaver. It’s a testament to their ability to channel raw emotions into transformative art.

With Wallwein, you’re in for an extraordinary poetic journey that breaks boundaries and pushes the limits. Their unique perspective and fearless approach to storytelling make them true trailblazers in the world of poetry. 

Fun fact: 

Louise Wallwein made her poetry debut on a crane during the 1994 Manchester Festival. Bet you’ve never heard of a poetry reading quite like that before!

Dave Viney

Alright, let’s talk about Dave Viney, the badass Manchester poet. This guy doesn’t beat around the bush. He’ll hit you right in the feels with his raw and unfiltered words. 

One of his popular pieces you gotta check out is ‘Concrete Dreams’. It’s a love letter to the hardworking folks of Manchester, reminding us that dreams can sprout even from the cracks in the pavement. 

A favourite of ours is ‘Stone Soup’, a tribute to the city he loves, feels like a jaunt through the city centre on a busy Saturday—there’s energy, there’s life, and there’s a unique story at every corner. 

Viney’s passion for storytelling is contagious, whether he’s spitting rhymes on stage or scribbling like a madman in his notebook. 

Fun fact: 

Dave’s poetry and music often intertwine in live gigs, making for an unforgettable experience.

Cathy Crabb

Cathy Crabb is a poetic powerhouse from Manchester. This lady knows how to weave words into something extraordinary. Her style? Pure magic. 

Crabb’s popular piece, ‘Stardust Symphony’,  is a celestial journey that will leave you starry-eyed. With her words, she paints vivid pictures that transport you to otherworldly realms. It’s like she has a direct hotline to the universe’s secrets. 

Another one of her notable works is ‘Beside The See-Side’, which is as charming and refreshing as a day trip to Blackpool. It’s pure Cathy Crabb—filled with heart, humour, and a generous sprinkling of Northern soul. 

Whether she’s performing on stage or scribbling in her notebook with a cup of tea by her side, Crabb’s poetry is a blend of whimsy and wisdom.

Fun fact: 

Cathy is not just a poet, but also a playwright, turning everyday stories into captivating dramas on the stage.

Ben Mellor

Step into the world of Ben Mellor, a poet as sharp and invigorating as a cool Manchester breeze. His works, like Anthropoetry, are a journey of discovery and reflection, offering intriguing insights into the human condition. 

Ben’s verses are like a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry – fascinating, informative, and full of surprises. 

His words are more than just poetry. They’re an exploration of life, a conversation that leaves you pondering long after the last line has been read.

Fun fact: 

Ben is also a slam champion, having taken home the top prize at the BBC Radio 4 National Poetry Slam.

Rommi Smith

Rommi Smith is a voice that’s as vital as it is vibrant in Manchester’s poetry scene. Her narrative poem, ‘Mornings & Midnights,’ is an intimate exploration of time, full of everyday moments and relationships captured in beautiful verse.

Another remarkable piece, ‘Undertow’, sees her deftly charting the waters of complex emotions, shedding light on the human condition in a profound way.

Whether it’s through her exploration of time or her deep dives into emotions, Rommi is a poet who doesn’t shy away from life’s big questions. That’s what makes her such an exciting figure in the Manchester poetry scene. 

And if you’re yet to get acquainted with her work, well, what are you waiting for?

Fun fact: 

Rommi was the first-ever British Parliamentary Writer in Residence, a testament to her exceptional writing skills.

Keisha Thompson

Do the worlds of maths and poetry intersect? If you ask Keisha Thompson, she’ll answer with a resounding ‘yes’. 

Keisha is a mathematician who stumbled into the world of poetry and decided to set up camp. 

You might say she has the perfect balance—-the logic of maths and the emotive pull of words. 

For instance, her collection, Lunar, could best be described as a mathematical puzzle sprinkled with a hefty dose of emotion and human experience. 

The journey through her verses is as exciting as exploring the corners of Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum, only here, the artefacts are emotions and sentiments, and the curator is Keisha herself.

Fun fact: 

Besides juggling words and numbers like a pro, Keisha is also a seasoned performer who has presented her work at countless shows and festivals.

Adam O’Riordan

Alright, onto Adam O’Riordan, who’s certainly not one to miss in the poetry scene. O’Riordan wears many hats; he’s not only a poet but also an accomplished academic, heading up the Manchester Writing School.

Let’s start with his collection, In the Flesh. Here, Adam brilliantly explores themes of love, loss, and longing, while creating an evocative sense of place. He paints a world that’s as tangible as it is memorable.

