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A new international poetry project responding to the Coronavirus pandemic has launched, instigated by leading poet Carol Ann Duffy and the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Duffy is joined by Queen’s Gold Medal winners Gillian Allnutt, Imtiaz Dharker and Gillian Clarke; exciting younger talents Raymond Antrobus and Andrew McMillan; household names Roger McGough and Ian McMillan, and dozens of other renowned and emerging poets in sharing new work inspired by the seismic events of recent weeks.

Each work reflects on the writer’s own personal experiences of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak from all over the world, supporting readers in reflecting on and articulating their own feelings through the power of poetry. The poems are available to read and share on the WRITE where we are NOW website.

The initiative is led by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, where Duffy is Creative Director.

She said: “I hope that these poems will provide an opportunity for reflection and inspiration in these challenging times, as well as creating a living record of what is happening as seen through our poets’ eyes and ears, in their gardens or garrets. We need the voice of poetry in times of change and world-grief. A poem only seeks to add to the world and now seems the time to give.”

The poems are presented in date order and each includes a note about where it was written. The WRITE where we are NOW website will be updated frequently throughout the pandemic with new contributions.

Manchester Writing School is home to a large group of award-winning poets, including Duffy, Michael Symmons Roberts, Jean Sprackland, Adam O’Riordan, Andrew McMillan, Helen Mort, Malika Booker and Karen Solie, and the largest MA Creative Writing programme in the country. It will open the Manchester Poetry Library later in the year: the fourth public poetry library in the UK and the first based within a university.

Professor Malcolm Press, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “I am delighted to support this inspiring initiative by Carol Ann Duffy, one of the world’s greatest and most admired poets. WRITE where we are NOW brings together some of the most creative minds of our generation in a growing online anthology of poetry that reflects our journey through these challenging and troubling times. I am sure that these outstanding poems will voice the sentiments and feelings that many of us around the world will share. At the same time, I am confident that these innovative and imaginative works will inspire creativity and hope.”

Duffy, Poet Laureate from 2009-19, has contributed several new poems, including Hands, Since You Ask and O, written in Manchester where she is based.

Hands by Carol Ann Duffy:

We clap at the darkness.
I hearken for the sound
of my daughter’s small hands,
but she is miles away…
though I can see her hands
when I put my head in my own.

Contributions come from some of Britain’s most recognised and decorated poets, including the Makar (Scottish Poet Laureate) Jackie Kay, and Clarke, the former National Poet of Wales.

Dharker’s poem Cranes Lean In was written near The Barbican theatre in London. She said: “I was on the phone to my daughter that Sunday, the 22nd of March, standing at a window looking out over the marooned city. London had stopped its eternal building and the streets and stations were becalmed.

“That was the day it suddenly came home to many mothers what this meant, this strange waiting time without their children. I could hear the phone calls all over the world, people separated and searching for words of hope and consolation to give each other. The words my daughter gave me were about kindnesses, and something we had both been waiting for: the cherry trees blossoming in the parks and streets of London.”

Andrew McMillan, winner of the 2015 Guardian First Book Award and inaugural 2019 Polari Prize, who is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, has contributed, as has his father Ian, a poet, broadcaster and host of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb.

Andrew McMillan said: “The cliche, perhaps, of poets is that they’re always isolated, scribbling away in solitude. This isn’t true. Poetry is intrinsically linked to the places around us, to the accents we speak with, to the experiences of our everyday. It’s true that poets are generally used to being alone with our own thoughts, and so maybe we can use that to reach out to people and to encourage them to record this moment of history in their own unique words.

“The Manchester Writing School is also working with students and community partners in the care and health sectors to encourage more poetic responses, and Manchester Poetry Library will be building on this as part of a wider arts and wellbeing project to develop poetry writing and reading activities for the public.”


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