From literary cult heroes and back alley bards to world-famous wordsmiths and even an MBE recipient, Manchester’s poetry pedigree includes some of the most talented, impactful and innovative sonneteers in the country who have influenced generations of verse with distinctive, captivating style.

Here are some of the best poets to check out around Manchester.

Malika Booker

Shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize and winner of the Forward Prize for her poem Liberation, Manchester Metropolitan University’s Creative Writing Lecturer Malika Booker reshaped the landscape of British verse with her debut collection Pepper Seed in 2013 and continues to produce spellbinding work inspired by her Guyanese and Grenadian ancestry.

My aunt favoured smoked herring, the salt
of it (like the sea, like the salt of the earth)
with dumpling and hard food. How
we feed you to protect us, age-old customs
slinking through slavery to remain. The
youths might have forgotten every ritual
but remember the classic – to throw spirits
for the soul of their fallen brothers. Even these
killed by the hands of kin, skin black like theirs,
whose lives became full stops, from knives
or gunshots, and today parents bury their young

Excerpt from Liberation (2017)

Lemn Sissay MBE

Known across the globe as one of Manchester’s greatest-ever wordsmiths for over thirty years, the Wigan-born icon was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics, chancellor of the University of Manchester from 2015 until 2022 and winner of countless awards across a remarkable career, including the Pen Pinter Prize, the Points of Light Award and Member of the British Empire.

Even the tides of oceans speak of you
Upon their chosen course
“Bring as many waves as you can” they say
“for we are heading North”

And they come in waves to kiss our coast –
Urged on by the North Wind
The surge of river greets the Sea
“Come in” it says “come in”

The A’s the E’s the I’s the O’s the U’s
Flocks of vowels fill the night with song
Great they are and migrate they do
The North is where they belong

Daughters of suffragettes sons of mines
The digital revolution – the creation
True North you North
You heart of our nation

Excerpt from Anthem of the North (2018)

Chris Jam

Born in 1962, the legendary Chris Jam experienced a creative rebirth upon moving to ‘the Mancuniverse’ in 1986 and has since become a beloved fixture in local poetry and radio. A frequent contributor to Manchester’s grassroots Reform station, the spoken-word maestro continues to perform live renditions of his work at venues around the city.

Andrew MacMillan

Winner of The 2015 Guardian First Book Award for his debut collection physical – the first poetry collection ever to do so – Andrew MacMillan has since picked up multiple accolades over a prodigiously brief career including a Poetry Book Recommendation, Poetry Book of the Month in both The Observer and The Telegraph, a Poetry Book of the Year in The Sunday Times and the inaugural Polari Prize. He is Professor of Contemporary Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

tonight I started walking back to you father
it was meant to be a stroll but then I started
walking faster father I started chanting all
the names of all the men I ever went to bed
with father my thighs were burning and my feet
were heavy with blood but I kept the pace and chants
of names up father listed them to fence posts
and the trees and didn’t stop and started getting
younger father and walked all night till I was home
just a spark in your groin again and told you not
to bring me back to life told you I repented
every name and had freed them of me father

Martyrdom (2017)

Mike Garry

Hailed for his rousing hometown paeans across anthologies including God is A Manc, Men’s Mournings and Mancunian Meander, Mike Garry has performed verse for the urban underdog since 1995 with shows in prisons, mental health units and children’s homes as part of a mission to expand poetry to underserved corners of society. Described as ‘genius’ by Peter Saville, Garry has toured the USA, Hong Kong and throughout Europe and has been on continuous tours with John Cooper Clark since 2011.

Talk to me of Albion Anderton and art
The Arndale
Alan Turin
Acid House
Alexandra Park

Bez the Buzzcocks bouncing bombs
The beautiful Busby Babes
Cancer Christies Catholicism
Crack and Curt Cocaine

Talk to me of all these things and one thing is for certain
I’ll see the face I’ll hear the voice of Anthony H Wilson

Excerpt from Saint Anthony (2015)

Carol Ann Duffy

An unforgettable colossus of GCSE English anthology textbooks and current professor of contemporary poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, the former decade-long poet laurueate shot to fame with her unique, stirring invectives against Thatcher’s Britain grounded in urban disaffection and unapologetic feminism.

Celebrated around the world for her visceral poetic monologues and simple, powerful language, the multiple-award-winning Scottish transplant is best-known for stark, affecting works like Havisham, The Way My Mother Speaks and Anne Hathaway.

I say her phrases to myself
in my head
or under the shallows of my breath,
restful shapes moving.
The day and ever. The day and ever.
The train this slow evening
goes down England
browsing for the right sky,
too blue swapped for a cool grey.
For miles I have been saying
What like is it.
The way I say things when I think.
Nothing is silent. Nothing is not silent.
What like is it.
Only tonight
I am happy and sad
like a child
who stood at the end of summer
and dipped a net
in a green, erotic pond. The day
and ever. The day and ever.
I am homesick, free, in love
with the way my mother speaks.

The Way My Mother Speaks (1990)

Wolf McFarlane
Published on:
Thu 21 Mar 2024