Poet Laureate (until next year, at least) and head of the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, Carol Ann Duffy’s regular series of get-togethers featuring jazz, poetry and conversation in the round is well under way. Joining Carol Ann are students and alumni, House Poets and Laureate’s Choice pamphleteers John Fennelly (2018) and Mark Pajak (2016), winner of the Bridport Prize, and a variety of special guests, this month, Zaffar Kunial.
Just shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards as well as the prestigious TS Eliot Prize – which has shortlist readings hosted by Ian McMillan and the winner announced on 13 January in London’s Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall – Zaffar has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. In 2011, he was placed third in the National Poetry Competition with ‘Hill Speak’ – at that point, his only published poem and, reading it at the National Poetry Competition awards ceremony, his first public performance.
He has since spoken on BBC radio and at various literature festivals, including last year’s Manchester Literature Festival, when he was commissioned to respond to the Raqib Shaw exhibition at Whitworth Art Gallery, and, this year’s, when he read at the Faber New Poets event at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, alongside Sophie Collins, Richard Scott and Hannah Sullivan, and as part of the Ted Hughes retrospective at Central Library.
It was a busy year in 2014 for Zaffar, when he won the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize for his poem ‘The Word’, was one of five contributors (with Denise Riley, John Glenday, Steve Ely and Warsan Shire) to The Pity, an anthology of poems commissioned by the Poetry Society in response to the centenary of the First World War, and was Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust in Cumbria‘s Grasmere.
He also had a pamphlet come out in the Faber New Poets series that year, and this year Faber & Faber published his first full poetry collection, Us. Born in Birmingham and now based in West Yorkshire, Zaffar’s debut looks at his upbringing by an English mother and a Kashmiri father, and the distances his own life has had to travel. Carol Ann’s Scottish counterpart, Makar Jackie Kay says of Zaffar: ‘His poems are precise, startling in their originality, full of grace.’
Having graduated from the LSE, Zaffar worked as a full-time Creative Writer for Hallmark for over five years, so bring along your Christmas cards and see if he’ll write you some pithy lines.
This is the last Carol Ann Duffy & Friends this year, and it’s already proving popular (more tickets may be released nearer the time if you’ve struggled to get hold of one, or try for returns on the door), but she’ll be back on 14 January with The Glass Aisle – a collaboration of poetry and music between Paul Henry and Brian Briggs, featuring live performance, poetry collection and album – then on 11 March with BBC radio regular and ‘stand-up poet’ Kate Fox. More soon – watch this space!