I'm not sure if Tony Walsh was a household name in the UK or not before he delivered his poem This Is The Place at a remembrance service the day after the Manchester Arena terror attack in May 2017. Regardless, his words have now struck a deep chord not only with the people of Manchester but many others across the globe. I knew nothing of Tony or his work before seeing that heartfelt performance, but a recent interview with Louise Rhind-Tutt for UK newspaper 'i' provides a great insight into how Tony created the opportunity to turn his creative sideline into a full-time job.
Having written poetry from childhood right into his teens, Tony was forced to stop when family commitments had to take priority. “I had no money, so I had to work in a supermarket five nights a week,” the poet told Rhuss-Tutt. “And that stopped me reading and writing. I harboured vague ideas of doing something with music or writing, but I did nothing with it.”
If you've seen what he does, you know he means it. That's not a bad place for us all to start.
It wasn't until he was 39 that Tony managed to get something going again, using fatherhood as an opportunity. “I’d written a few poems. We’d had kids by that point, which keeps you in the house and gives you a new perspective on things.” But in 2004 he managed to build up the courage to nervously perform at a local open mic night - “It changed my life,” he says.
In 2005, Tony used his street-smarts to blag his way onto the poetry stage at Glastonbury. He soon found himself surrounded by people who had managed to form a career from their work. Despite most of his peers being younger and without family commitments, he took inspiration from this and in 2008 he decided to reduce his work hours to concentrate more on poetry.
“As I pressed send on the redundancy form email, my phone rang asking would I like to be poet in residence at Glastonbury. Clutching at straws, I took that as a good omen.” - Tony Walsh
Reducing your hours in your day job to follow your creative purpose might seem risky enough, especially to those of us with a family to feed. But Tony goes on to explain how he was able to embrace the possibility of leaving his job to create an exciting new opportunity “...in 2011, I took voluntary redundancy and went full-time,” says Walsh. “Having discussed it at length at home – ‘Can I give up my job and pension and run away with the circus?’ – the weirdest thing happened. “As I pressed send on the redundancy form email, my phone rang asking would I like to be poet in residence at Glastonbury. Clutching at straws, I took that as a good omen.”
Some would call Walsh's story fate or luck. I would call it the result of persistence and creative endeavour. Without the open mic night, there would have been no Glastonbury - by taking that small step you could argue that he kicked off a chain of events that continue to pay off now. At the heart of the story is a guy who is doing work that matters for himself and others. If you've seen what he does, you know he means it. That's not a bad place for us all to start.
Read the full interview over on iNews.co.uk
In September 2017 Tony will publish 'This Is The Place', his collaboration with Manchester’s creative community bringing his poem to life through illustration, photography, and design. With contributions from Peter Saville and Malcolm Garrett and a foreword from the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, the book’s proceeds will be split between three charities.