Poem rings loud against terrorism at Manchester vigil

At a vigil Tuesday in Manchester, England, a defiant poet Tony Walsh reminded residents that their city is much more than the site of a deadly suicide bombing.

His powerful reading of his own poem, “This is the Place,” was interrupted frequently by raucous applause from the crowd gathered outside Manchester City Hall during the vigil for the victims of Monday night’s terror attack.

Walsh spoke forcefully, like he was punching the enemy that had cast a shadow over his city less than 24 hours earlier.

“The Manchester way is to make it yourself,” he said. “And make us believe it. That this is the place that has helped shape the world.”

Walsh, a performance poet from Manchester, had debuted the poem in June 2013 while he was poet in residence for the charity Forever Manchester. At the time he said it sought to encapsulate the charity’s grass-roots work and the city’s “local spirit and flavor.”

On Tuesday it took on a new meaning.

As Walsh started speaking, attendees got quiet.

“It’s ace,” Walsh said of this industrial city of half a million people in northern England.

He hit the first syllables of the poem with force and didn’t stop.

“This is the place that a Manchester girl, name Emmeline Pankhurst, from the streets of Moss Side, led a suffragette city with sisterhood pride,” he said, the crowd erupting in applause. “We strut with defiance, in the face of challenge we always stand tall.”

Walsh reminded Mancunians, as city residents are called, that Manchester forged its own destiny in its steel mills to the tune of rock and roll.

“To survive and to thrive. And to work and to build. And to connect and create,” he said, his cadences echoing. “They’ll never defeat the dreamers and schemers who teem through these streets.”

Walsh’s message seemed to be this: The city has overcome too much to be stopped by a single act of cowardice and terrorism.

“We keep fighting back with greater Manchester spirit. Northern grit and northern wit,” he recited, growing even more impassioned. “There’s hard times again in these streets of our city. But we won’t take defeat, and we don’t want your pity. Because this is the place where we stand strong together.

“Because this is the place, in our hearts and our homes.

“Because this is the place. It’s a part of our bones.

“Because Manchester gives us such strength from the fact,” Walsh said, his voice quivering slightly. “Because this is the place.”

As he finished, he left the crowd with a simple message:

“Forever Manchester. Choose love, Manchester.”