Morecambe Poetry Festival: ‘It’s a dream come true… it’s going to be brilliant, wonderful, and anarchic’

When Matt Panesh arrived in Morecambe in 2016, he immediately noticed something was wrong. “I quickly realised the town had a statue of a comedian but no comedy night. That just wasn’t right,” he says. “So me and my mate Nick Awde started Morecambe Fringe to reconnect Morecambe to its heritage of performing, entertainment, and tourism.”

Unsurprisingly, it was a hit. “It was almost as if someone had dusted everything off, watered it, and all these seeds had started to grow again,” Matt adds. “It’s always been about creating careers in the industry for people; bringing people into Morecambe with big name acts whilst giving people the opportunity to get on stage and learn how to use their voice.

“And it’s the same with the poetry festival, too.”

Having been involved in the performing arts all his life as a poet, actor, producer, and director, Matt is also now the founder and organiser of the inaugural Morecambe Poetry Festival, a three-day extravaganza which is set to take place between September 16th and 18th at the iconic Winter Gardens stage on Morecambe Promenade.

John Hegley by Polly Hancock

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After arriving in the town as a burnt-out performer in need of recuperation and going on to become the one-man powerhouse behind the Morecambe Fringe - a smorgasbord of spoken word, music, theatre, poetry, prog rock, cabaret, and comedy festivals in the town - Matt understands first-hand the power of performance and stage time for a town and its people.

“What’s the point of freedom of speech if you’ve not got a platform and you don’t know how to speak?” says Matt. “That’s why it’s vital there’s a safe space for performers. You only learn where the line is when you’ve crossed it and you can only develop an act with stage time in an environment where it’s safe for you to mess up, otherwise you don’t try anything.

“That combination of inspirational people coming in and a community throughline of developing talent is what Morecambe needs,” he adds. “The poetry festival is a dream come true as well: it’s like you’ve asked ‘80s me who he wanted to see most in the world of poetry! It’s gonna be a scream. Heart palpitations; I’m over the moon!”

Gearing up to host the likes of Dr John Cooper Clarke, Mike Garry, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Henry Normal & Lemn Sissay, Atilla the Stockbroker, John Hegley, Kate Fox, and TS Eliot Prize winner Joelle Taylor, the festival will also give invaluable stage time to a vibrant line-up of the country’s most exciting emerging writers, including a handful of locals.

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Henry Normal

“There’s going to be hundreds of poets and it will be brilliant, wonderful, and anarchic,” says Matt, 49. “This unpretentious small seaside town can stake a claim to be home to one of the most exciting cultural events in the country. I want this to have a real impact: access to the arts can be life-changing and bring about cultural renewal.

“This is my attempt to recapture a snapshot of the UK’s poetry scene so the audience can see what's happening from Lands End to John O’Groats.”

Matt Panesh at the Winter Gardens in Morecambe

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Joelle Taylor