Top performers and grassroots poets come together at poetry festival with a difference
A festival with the emphasis on performance as well as grassroots poetry is returning with a stellar line-up for a second year. Morecambe Poetry Festival, organised by Edinburgh Fringe veteran Matt Panesh, will be featuring Roger McGough, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Henry Normal, John Hegley, Attila the Stockbroker, and Brian Bilston, as well as many other well-known performance poets. There will be two late-night open mics, and other opportunities throughout the weekend of 22-24 September as well.
Morecambe Poetry Festival was held for the first time last year, with the main stage at the north-west resort’s famous Winter Gardens. In a Zoom interview with Write Out Loud, Matt Panesh said he would describe poetry as “shorthand for the soul. I want to keep that grassroots element going this year. What I felt really worked last year was that ‘music festival vibe’ … when Linton Kwesi Johnson was on stage last year on Friday night there was just an energy, an intensity.”
Funding for this year’s festival includes a substantial grant from the TS Eliot Foundation, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Matt said: “For the last one I was kind of paying for it out of my own savings. Three months before the festival I was looking at bankruptcy. Then Creative Lancashire came on board with a grant. That was absolutely vital at the time.
“We released a report saying how brilliant the festival was, but we could do with some cash, and the TS Eliot Foundation contacts us the next day, and says we would like to support this festival for the next five years. That was just absolutely staggering. The county council has just supported us with their SpaceHive crowdfunding scheme. I’ve said that everyone who donates at least £10 gets a copy of the anthology we’ve produced, where established names rub shoulders with people who are unknown. It includes a poem by Alice, aged seven.”
Matt, who has helped to programme spoken word at the PBH Free Fringe in Edinburgh for a number of years, arrived in Morecambe in 2016: “I got evicted from Manchester, and woke up with a hangover on Morecambe’s beach. We noticed that there was a statue of a comedian [Eric Morecambe], but there wasn’t a comedy night. You had this place that had been designed for entertainment, but the population had been cut off from its heritage.
“So we started this fringe festival in 2017, two days after Edinburgh, as a way of reconnecting people. Now it’s three weeks long, and it’s before Edinburgh, in July, and we’ve also opened up in Carnforth, and Barrow. Out of that came the poetry festival, and people really responded to it. And now we’ve got a film festival in October, with a Kubrick retrospective. So it’s about the cultural regeneration of Morecambe!”
Highlights of the poetry festival weekend will include Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay on a double bill. Matt added “Henry Normal’s back, and Brian Bilston. The first date of their tour together is Morecambe poetry festival. Henry Normal will also interview Roger McGough, who’s on at the Brewery arts centre in Kendal on the Friday night as well.”
Matt has also put out a call for more festival volunteers this year, offering a free festival pass in exchange for two four-hour shifts. “Last year I was introducing people and then running off stage to operate the sound. We just put out a shout-out for volunteers, and local hosts, too.”
Despite the celebrity line-up, Matt mentioned again the festival’s interest in grassroots poetry. “Here’s one of the nicest stories, from last year. Colin was a volunteer for the Winter Gardens. An older man, he’d written one poem, three years before, when his mum died, and he recited it at one of the late night open mics, on the Saturday night, and then on the Sunday. He asked, ‘Is this alright, if I do it again?’, I said, ‘Get yourself up.’ And then after that, he just started writing. At this year's Morecambe Fringe I gave him five minutes to work towards, and a little bit of direction. And he says to me, you know, you've started something. Then I pass him getting filmed at the end of the stone jetty. They were filming him reciting his poetry. That's fantastic.”