Sales of Tony Walsh’s first poetry collection have almost doubled in the few weeks since he gave a rousing spoken word performance at a vigil following the terror attack at Manchester Arena on 22nd May.
Walsh told that The Bookseller the response to his poem, "This is The Place", had been “truly humbling”. He delivered it in Manchester less than 24 hours after the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert, which resulted in 22 deaths and 220 people needing hospital treatment.
Sales of his first collection of poetry, Sex & Love & Rock & Roll, published by Burning Eye Books, have since soared - shifting 1,100 copies in the last two weeks - according to the publisher. Before that the title had sold 1,250 copies since it was published in 2013. By the end of May, it had also jumped to number three in Amazon’s poetry chart.
Walsh, also known as Longfella, told The Bookseller: "I am hugely grateful for the support and humbled to get this response,” although he added “of course the real issue is how many people lost their lives and that many are still having treatment in hospital.”
“The poem is being painted on walls, there is talk of a music mix, it’s raising thousands for the victims’ fund and other Manchester charities,” he said.
The poet is using his work to raise more money for victims’ charities, as well as contributing to a book being produced by Manchester creatives to raise money for charity, called This is The Place - Choose Love Manchester.
He believes the outpouring of creativity in response to the attack is befitting of the city. “Manchester has always been creative. I’m just by Chetham’s Library in Manchester, one of the first lending libraries in the world [founded in 1653]. We have always been a hotbed for all forms of art, I am sure we were very early into printing,” he said. “There’s a thriving literature scene here at different levels with Carol Ann Duffy, Manchester Metropolitan University, all sorts of award-winning live literature nights and small presses and cool design houses. What we have here is pretty special.”
Clive Birnie, who founded Burning Eye in 2012 and runs it out of a “box room in Bristol”, told The Bookseller that Walsh’s performance had ignited huge interest in his first collection.
“Before we had sold 1,250 copies and now we have sold 1,100 additional sales since Tony stood up and read the poem at the vigil,” he said. “So there’s been an increase of almost 100%. The movement has the power to connect with people in the immediate moment rather than the other sort of poetry which you need to read in a dark room with a glass of wine.
“When he was on the TV I think his website actually crashed because of the number of people trying to order the books. We have spoken to our sales agency, Impress, and agreed that any proceeds since 23rd May will go to victims’ charities because it wouldn’t feel right for us to profit from it. This is why print-on-demand is a great thing, it can help when you get a sudden spike in demand.”
He added: “Tony, like many other spoken word publishers, struggled to find a publisher interested in that style. When we first published it we did a print run, we normally do a run of around 500 copies. And then around two years later we’ll do print-on-demand.”
Walsh was 39 with two small kids when he turned up at an open mike night with his poems for the first time. He believes spoken word poetry is gaining momentum in the UK.
“I’ve been on the scene for thirteen years and been fulltime for six years,” he said. “We [spoken word poets] have long since filled our allotted space and now we’re leaking out. This is what the arts do, people are seeing poetry can be part of this too in the same way as song or a movie or a novel.”
He added: “Too much poetry doesn’t leave people feeling anything, I think what do I want people to feel here and I work backwards. There is something immediate about it. People get a more immediate, deeper feeling from a poem that is performed.”
Walsh said his upcoming collection for Burning Eye was still in its “early stages”.
“The early title is work-life-balance but this might change,” he said. “It’s a mixture of comedy, tragedy and controversy, mixed in a way how life is mixed. It will probably come out next year.”