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|Manchester book reviews|
'God is a Manc' poetry collection by Mike Garry
Reviewed by Simon Belt June 2010
Having come across Mike Garry, a Manchester poet whose work focuses upon the beautiful ugliness of the city and its people, just before the launch of 'God is a Manc', I managed to do a little research on him and his poetry before reading this collection. And I'm very glad I did as it is not just a great piece of writing in its own right, but I think it's also the outcome of a process that attempts to take the reader beyond the Mancunian Meander collection I reviewed before the launch of this previously.
Mike cites his heroes are the underdogs, the outsiders, the people the glossies airbrush out. His first book, Men’s Morning tells the tale of an inner city sauna and his second book, Mancunian Meander is a poetic journey around the south side of Manchester, its suburbs and people. Having worked on residencies in Strangeways prison, the Big Issue and Trafford Mental Health and most recently six children’s homes in Manchester, the BBC and Arts Council England commissioned him to go to the north of the city and write a collection of poems about his experiences there. 'God is a Manc' is that collection.
The cover of 'God is a Manc' has a very Stone Roses, trippy and Hacienda / Madchester feel about it - actually based on a porcelain mosaic produced by Manchester based fine artist Amanda McCrann, which was very inventively used in the PR work by Alison Bell running up to the launch of the 250 hand bound, limited edition version of the collection. Great time and effort, personality and passion have gone into this delightful production clearly expressing Mike's desire to see the written word in general, and presumably his poetry in particular, cherished. But then Mike did train professionally to be a librarian.
In the days before the launch, Mike certainly put himself about on local radio, talking about how he captured some the everyday lives and experiences of people in north Manchester, expressing them in poems to be read and thought about, and recited live. Indeed, I went to one of those live events which was a delightful blend of spoken word and music at the Oakwood in Glossop, on a Sunday night. It seems like an age since these types of events were put on more broadly - hopefully now there's a real demand for public performance, rather than a last gasp from a desperately declining pub life since the smoking ban, either way though very welcome.
The collection opens up with a short poem entitled Pay as you Go, about the consequences that a cavalier approach to the boundaries between personal and public life can have for those who pay the price in its wake:
The subject of this opening poem does move you on from the particular physicality of the Manchester Meander collection into a more shared experience of everyday life around Manchester - north and south, and to lives beyond. This more general and perhaps universal experience of everyday life that Mike begins to articulate through 'God is a Manc', is dovetailed with a more active situating of the reader as an actor in the depicted scenes of grim shared experiences.
Inviting the reader to make a difference, and kindle their yearning for change, Mike sees everyday people as both expressing the cause and the effect of problems we experience. There are some very grim and sobering poems in here, expressed in Soldier Boy and Juxtaposition for example:
The sense of alienation from society and lack of collective bond despite a shared and common experience runs through Mike's poems, written and recited. A familiar theme by many a commentator - from not knowing your neighbours to people not holding the door open for you as they may once have. Indeed, the launch party at Odder on Oxford Road was a case in point. A venue probably more used to 'live' DJs than live performance was full with people standing to see Mike and his Guests including Marvin Cheeseman, complimented by great DJ set from Dave Hulston. This was not an easy ensemble to pull together.
And yet, there were people in the upstairs of the pub, albeit open for food and drink throughout the day and not exclusively for the gig, who had total disregard for any and all around them and carried on talking LOUDLY throughout until audience interruptions finally forced some to retreat downstairs. Playing your part for the collective good used to be taken for granted in most social activities, yet now the personal consumer plea of the demanding I want it Andy character from Little Britain invariably followed by the I don't like it rejection is a little more vocal than might have been in more collective times.
Mike's rather eclectic mix of fellow performers for the evening hopefully represents something of a comeback for the performing artist which can only be a good thing, culturally and socially, though the form these performances take will inevitably be a reworking and interweaving of previously separate disciplines. A case in point is the MaD Theatre Company's production of Angels with Manky Faces at the Dancehouse Theatre on 15 July, which combines a reworked traditional story - scuttle gangs of Manchester in 1890's, with contemporary dance and music. Here's Mike Garry on the same issue in Angels with Manky Faces:
Lastly, onto the signature poem of this collection, God is a Manc which delightfully plays with with historical signposts switching cause and effect to ultimately invert the reading of history with aplomb. To end up with mildly convincing assertion (I am from Yorkshire remember) of God being both the creator of Manchester and yet the outcome of that creation is quite a feat, but one many a self important Mancunian must genuinely feel about themselves. Oh how I laughed, and then thanked the authors of "Yorkshire being God's own Country" for expressing the proper historical order of events and not helping themselves to too much altar wine as the Mancs who believe they're God must have!
I guess there are few better ways to articulate our experiences as shared, and having elements that are universal than by using the totalising foil of the singular God. I highly recommend you to get a copy of God is a Manc and see Mike Garry in person, so here's some extended excerpts from the title poem:
Note from editor: The Manchester Salon will be hosting a discussion of poetry and the relevance debate entitled 'Poetry: its relevance and beyond' on Wednesday 19 January 2011 at 6:30pm for 6:45pm start.