When an atrocity like the Manchester Arena bombing happens the world of art and artists can feel trivial, unimportant – the murder of innocent children, teenagers, mums and dads jolts you into a new reality, a reality wrapped in grief and some kind of primitive survival spirit.
But as your heart aches and your mind spins, what quickly emerges is the need for an anchor to stop you drifting into despair, a pause for thought that can reassert your faith in humanity. Something like the words of poet Tony Walsh.
Yesterday evening, as the city of Manchester responded to the horror of 22 dead and many more injured with a huge gathering in Albert Square outside the town hall, Walsh read his poem, This is the Place.
It’s a poem that wasn’t written with this moment in mind – how could it have been? But as Walsh delivered his words, surrounded by politicians and religious leaders, he brimmed with such dignity and reined-in emotion that it seemed like it had.
With a poet’s art and creative passion, this middle-aged man provided solace, hope, inspiration – all wrapped up in an indomitable Mancunian pride.
Perhaps most importantly, what Walsh’s poem stressed was the diversity, the complexity of Manchester as a city and of ‘Mancunian’ as an identity.
“Some are born here, some are drawn here, but we all call it home,” went the poem. “This is the place where we stand strong together, with a smile on our face, Mancunians for ever.”
It’s in moments like this, as sadness washes over us and the urge to find easy targets for our understandable anger is greatest, that you realise that – of course – the arts and artists are not trivial at all, that they are in fact vitally important. And that the words of a poet can make a difference.
“Choose love, Manchester,” said Walsh when he finished his poem. In times like these, such words should surely be music to everyone’s ears.