Student writing a poem.

Creative Manchester Poetry Competition

The inaugural University of Manchester Poetry Competition was open for all our students, staff and alumni.

I spent a very enjoyable afternoon with our Chancellor Lemn Sissay and Burgess Fellow in New Writing Zaffar Kunial talking about poetry, and about Manchester, the subject of the poems we were looking at for this year's competition.

We liked in particular how the winning poems told us something about the city and the University that we did not know - Wittgenstein's engineering studies and which pub he would visit - and also something about the poets themselves and the angle or stamp they put on their material.

I am sure I was not the only one of us thinking there will be many more poems like these to come in future, of memory and imagination, putting their stamp on the city which has put its stamp on us.

Prof John McAuliffe / Co-Director of the Centre for New Writing

The competition

Earlier in 2019, we launched our inaugural Creative Manchester Poetry Competition, which invited alumni, staff, and students of the University to submit a poem themed around ‘Manchester means the world to me’.

Manchester was designated as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2018 and has been home to many great writers, so this competition was an opportunity for members of our University community to add their name to that list and enhance their wellbeing through creativity.

The intention is to launch a new competition in October 2019, so keep an eye on this page for more information.

The winners and their poems

The judges John McAuliffe, Lemn Sissay and Zaffar Kunial selected a winner and two runners up in the three categories below.


The winners

  • First place - Ludwig’s Jet by Ken Evans (MA Creative Writing, 2015)
  • Second place – Manchester’s Caps by Emma Brogan (BA History and Sociology, 2010)
  • Third place – Round the Loop by Jessica Wiehler (BA Drama and English Literature, 2018)

The poems

Ludwig’s Jet by Ken Evans

‘Mr. Wittgenstein has continued his investigation on the rate of combustion
of gaseous mixtures made under high pressure.’ (John Rylands Library Archives, 1911)
White cotton cloth cut from a heavy drape of sky,
the squares stitched to a weave of wind over Chunal,
by Glossop, the University Met. Station.
Oblong dancers that dive and quiver in a current
like fish swimming upstream, silvered flags
of imagination straining at their bamboo cross-stays.
In Ludwig’s hands, a precise correlation to his mind:
tight on the hemp cord in his fist, a box-kite hangs
between earth and sky, flying the wind and flying
his mind over the Grouse Inn in Derbyshire,
the year the Wright Brothers sail into Europe
for funding to quiz the sky on the clues of flight.
Ludwig, from Charlottenburg, inhales the vapour
of ideas risen from labs in the Engineering School,
the factory-smog and a new dialectic covers his digs
on Palatine Road, aerates the mind to fuel his thought.
He patents a jet-tip propeller, more conceptual flurry
than technical drawing, based on the sketches he leaves.
A wild frontier, man and bird in Manchester, lifted,
a gleam of millstone edge and waterfall, the peat-fertile
swards of science. He may have sought out Rutherford,
shaking the snow-globe of the atom in a lab nearby,
his own mind in suspension over maths or philosophy
as today, a jump-jet hovers on the lines of his thought.
The click of a spark, a flicker and puck-puck of gas
under pressure, the sound of a large bluebottle,
caught in the uplift of a breeze, lodges in my ear,
till I flick away the blue pilot with the torque of a finger,
sat in the bright altitude of a double-decker bus,
flying on aeronaut shoulders to Altrincham Street.

Manchester’s Caps by Emma Brogan

Manchester – global – est 1824
Incoming cohorts of Atlantic waves.
I – unglobal – est 1988
Incoming offbeat Merseybeat.
2007 we manage to meet,
Sam Al’s meandering corridors,
Johnny Ryland’s gothic spires
Owned by a city of Suffragettes
and passive aggressive quiffs -
Intimidated, much?
Atlantic waves and I launch our caps,
As high.
Chemical Engineering, Owens Park meets
Dalton Ellis’s English Lit -
Later to regenerate and expand in a network of Metrolinks,
Caps land,
And who knows which one belongs to who
As we all now belong a bit to you -

Round the Loop by Jessica Wiehler

42 minutes, door to door,
I choose to go round the loop.

On our rare sunny days, no more
fulfilled by the season than the
day of our week.

Everything sounds like a prayer
when whispered in your sleep.

Cycling back to you, I swerve
the lovers’ unbroken meander
in this valley where nothing swells
but nature, somehow grown from
our own city: like Nick Carraway, I
am within and without. With dusk
I softly break, ready to sleep in a
bed belonging to neither of us.


The winners

  • First place - The University of Manchester Lens by Lauren Bolger (Postgraduate and Recruitment Admissions Assistant, School of Materials, Faculty of Science and Engineering)
  • Second place – Maid in Manchester by Katharine Wright (Administrative Assistant, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health)
  • Third place – In the twelfth year of Manchester by Eva Schultze-Berndt (Professor of Linguistics, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures)

The poems

The University of Manchester Lens by Lauren Bolger

Manchester sits at the edge of her industrial bed
fresh from the labs and the quiet archives
and patiently watches us write - under the arches
of two lovers, statues in the Rylands library  
looking at each other, a mirror to ourselves
In the reading room we drive beyond the margins
a path, which the University of Manchester expands
on what we say near telescopes or the singing beehives
where we trace and retrace our research, careers, lives
together in a city, which will sit with us forever
In its language and silence we witness what it means
to see our community support their students’ impact
on the world because it means the world to us
to be humane - to shape the world through,
a University of Manchester lens
Original ideas bloom within the rhythm of the rain
illuminating the silence of the page with our talent

