Written by Hazel Burke


Could Be Verse

Fancy getting stuck into a sonnet or cosy with a canzone but no idea where to start? In her latest column, our poetry *doctor (*she’s not a real doctor) Hazel Burke waxes lyrical about the rain.

by Lemn Sissay

Rain by Lemn Sissay

Whether or not you live in Manchester, like I do, you are probably familiar with the great city’s reputation for rain. It’s been a theme since the city was born: the high humidity contributed to making Manchester a perfect site for the cotton mills that founded the city in the Industrial Revolution. Two hundred years later, the cotton industry has moved on but the unremitting dampness remains. Some Mancunians argue the toss but at the start of this poem, proud Mancunian Lemn Sissay seems to agree with the crowds that “when the rain falls they talk of manchester”.

What he does next is neat, poetically and thematically. The “but” signals that something different is coming, and changing “when the rain falls” into “when the triumphant rain falls” disrupts the rhythm and the flow of the poem. (What even is “triumphant” rain? Can you imagine that weather forecast? “More showers tomorrow, becoming steadily heavier and more triumphant into the weekend.”)

rainy day in manchesterIf Lemn Sissay were a weather presenter I’d be getting seriously worried by this point, but he’s not, so we can make a mental note not to ask his advice about when to have our next barbecue, and carry on with the poem. What we get next is a third repetition of “rain” but by this time, it’s been transformed into a “rainbow”.

In the course of a one-sentence poem we’ve gone from rain, to triumphant rain, to rainbows. It’s a beautiful way to be reminded that just because other people see something negative about you it doesn’t mean you have to feel the same, and that often, what you’re thinking is more important than what ‘they’ are saying.

Sissay signs off with a little Manc in-joke: “the mancunian way” can, of course, mean the Manchester way of doing things, but for locals it is a quip on the ‘Mancunian Way’, a motorway flyover near the city centre. (In a double in-joke, the road has recently gained fame for suffering from huge sinkholes, caused by, you guessed it… large amounts of rain.)

There you have it. A perfect pick-me-up poem for a rainy day. So far, so nice, but we’ve got to the end of the poem and not even reached my favourite thing about it. Which is this:

Sissay poem on wallYup. You won’t find this poem in a book, but on a wall. Of a takeaway, in fact. With a massive satellite dish on it. If you want to see it for yourself, it’s here.

Rain is one of Sissay’s Landmark Poems, a series of poems written for buildings, walls, pavements and other public or private places. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for creative stuff outdoors: it feels different and special to read a poem on a wall rather than in a book or on a screen.

It particularly suits this poem, thanks to its outdoors theme and its combination of humour and inspiration. I like to think of somebody trudging past it in the drizzle, maybe getting drenched in the puddle-spray of a passing Magic Bus, then glancing up, spotting the poem, and carrying on with their day, wet on the outside but with the warm glow of poetry inside. This poem is open to everybody, whoever they are, whenever they want to read it. Which I think is a wonderful thing. More poem to the people.


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Written by Hazel Burke

Hazel likes seed catalogues, maps and toast. She lives in Manchester. @oxpecking