The Shifting City

Isabelle Kenyon (Ed.), Mancunian Ways (Fly On the Wall Press, 2020)

Maureen Ward and Richard Barrett (Eds.), Shock City, Issue 1, Autumn 2020

Now is a fascinating time as any to reflect on the status of the city one inhabits. Over recent months we have seen the streets transform from post-apocalyptic hinterlands to slowly regenerating hubs, whilst mass inequality is exposed.

Both poetry anthology Mancunian Ways and zine Shock City consider Manchester as it is at present, trawling through the annals of history and chronicling its contemporary landscape, either through celebratory lyrics or scathing essays. 

Shock City is a new zine with a ‘critical eye on Manchester’. The editorial note roots this issue – “Fauxthenticity” – in Guy Debord’s theory of the bête noire; the demonic commodity. EP Niblock’s opening article “The Art of Cynical Placemaking in an Age of Fauxthenticity” takes aim at the inauthentic construction of a city through corporate placemaking. He attacks the constant presence of cranes building “hip new neighbourhoods”, and the HS2 connecting London and Manchester.

Many poems in the Mancunian Ways anthology present Manchester as the second-city to London, a site to flee from to “pursue big dreams in the big smoke” as Abbie Day puts it in her homesick ode “Long Distance”.

But there is a collective awareness of Manchester’s assumption into a homogenised metropolis. Particularly in “Ascension” by Joseph Darlington, with its modernist fixation on the metallic industry of urbanisation, the “shimmering steel ” that “shatter[s] open the sky”.

This “new Manchester” is gazed upon in Sarah Pritchard’s “City of Cranes” with an ecological leaning. The anthropomorphised cranes which litter the skyline usurp the position of nature; “Red-eyed in the night sky, keeping watch over the city.”

A common enemy is shared between Niblock and Tina Tamsho-Thomas. Her poem “Before The Dual Carriage Way” records elegiacally urban division and the suffering of black-owned businesses caused by city planning. His article, along with others in Shock City, carries the same scepticism present in many poems harking back to the pre-modernised city.

It is unsurprising how diverse and inclusive Mancunian Ways is, yet thrilling reading about so many identities forged and fostered in Manchester nightlife.

“FAC-51” by Billy Morrissey relates an mythologised time in the heyday of Madchester. “The Ritz” by Vicky Morris and “Before The Village” by Sarah Pritchard, by contrast, offer us a glimpse into a more transgressive side of nightlife.

For Morris, it’s 1991, with “soap-spiked Mohicans” and crust punks. Whereas Pritchard’s remembers the LGBT+ scene before the Gay Village existed.

Much of the same themes are explored by Morag Rose in her essay “UnManchester: A Warning to Soul Seekers” in Shock City. She argues against a “One True Manchester” as so many sub-cultures and identities make up this “complicated, complex, fucked up and wonderful” city. Rose’s outrage at the inaccessibility of the Peterloo memorial for disabled people reminds us that Manchester is a city of trauma.

A more familiar terror, recalled by Jan Berry in her poem “My Tribe”, is of the Manchester Arena bombing at an Ariana Grande concert; the “Young star whose music / enchanted children and teens”. After this event the bee symbol came to represent “waves of grief”; consolidating resilient collectivism which has defined the city since the Industrial Revolution.

On the whole, these writings on Manchester record dismay regarding foreign investments flooding into its urban core and the new scourge of luxury apartments. The general feeling is that this modification threatens some “authentic” nature of the city, whatever that may be; just read Shock City to delve into this discourse.

Whether “authenticity” exists in the diversity of the city’s inhabitants, in its peculiar history or its resilient places and spaces, there is a sense of its realness and the imminent threat to it, witnessed in the red-eyed skyline, and hiding behind omniscient glass-plated monoliths.

Tom Branfoot

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