Saturday 2nd October 2010, 11am 4pm
Oxford Road's award winning Manchester Museum is the venue for today's informal poetry writing event Postcards From Manchester; also part of The Manchester Weekender.
The city is unexpectedly busy as the event coincides with the University of Manchester's open day. The glassed entrance to the museum allows a steady stream of visitors to enter, many of whom stop at the first table, arranged attractively with a selection of Manchester Literature Festival postcards and leaflets. Whilst some move forward to take part, others take a souvenir postcard and hastily shy away.
The museum's brilliant-white, airy atrium is set up with two rectangular tables kept apart to provide pockets of privacy, amidst the busy museum entry point.
Mandy Coe and John Siddique are already engaged in activity.
John, well known for his work with Key Stage 2 classes, is surrounded by six or seven attentive youngsters, captivated by the poet's lively charm; biros eagerly at the ready. He is heard putting one tiny participant at ease with this helpful advice: "Don't be scared to think for a minute; and the idea will easily come to you".
I sit beside Mandy Coe. She speaks of her work as a freelance educationalist, just as a father places his son and daughter directly in front on Mandy. The boy looks disinterested, rocking uncomfortably on his chair.
Mandy starts off by asking, "What is the most interesting thing you have seen today?".
The boy immediately replies that it was the dinosaur. He now sits up. He is of course referring to the fossils of Stan the T-Rex in the Pre-historic exhibition. Mandy begins to construct the poem, using the words of the siblings. She then asks if the dinosaur had spoken to them. They both look at each other and shake their heads immediately; the bones obviously couldn't talk.
However Mandy doesn't give up, and in her engaging manner, pushes the children to imagine that if the dinosaur could talk, what would he have said?
"I want to have you for my dinner!" The boy shouts, confidently edging forward.
Mandy adds this fun new dimension to the poem. Mandy asks if they managed to escape this horrible death.
The boy replies, "Of course we did, we fell through the holes in the dinosaur!".
Crashing back to reality, we now picture the two escaping through the narrow gaps in the skeleton's ribcage. The girl confidently determines the postcard's recipient and begins to fill in the address; the boy follows hurriedly, taking pride in his sloping handwriting.
Mandy, just about to start me off, is disturbed by a be-spectacled lady who pronounces herself as a fan and an avid reader of Mandy's collection, her favourite being The Weight of Cows. The lady defines herself as a terrible writer, and Mandy immediately dispels such talk, enforcing us to believe that we are all poets. Mandy asks the lady to think of a colour she had noticed today. The lady's poem now begins with, "California blue fallen to the floor," alluding to a banner she had seen this morning. She continues her poem, inspired by the impressive golden Buddha sat peacefully behind us.
Mandy draws me into a conversation and encourages memories of my student days in Manchester - fitting, as I observed the new generation of students, maps in hand, overwhelmed by the scale of the City. Mandy decides, "I'm just going to write what you said". She captures my observations of leafleted pavements, the curry mile at 3am and the swarming students arriving today.
I am a little distracted as I hear an austere gentleman moving forward, announcing the arrival of his two creative writing students who are here to work with the poets. They are ushered over to John Siddique, who is just about finishing with another set of lively youngsters. John has certainly proven his versatility.
With the help of Mandy and John, Postcards from Manchester manages to simultaneously allay our fears of the blank page and encourage the expertise of the more skilled writer. We are shown that writing poetry comes from observation, open conversation and most of all, from the simplest experience.
Mandy and John masterfully draw out that inner poet (it seems we all have one!), with their modest, 'anyone-can-write' attitude.
Links for further reading
I currently work as a Teacher of English and Drama in Lancashire. I have also worked on literature development projects through Time-To-Read and Lancashire Libraries.