Sunlight (Eston Street): A poem for Keith Bennett

Keith Bennett

For the post-war, post-1960s, post-modern, post-Tony Wilson, post-Smiths, post-everything generation, Manchester’s past is a projection, a kind of grim nostalgia, stitched together in song lyrics and cult films, stills of Coronation Street and Rita Tushingham. The early 1960s is black and white, Shelagh Delaney, chains of brick terraces, smoke and Violet Carson, brewery steam and factory smog, “streets to define you and streets to confine you,” as Morrissey said in his Autobiography, Manchester being the “old fire, wheezing its last.”

The horrific crimes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley are a part of the violent truth behind the smoke, the bitter knife’s edge beneath this grey tapestry. The Moors Murders are locked in Manchester’s psyche, a cancer, the infamous mugshots printed and reprinted, cutting deeper and deeper into the City’s troubled history, as inescapable as the greygreen wall of Moors, cold-shouldered against the city skyline.

Keith Bennett is the last known victim of Brady and Hindley to remain unfound, locked in the ever-changing face of the Moor. The idea of a boy still lost, somewhere out there beneath that unforgiving, cold landscape unnerved me as a kid and still does, Brady’s last sick twist of the knife. I wanted to write something about Keith Bennett in particular after reading an interview with Keith’s brother, Alan, who mentioned the goalposts he and Keith painted on the wall at the end of their street in the early 1960s. The traces are still there.

Brady once bragged to a reporter about how his name is remembered more than other killers, counting his notoriety in Google hits against his name. It occurred to me that the names of the killers are remembered more than the victims themselves. We need to remember the victims, keep them alive in the City’s consciousness long after Brady becomes dust.

I submitted my poem ‘Sunlight, Eston Street’ to Paragram Poetry’s ‘Slants of Light’ competition and was lucky enough to be shortlisted, the poem eventually came second in the competition and was published in Paragram’s anthology.

Details of the ongoing appeal to renew the search for Keith Bennett can be found here:

I have donated my prize money to the NSPCC. If you would like to make a donation too, to tackle child cruelty, you can do so here:

Details of the Paragram Poetry anthology can be found here:

Sunlight, Eston Street
Cold light bleeds over rocks and heath,
the cryptic landscape cradles Keith
Bennett, emptied into soil.

There are goalposts painted on a Longsight street,
fading prints, pale scars on brick,
where you used to play.

The unconcerned city caul of traffic shrouds
the ghost road;
you wouldn’t recognise it now.

We do not name our children with her name
yet cannot let her go, she seeps
Mugshot eyes in a city’s retina
Black-eyed houses;
Peroxide brick.
Dirt beneath a fingernail.

Sunlight sets across a moor,
draws shadows along roads,
gilds a city skyline,
rests on painted brick.


About Ian O'Brien

I am a teacher and scribbler, living in Manchester, UK.
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