03 February 2017

Call and response

A couple of weeks back, the Manchester Evening News published an article by writer Adam O'Riordan (no stranger to the press recently, having just published both a short story collection and a poetry book) about the live literature scene in the rainy city. You can read it here. It was good to see live lit getting some column inches, but a few regulars to the variety of events on offer were a bit underwhelmed to read nothing about any of these. University of Manchester student Roma Havers gathered a few quotes from writers, performers and event organisers, and has just published a response in The Mancunion, apparently Britain's biggest student newspaper and where I cut my journalistic teeth some years back. You can read Roma's feature here. For the piece, I submitted the following words...

I was pleased to see an article in the MEN about poetry in Manchester, but was immediately struck by how university-centric it was. Not one of the entries picked by Adam O’Riordan (as it happens, the new Academic Director of the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Met) was independent of one of the larger establishments; even Poet in the City featured MMU’s Helen Mort on the bill. It might have been nice to mention the great live lit and spoken word scene in Manchester, and how many established as well as one-off events there are. Stalwarts like multi-Sabotage Award-winner Bad Language, Evidently (hand-picked by Guy Garvey to showcase their wares at last summer’s Meltdown Festival on London’s Southbank), exponents of the experimental The Other Room (nine years old this spring), Stirred and Penchant at 3MT, Speakeasy and Beatification in the ’burbs… Yes, there are a lot to list, and maybe that’s why they didn’t, but to not even give a nod to the amazing scene of live lit seemed a little, well, rude. Aside from the resident nights, there’s a regular turnaround of visiting speakers, not least through Manchester Literature Festival, which has been going under that moniker for a decade (bursting out of the chrysalis of the Manchester Poetry Festival). No mention. No mention of the invaluable work of the likes of Young Identity at the Contact, or community events, reaching out to those less engaged in the arts, such as Scribble Festival organised by Cartwheel. No mention of how big the live lit scene is, and how many students and former students of the universities support it. The evening before the feature was published, I was one of 26 performers at the Manchester leg of the North by North West Poetry Tour, bringing together writers from around the region for specially commissioned collaborations – another example of how creative the independent scene is. Verbose turned two this week, once again welcoming three curated headliners and ten open micers to its stage. For the uninitiated, I’m afraid Adam’s piece might be offputting – there’s more to live lit than lecturers’ launches.

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