Tribute to Jackie Hagan

In June 2024, we lost Jackie Hagan. She had been ill for a very long time, conditions with complicated manifestations and names to match.  


A lot of people remember the first time they met Jackie, but I don’t. We were at the University of Manchester at the same time, around 1999, 2000. She was in a relationship with a young woman I fancied from what was then called the LGB society. Some years later Jackie revealed she’d had a difficult time visiting her girlfriend’s unfriendly folks in their Lancashire mansion. I’d dodged a bullet, but Jackie took the hit. 

She introduced me to so many writers and poets. I saw her perform many times in places like Sandbar and The Green Room, so often that I could mouth along to some of the lines. The first time I performed poetry was at a short-lived night she ran called ‘Hiya Luv’ (silent ‘H’), complete with its own button badge merch, in the dark damp back room at The Crescent in Salford. Jackie encouraged me to perform, as she did with so many other  nervous novices. Her references to pop culture (we both grew up with Button Moon and The Wombles) and utter lack of pretension made poetry accessible. A possibility for new writers as I was back then.

When she facilitated writing workshops she always brought that encouragement with her. That, and being non-judgemental and accepting. It helped people to shine and grow. I think this came from her experiences of healthcare and disability, of the welfare benefits system, of growing up working class in Skelmersdale, of being skint, of being queer and non-binary, of all kinds of pain. She brought her openness and willingness to be vulnerable, more than I could ever be.  


The covid pandemic drove a lot of people away from each other for too many years. Running the Hard Pressed heritage project at Commonword gave me an excuse to get back in touch. My contact in the last few months of Jax’s life seems mercenary because it was work-related. I didn’t feel good about it. I knew she could see through me. But I also knew it was important to try to capture some of this history because it’s so fragile. As part of the project, I’d asked her friend the writer John G Hall to run some workshops based on issues of Citizen 32 (a 2000s magazine of political poetry and fiction) in Wythenshawe. I came to some of the sessions and Jackie was in attendance. One session was on the theme of war. The theme was too upsetting for her, so she coloured outside of the lines and wrote something completely different instead. She blew us all out of the water. Her brilliance came to her so easily and quickly, just like the way she made her observations.  

John and I had talked about putting together a zine of poetry from these workshops that would be available at a poetry showcase at the Manchester Poetry Library in May. Jax had talked about doing a cover for the zine. 

Shortly after the last Citizen 32 sessions, she went into hospital. The chances of her putting some of her magic and sparkle into this zine were dwindling. She messaged me on Facebook, quite last minute:

“Is it alright if I send u a poem for the zine or has this shit [sic] sailed”?
“No not at all.” I wanted anything and everything she wanted to send me.
But then a few days passed and I heard nothing. Looking through her debut collection that Citizen 32 had published, I dangled a proposal in front of her. 

“How about this one?” I asked. A real woman. She didn’t recognise the title. The poem was probably around twenty years old. I took a picture of it and sent it to her. She wasn’t the same person who wrote it, she said. I told her it was still moving. She wanted to rework it. Thoughtful as ever, she didn’t want to get rid of anything that suggested the only real woman is a cisgender one. She made edits which I dutifully implemented.  

I’d wanted her to do the zine cover too, but health and hospitals got in the way. Even so, she provided a cracking bio, all whilst being on a communal ward where it was kicking off “imagine molotov cocktails and beds against doors me on floor typing with one finger off it on morphine”. She’d lost feeling in her right hand (she is right-handed).  

I described the in-progress zine to her. For a change, I was using software this time, not scissors and Pritt Stick. Serif font, monochrome and dead classy, automatically generated page numbers.
She replied to say she didn’t like the sound of it. 

John had put her down to read at the showcase. I included a list of poets performing at the showcase. I asked if she was gonna be able to make it.  

Fuck yeah,” she wrote.
Best thing I’ve heard all day,” I replied.
She was out of hospital one day before the showcase.

But on the evening, she was too tired to make it to Manchester Poetry Library. In my heart of hearts, I knew this might happen.  I’d hoped that she’d be able to perform again, be on stage, have an audience, have a mic stand wrapped in fairy lights.

