Looking for things to do in Manchester, the 26th UNESCO City of Literature? Venture off the beaten path and discover inspiration in unexpected places with this guide to street poetry, featuring original works by poets from Manchester and beyond.
Take a walk around the city and you’ll find a plethora of poems under your feet and above your head – they’re embedded in pavements, stencilled on walls, painted on shutters, stickered on windows and engraved on plaques. All you need to know is where to look!
Most of the poems are in the city centre, within walking distance of the main tourist attractions, but the others are easily accessible by public transport. The map markers are placed as close as possible to the locations of the poems to help you plan your own route.
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Afflecks by Unknown at Afflecks
Afflecks (formerly known as Affleck’s Palace) is one of the quirkiest places to shop in Manchester, so it’s no surprise to see these creative entrance signs outside the famous “emporium of eclecticism”.
A Poem For Manchester by Mike Duff at Piccadilly Place
This poem is engraved on wall-mounted reflective discs, making it hard to photograph – so here’s a transcript: “I don’t care if you’re black, Chinese, white or tan // don’t care if you’re old, gay, a woman or man // you can sit down next to me // if you’re Mancunian”. Each of the discs also features a bee in flight.
Catching numb3r5 by Lemn Sissay at Shudehill Interchange
This poem about public transport was commissioned by Greater Manchester Public Transport Executive and is part of Lemn Sissay’s Landmark Poetry series.
Desiderata (extract) by Max Ehrmann at NoHo
This striking street art on the shutters outside NoHo features lines from the popular 20th century poem Desiderata, which means “things desired” in Latin.
Flags by Lemn Sissay on Tib Street
The right-hand side of Tib Street (from Market Street towards Swan Street) is paved with this poem from Lemn Sissay’s Landmark Poetry series. Unfortunately some parts have fallen into disrepair but you can read the full poem here.
Hardys Well by Lemn Sissay at 257 Wilmslow Road
This was the first of Lemn Sissay’s Landmark Poetry series back in 1992, before the Hardy’s Well pub closed in 2016. It’s hoped that the poem will be preserved regardless of the future of the building.
Journey by Shena Simon College students near Piccadilly Station
In the pavement underneath the Manchester Curve bridge, this easily overlooked poem is described as “a public artwork dedicated to all who have passed through Piccadilly, Manchester – in association with Partnership Art and students* at Shena Simon College 1992, Central Manchester Development Corporation.”
You have to walk around it to read it fully and it’s not clear exactly where it starts, but here’s my guess: “Paths and pages // Expressionless faces // Framed in time // Confused by directions // Subject to regulations // Each choose your line // But there’s no pressing obligation // Observe your inclination // Toward whatever destination // This is your passage through time”.
* In alphabetical order: Phil Bews, Robert Bryan, Tracey Cartledge, Marie Cheetham, Terry Eaton, Paul Fagan, Diane Gorvin, Dave Howie, Andrew Lomax, Oliver Mand, Emma Simon and Victoria Topping.
Manchester’s Sprawling (extract) by Argh Kid at Mayfield Depot
Argh Kid’s declaration that Manchester is “a haven for heathens, hoodies and hipsters, Hijabis and Hebrews // high brow intellectuals and however-you-sexuals… it’s home to all” is painted on a wall in huge black and white letters.
Moss Side by Unknown at 39 Crondall Street
I can’t find any information about this mural at the corner of Crondall Street and Greame Street in Moss Side, but it seems to represent the area’s community spirit. “Half the world from sunny blue skies would greatfully [sic] come here” may refer to the Caribbean migrants who settled here in the 1950s/60s, and “Happy people do not have everything, they make the best of everything” may refer to how the residents have overcome the deprivation Moss Side was known for in the 1980s/90s.
Rain by Lemn Sissay at Gemini Takeaway
This poem is designed to be read vertically (like the falling rain) rather than horizontally. It reads “When the rain falls // They talk of Manchester // But when the triumphant rain falls // We think of rainbows // It’s the Mancunian Way”.
The Gift by Mike Garry at Platt Fields Park
Outside a building by the heart-shaped lake to which it refers, this ode to Platt Fields Park was written to mark the park’s centenary in 2010 and dedicated to children of all nations.
There & Back (extract) by Helen Mort at Victoria Station
Verses from Helen Mort’s There & Back can be found at all the stations on the Manchester to Hebden Bridge route (which inspired the poem); this one is at the Dantzic Street entrance to Victoria Station.
This Is The Place by Longfella at Manchester Arndale
This poem appeared on the front page of the Manchester Evening News following the Manchester Arena attack and now hangs in the Withy Grove entrance/exit hallway to the Arndale Centre as a lasting tribute to the city’s resilience and spirit.
This is where you are by Michael Sivori in Hulme Park
This poem, part of a monument to “the struggles, celebrations and everyday stories of the people of Hulme”, is embedded in the pavement of Hulme Park along with images from Hulme’s history. There are 6 rows of silver panels and the poem is told across 4 panels (marked I – IV).
NEARBY: On the other side of the road, there’s an 80-foot-long ceramic mural on the side of the old Hulme Library building which features a poem about Hulme’s history.
The mural, which took two years and two tonnes of clay to make, is currently boarded up while the building is being refurbished but should be on display again once the work is completed; in the meantime, you can see what the mural looks like here and read more about the poem here.
Tree by Dashyline at The Forum in Wythenshawe
This silver tree sculpture outside The Forum centre in Wythenshawe (next to the transport interchange) features a poem about living in Wythenshawe from the 1930s to the present day, with “growth rings” representing the different decades.
At first glance the poem, attributed to Dashyline (Nicola Winstanley and Sarah Nadin), is hard to read in order but fortunately there’s a sign nearby that features the full text:
It was fields and farms
Then we came, a new start
The picture house, the dance hall, the pub
Sliding down steps on milk crates
Around the multi-storey in skates
We rolled down the mounds and we climbed back up
We climbed up trees in Wythenshawe Park to see that nature remained
On ever-changing ground we grow, our childhoods replayed.
Untitled by Unknown at the Geoffrey Manton Building (gone?)
This poem, on the windows of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities building, seems to start part-way through: “Our second in futures // And why they won’t last // Our third in communicate // Singing in tongues // Our fourth is in social // And why we belong // Our fifth is in networks // Light’s speed-of-thought // Our sixth in morality // is, but not ought // Our seventh in creation // The act that makes art // Our last is in WHY // For that’s where it starts”.
UPDATE: When I passed the building in August 2018, it was being refurbished and I couldn’t see the poem through the surrounding fences; hopefully it’ll still be there when the building reopens.
Words On The Discs by SuAndi at the Manchester Ship Canal Centenary Walkway
This poem, written by SuAndi with local people for the centenary of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1994, appears on 22 discs along the pavement between the Watersports Centre and Lowry Centre in Salford Quays.
Have you come across any other street poetry in Manchester? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the guide.