Poet holds the moment for Manchester…

WORDS spit and struggle. Words say everything and words say nothing. Yesterday as we learned the news from Manchester, it was difficult to find the words, yet a man of words carried the day for many.

The Manchester poet Tony Walsh, also known as ‘Longfella’, read his poem This Is The Place to thousands of people gathered in central Manchester for a vigil. He had written this gritty hymn to Manchester for another occasion, but his words resonated; good granite words pulling through the smog of history, and conjuring the spirit of a great city.

If you have only seen the snippet shown on the news, seek out the full version online. Walsh earns his living as a performance poet and he knows how to perform. His emotional recitation fits the moment, even if that moment should never have been.

Walsh ended with a line improvised for the moment – “Choose love, Manchester – thank you.”

Choose love, choose hate. On Facebook this morning people are sharing a column by Piers Morgan in which he refuses to stay calm and carry on, and instead spits out his hatred. I stopped reading because his column didn’t help and felt like emotional grandstanding, but that hatred is understandable.

This morning’s newspaper headlines run from “Young lives stolen by terror” (Guardian) to “Evil beyond belief – How could jihad barbarian murder our beautiful and innocent children?” (Daily Express), with much in between. The simple words of that Guardian headline seem more moving and effective, although it’s a matter of taste, I suppose. The trouble with piling hatred on hatred is that it doesn’t change anything and doesn’t get you anywhere. But you can see the reason why.

Choose hate: Katie Hopkins being vile on Twitter (more or less her job description) and Manchester singer Morrissey having a right-wing meltdown on Facebook. Or choose to ignore the pair of them.

There is nothing easy here and you take your comfort where you find it, in hope or hate. The Mayor of Paris, a city which has seen more than its share of lives lost to terror, sent a message to Manchester. Anne Hidalgo recalled painful memories of the carnage she witnessed at first-hand in 2015 when 89 people died at the Bataclan music hall. She said that a common sense of “fraternity” helped the people of Paris put aside hatred and fear of others.

“We had to show we were stronger than that,” Hidalgo said. “I know Manchester is a city that already has a lot of character, I know the inhabitants of Manchester will find in their pride and strength a way to stand up together and it is essential to show that life, that friendship, that solidarity is stronger. This is the message we have to send to the terrorists.”

The Mayor also recalled the words of Antoine Leiris, whose wife Helene died in the Bataclan attack. In an open letter to the killers he said: “You will not have my hatred… no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.”

Those words went around the world, as good words do.

Words and music. At this moment it’s a side issue, but how sad that people could be put off going to concerts for life by this atrocity. My early concert-going was all done in Manchester, which has always been a music city. Words and music are part of who we are, and they should be part of our armour against those wish to destroy our lives with their demented ideology.

Words spit and struggle, but sometimes words are all we have.

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