A few weeks later, she was back in hospital where her life ended. But that’s not how I want to remember her. She was so strong.  She hid discomfort and pain a lot more than I realised. I think she was just trying to get on with her life. She wanted things to be nice for everyone, especially for the oddballs and misfits who miss out. She was sharp and funny as hell. Her honesty put a lot of her contemporaries to shame. Her honesty made people uncomfortable, but it was on the road to putting them at ease, giving them relief they didn’t know they needed. And I will miss her greatly for that.  – Heena Patel


“Are you using-” “Canva? Yeah I am” – Thoughts from an Intern

Commonword’s recent intern Shauna Strathmann shares thoughts and reflections on her 10-week placement supporting our events and marketing activity.

Whenever I enter a new ‘phase’ of my life, I have a habit of consuming any and all related cultural content in an effort to shift myself into that mode. It’s often massively counterintuitive, but that didn’t stop me from watching The Devil Wears Prada (2006) the week before my internship at Commonword started. Magazine publishing, Book publishing. Potay-to, Potah-to (for legal reasons, that is a joke). Experience-wise, the film was always going to be useless, but I did have a crisis over whether I have control over my own wardrobe-related decisions.

Something I learned during this 10 week internship was just how creative the publishing industry can be – one of my reservations whenever I thought about a career down this avenue was likely similar to many writers; that they might not have room amidst corporate promotion to create anything themselves, but that couldn’t be further from the case. The diversity in the forms of promotion and reporting I was doing meant I was constantly trying something new, and receiving regular feedback, so I gradually discovered what I was good at. I even found inspiration for my own writing – a report I did in February felt more like poetry or spoken word than a journalistic piece, and it led to more creative writing than I’d been capable of in months.

Visually speaking I’m meticulous – my idea of a fun Friday night is planning an entire week’s worth of outfits around a set concept or colour palette, so something I really wanted to learn and get to grips with during this placement was social media promotion. Many of the later weeks were spent brainstorming Canva layouts – perhaps the 2023 publishing equivalent to finding the right turquoise belt to match a sugary pink tulle party dress. It’s really difficult; Tw cent MT and Trebuchet MS are just so different.

I actually did get my Anne Hathaway big event moment early on for the launch of the InDivisible anthology at Manchester Poetry Library – in the lead-up I had the pleasure of reading through an advance copy and using my critical analysis to understand the pieces as best I could, then put together a running order that made sense thematically. I then used that to photograph the book for promotional images. Actually travelling up to Manchester to see everything come together on the night (and see tiny things almost fall apart, but we had military-grade glue in the form of Artistic Director Cheryl Martin and printed out running orders) was the ‘Paris’ moment. Yet (and this applies to the whole internship experience), in huge contrast to The Devil Wears Prada, I didn’t need a lengthy makeover montage to feel like I was doing the job well. I was frankly bowled over by the amount of support with anything I needed help with, and the willingness to entrust me with important tasks. I started every Wednesday with a meeting with Radhaika, who always checked to make sure I was wholly confident in what I was doing that day, and knew that whatever work I’d be doing for Commonword, be it Canva-ing workshops promo, an audio report, or data entry (I got to read everyone’s feedback on the InDivisible launch!), it would give me a better understanding of how well I could see myself doing a similar job in the future. This would be the part in the movie in which I leave the event of the year, and toss my ringing phone into a fountain, but after getting the opportunity to work with creatives who care so deeply about elevating new and unheard voices, who have welcomed and guided me, I’m clutching that metaphorical T-Mobile Sidekick with both hands; I’ll answer the moment it rings.


Internship by numbers:

Pizza slices consumed on launch night: 3

Heavy boxes carried: 1

Heavy boxes almost dropped: 1

Hours spent font switching on Canva: 3

Logins memorised: 6

Hazelnut lattes consumed on call: 5.5

Times agonised over which emoji to end a Tweet/Instagram post with: 8

Times rushed across New York for an unpublished manuscript: (thankfully) 0

Shauna Strathmann

Commonword works with Carson Wolfe for 2023 Poet in Residence programme

Commonword will be supporting poet Carson Wolfe in the delivery of creative writing sessions at Falinge Park High School as part of the 2023 Poet in Residence programme at Manchester Metropolitan University. This programme is funded by The Comino Foundation.

Carson Wolfe is a Mancunian poet. In 2021, they were an Aurora prize winner and a Button video contest winner. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming with Fourteen Poems, Rattle, and The Penn Review. You can find them on Instagram @vincentvanbutch.