Maid in Manchester by Katharine Wright

I came here under slight duress
They said “You'll fester in that tiny town of yours;
that closed-off world of farm and fields, but not much else.”
“And also the buses here run more than once every two hours.”
And they were right, but still -
I didn't know you. Two teenage trips and I thought you beautiful,
But so large, and frightening, too.
Even your drizzly airspace oozes cool.
Who would I even be without you, though?
A girl woven from damp twigs and regret,
untapped potential, angst and an unlit bonfire.
Not this me; independent beneath her flag of pink and violet.
With veins of art tinged with hope, anger and bloody-mindedness.
That reviled and revered northern trait.
Though I still get lost within you, I would be lost without you
A shadow, if we'd never met.
I might lay down my life for you, incredible city.
For your lush, green parks and and bustling streets.
For Trafford's sour Kellog's mash, and the future histories of Oxford Road
For Rusholme's scent of shisha and mithai, heady and sweet.
This Mancunian stuff gets under your fingernails. Catches in your hair.
Can't shift it. Can't shake it.
Don't want to.
Wouldn't dare.

In the twelfth year of Manchester by Eva Schultze-Berndt

A few days in November
A first visit
Discussing bridges across languages
New and old connections
A craft centre
European market stalls
The Gay Village
A feeling of exhilaration
A sunny month of April
A new beginning
Learning the ropes and cycling the roads
Visitors from around the globe
The Peaks
Canals, Quays
The joy of exploration
A cold summer
A thought of turning back
Picking up the pieces of shattered hopes
Friends moving to distant places
Head wind
Brick walls everywhere
Too much time at the desk
The pain of isolation
Twelve years now
A road with ups and downs
Growing roots, with someone dancing beside me
A gate open to the world
Common interests
The flow of music
Settled status
The warmth of belonging


The winners

  • First place - St Anselm Hall by James Bamber (BSc Physics, 2019)
  • Second place – Shaped in its Image by Alex Leivesley (BA German and Italian, third year)
  • Third place – Why Manchester by Sarah O’Flynn (BA English Literature and French, second year)

The poems

St Anselm Hall by James Bamber

It’s inconspicuous enough;
a red-brick block off Anson Road,
unseen but for the passing glace
of mums and kids and grafting folk
who sally out to meet the day
and pass our hall along the way.
Yet we who dwell within these walls,
though come from places far and wide
and in pursuit of different goals,
discover here while we reside:
the leaping joy, a gift for all,
which permeates St Anselm Hall.
A home which in a span of months
makes a home in all our hearts
through memories that never fade,
and friendships that have had their starts
at this, the final stop before
our ships depart for farther shores.
And wheresoever we might land,
may mind and spirit still recall
the links with past and future forged
at fair, beloved Anselm Hall,
standing strong through peace and war
to nourish us, forevermore.

Shaped in its Image by Alex Leivesley

I think about this mark you’ve left on me:
More than just the plastic card with the number
And the grainy photograph, fading slowly
With the ticking over of each semester.
This is an imprint, like the colours
Pressed deep into the fabric of a canvas,
Intertwining, becoming inseparable.
I see you and feel you everywhere:
You shape the words that leave my mouth;
You sculpt and weave the thoughts that
Clot and coalesce in the canals of my mind.
No, it’s no mere stamp, nor brand,
But a tangible part of yourself in me,
As something of God was left
In our first parents and stayed there
Even after the first betrayal.

Your spirit has nurtured mine;
Led it through the stories
Of persistence and resistance,
Guiding my fingers over palpable ripples
Stretching far back down the years.
I’ve felt your hundred tongues against my ears,
Savoured the fullness and sweetness of the air;
And in my darkness I feel its silent care,
The glimmer of its lights reviving a deflated spirit.
And this same mark you carve in everyone
Who comes face-to-face with you, and those
Who’ve never walked your streets
Recognise you by your sound.

I struggled with you once;
But now I, a child of the Mersey’s banks,
Have found my reflection
In the rhythm of its backstreet rivers.

Why Manchester by Sarah O’Flynn

Before I came here my family asked me,
Why Manchester?
Well, it's the capital of the North, I replied.
It's buzzing with culture. An amazing university.
All true, of course,
though what I really meant, and couldn't say,
is that I've heard that there's a club called GAY.
A village in fact, for people like me,
and it's nothing to hide there, nothing to see:
where prejudice can't silence the young, wild and free.
But moving here I was soon to find
I'd forget the intention to seek out 'my kind'.
Consumed instead by the city as it breathes,
through invasion by flocks of hen parties.
Finding beauty in the chaos of the Magic Bus,
when everyone's had a few,
and in the people you always seem to meet
when you just don't expect to.
In this city of freshly familiar faces,
it didn't take long for me to realise,
that the fact that there are people like me
isn't the reason for its greatness.
In Manchester, it's safe to say, the opposite is true;
meeting people unlike me is what I've come to value.
So, to my former self, who sought a crowd to fit into:
here everyone is different, so there's nothing different about you.