Then there’s The Burning Ground, his short story collection. Now, I know we’re here for poetry, but I reckon a good storyteller can make a cracking poet, and vice versa. In this collection, O’Riordan’s prose has a rhythmic quality that is as captivating as his poetry.

If you’re in the mood for some introspective, atmospheric writing that digs deep into the human experience, Adam O’Riordan’s work is well worth your time. It’s not just me saying it; his numerous awards are testament to his talent.

Fun fact: 

Adam’s not just good with pen and paper; he’s also a brilliant academic. He’s the Academic Director of the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. Talk about a man of many talents!

Rebecca Bilkau

Rebecca Bilkau
Image from Overstep Books

Oh, you’ve got to check out Rebecca’s collection called Weather Notes! It’s seriously amazing how she combines the ever-changing weather in Manchester with a whole range of human emotions.

What I love about Bilkau’s characters is that they reflect the true spirit of Mancunians. You know, those folks who never back down and always face life’s curveballs head-on, just like their city’s unpredictable weather. It’s like they’ve got this resilience ingrained in their DNA.

And let’s talk about Bilkau’s way with words. Her use of metaphors and language is seriously compelling. You read her poems, and those insights just stick with you long after you’ve put the book down. But here’s the thing, she doesn’t stop at weather alone. She dives into all sorts of topics.

Take ‘On the Saltmarsh’, for example. In that poem, Bilkau takes you on this incredible journey through the landscapes of the British Isles. She paints this beautiful picture of the natural world and how it’s connected to our inner selves. 

Fun fact: 

In addition to weaving expressive poems, Bilkau has made substantial contributions to the poetry world through her initiative, Beautiful Dragons Press, fostering collaboration and inclusivity in poetry.

SuAndi OBE

SuAndi OBE
Image from Lancaster

Now, let’s talk about SuAndi OBE, a powerhouse in the Manchester scene, whose poetic brilliance has earned her an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). And believe me, it’s not just for her poetry; she’s been a massive advocate for Black artists across the UK.

One of SuAndi’s most gripping pieces is her autobiographical ‘The Story of M’. A deeply personal and poignant exploration of her mother’s life, it’s a compelling narrative poem that speaks volumes about love, sacrifice, and the power of resilience. 

It’s a tear-jerker, but in a good way. A story of an ordinary woman’s extraordinary life, told in verse that’s as powerful as it is beautiful. 

Then there’s ‘Without a Word’, a subtle but potent commentary on racial and cultural identity, told through the lens of SuAndi’s own experiences. It’s the kind of poetry that doesn’t just make you think; it challenges you, pushes you to question, and ultimately, to empathise.

Fun fact: 

SuAndi is not just a poet. She is also the Cultural Director of the National Black Arts Alliance, extending her influence beyond poetry to celebrate and promote Black arts and culture.

Peter Kalu

Peter Kalu’s name is often on the lips of those who know their Manchester poets. A multi-faceted artist, Kalu’s writing spans across poetry, novels, and plays, making him a true tour de force in the literary scene.

Kalu’s poetry, in particular, has a distinctive narrative style that weaves together personal experiences and broader social themes. His collection, African Time, offers a series of poignant snapshots into the African and Afro-Caribbean experience in the UK. 

It’s a journey through time and space, exploring the intersections of identity, culture, and history. His other notable collection, Short Pants, reveals a more introspective side of Kalu. 

It’s a deeply personal exploration of his childhood memories, told with a poignant blend of humour and nostalgia. From football games to schoolyard adventures, each poem is a journey back in time, evoking a sense of childhood wonder and innocence.

Fun fact: 

He’s a key player in Cultureword, a Manchester-based organisation providing support and opportunities for Black and Asian writers. How’s that for giving back to the community? 

Stephen Raw

Stephen Raw is a master of words whose artistry extends beyond poetry into visual arts. He’s renowned for his unique blend of textual art and poetry, often intertwining visual and literary elements to create something truly magical.

His series of Word Maps, for instance, combines his love for languages and cartography, resulting in visually striking pieces that are as much a delight to read as they are to behold. 

Each map tells a story, the words forming landscapes that stir the imagination and evoke a sense of wonder. If you’re a fan of innovative, experimental poetry, this is right up your alley.

Then there’s In Other Words, a fascinating collection that explores the idea of translation and its impact on language. Raw masterfully weaves together English, Latin, and Greek, crafting poems that challenge readers to see language in a new light. 

Fun fact: 

Stephen Raw doesn’t limit his talent to poetry and visual text. He’s also a linguist, and his love for languages often shines through his poems. If you ever wondered how a poem would look in different languages, Stephen Raw might just have your answer.

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