Introducing Our Artistic Directors: Pete Kalu

Which art forms do you work in?
I’m a novelist, short story writer, poet and theatre maker. I also write for tv and film scripts. My fiction writing genres include crime, young adult and sci-fi as well as literary.

Which organisations/projects are you involved with outside of Commonword Cultureword?

I’m involved with the Colonial Countryside movement which looks at the colonial roots of many British stately homes. I’m also part of the black speculative fiction movement.

What projects are you currently working on/ have upcoming in 2023?

My dystopian alt-fiction novel, One Drop came out in August 2022. My speculative fiction short story Fall of the House of Penrhyn comes out in Peepal Tree’s Glimpse anthology in January 2023 and my short story, Sidewinds to Andromeda is in the Comma Press anthology, Collision, which comes out around February 2023.

What are you most excited about for 2023?

I’m half-way through writing something that surfs the hyphen between polemical memoir and auto-fiction. It’s a highly unstable piece, genre wise, and I’m loving working on it.

Please share a book and/or show recommendation
Glimpse is a bunch of weird and wonderful short stories, edited by the top-notch writer, Leone Ross.

Where can we find your work?
You can find me on Twitter @peterkalu and Instagram @petekalu. My website is

Introducing Our Artistic Directors: Cheryl Martin

Commonword’s Artistic Directors put into action our basic mission – to help new and emerging writers become more successful.  What it means to be successful is open to wide interpretation:  for some of our writers, it’s meant getting an agent, getting published with a multi-book deal, getting commissioned by television streaming companies, winning awards.  And it can also mean enjoying writing, watching your writing get better and better, performing, becoming part of festivals, or just sharing with friends and family. 

To make all that happen, the Artistic Directors have to fundraise, plan our artistic programmes and try to make sure people know about everything we’re doing and our opportunities.

Cheryl Martin

Cheryl Martin stands in Moss Side Library. She has black curly hair and is wearing a black dress with boots.

Which art forms do you work in?
I write poetry and plays, and direct and perform for theatre.  Won a few awards along the way.

Which organisations/projects are you involved with outside of Commonword Cultureword?

I’m a Co-Artistic Director for Manchester’s Global Majority queer-led Black Gold Arts, which has been doing artist development in writing, directing, choreography and performance since 2014.  We had a fantastic two-day outdoor festival at The Whitworth in August 2022 which had 5,500 folks come to join us.

I freelance as a theatre director, and have worked at Contact with black Africans living with HIV [I Am Because We Are, toured 2018]; with Community Arts Northwest with mostly women asylum seekers and refugees for ten years.  I directed the launch of giant puppet Amal, A Sleeping Child, for Manchester International Festival in July 2021.
I’ve also been doing some teaching for Manchester School of Theatre’s acting course for the past two years [Manchester Metropolitan University].

What projects are you currently working on/have upcoming in 2023?
I’ll be directing a brand-new play, This Town, by performance poet Rory Aaron for Contact for March 2023.

And a play I directed in 2022 with the Royal Exchange Caribbean Elders, Dominoes + Dahlias [Plus Oware!] will still be touring.

What are you most excited about for 2023?

Commonword is going to start a Wellbeing Programme for our writers, staff and board members.  I think about how best to do it every single day.  We’re hosting our National Black Writers’ Conference in-person from Oldham and internationally online – the last one was a blast and we want to top it this time.   And writer/performer Adam Lowe, who’s basing part of his PhD on researching Commonword’s Archive which goes right back to the 1970s [Commonword Archive], will be starting new queer workshops in September.

Plus, I get to direct a brand-new play, which I love doing.

Please share a book and/or show recommendation

I love The Jasmine Throne and The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri.  We read them for Commonword’s Queer Black Book Club [they’re the first two of a trilogy].  I inhaled these books, they were so much fun – Southeast Asian-inflected fantasy, wonderful worldbuilding, lesbian protagonists who actually have really good sex, politics, magic, sibling rivalry played out across an empire – these books have it all.

Where can we find your work?
Upcoming performances:
Director, This Town, by Rory Aaron, at Contact Theatre, starting 22 March 2023 then touring to Derby.
And look out for Dominoes + Dahlias [Plus Oware!] on the Royal Exchange website.

My website is: Theatre | | Manchester
My Twitter is: @cherylalaska My Instagram is: cherylmartin7931