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Thursday 28 September 2017

The poetry of Coronation Street

It’s National Poetry Day in the UK today, so I am celebrating the art of Street Poetry. Get it?

I find it pretty cool that Craig Charles began his career as a contemporary performance poet, regularly sharing a stage with Merseyside greats such as Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. Apparently, Craig has taken up poetry again since leaving Coronation Street.

The character of Ken Barlow also wrote some poetry after departing Weatherfield for Canada a few years ago. Another resident to have enjoyed the written word was John Stape, who - after being struck off as a teacher - went on to teach romantic verse at an adult education centre. 

Poetry has been used to devastating effect recently by Daniel Barlow. Not in his seduction of Sinead or in his exams, but in the attempted murder of his old man with the Howatch Book of Classic Poetry and Poets. It was the first time ever that Ken did not enjoy getting his head around a book of poems!

I have long thought of Corrie as a work of art and at its best, the dialogue is poetic. It is no wonder, then, that several poets have been fans of the Street. Sir John Betjeman may have hated Slough but he loved Weatherfield. He said: “Manchester produces what to me is the Pickwick Papers. That is to say, Coronation Street, I live for it. Thank God. Half past seven tonight and I shall be in paradise.”

Sir John Betjeman, Tony Warren and Lady Elizabeth Cavendish

The current Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy, is also a Corrie enthusiast with strong links to the show. In this 1999 interview, Duffy talked about watching Coronation Street and revealed that her close friend Tony Warren was her daughter’s Godfather. 

When Tony passed away last year, Carol spoke for us all when she said: “Manchester has lost its dearest son and so many of us a beloved friend. And the millions who have loved Coronation Street for over half a century have lost their Dickens.” Lovely words.

I studied Carol Ann Duffy in my English A-Level and I have enjoyed her work ever since. I was delighted when she wrote a special poem to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Coronation Street in 2010. She said: “I was so proud to be asked and so proud to know my poem would be on the show.”

Ken Barlow (who else?) read the poem in an episode broadcast on Christmas Eve 2010. It was during a memorial carol service on Coronation Street to commemorate the victims of the tram crash: 

The poem in full reads:

If someone could direct me to a street where I could stand
Cobbles beneath my feet tearful with rain; 
The shadows of my hopes behind the stained-glass windows of a pub, ghosts – 
I would turn up the collar of my coat, and walk, and number each small, terraced house by heart: 
Birthplace; neighbours – hard man, hussy, harridan, hustler, hero, heroine – 
Threshold, bride and groom, as clueless of next year as Christmas Eve; 
Or exit-place, a hearse, a raw and local grief... 
Then I'd retrace my steps, perhaps a baby's cry, sharp as a sudden star nailed to the sky, 
To stand now in this backstreet bar, nursing a beer
All my griefs, my gifts, and glad I live here.

Carol Ann Duffy was on set during filming, an experience she described as “magical”. She told how they “were stood in the fake snow and it felt like a real street”.

That's made me feel all Christmassy! Talking of Christmas on the cobbles, the sad news of Liz Dawn's death has reminded me of Christmas 2004 when Vera chastised Jack for giving her the same Christmas card as the year before... “But the poem made you cry”, protested Jack. “Yes”, said Vera... “but I didn't expect to get it again this year, you bone-idled, tight-fisted pig!”

Now, that is poetic. Rest In Peace, Liz - your poetry endures.

Blog by Martin Leay, on Twitter @mpleay

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