The verse and vibe of the inner city

Manchester has taken poetry out of its stuffy tweed jacket and given it an urban credibility
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"It all started one night when I stood on a crate in the middle of the dancefloor of a rather dodgy disco in Manchester and performed comedy and poetry to about 30 bewildered people," explains Henry Normal, founder of the Manchester Poetry Festival. "A year later, we had Seamus Heaney, on the week he won the Nobel Prize, coming into the Whitworth Art Gallery to a standing ovation. To think that from just an idea the year before we had got such a moment in history was absolutely gorgeous."

Over the past 10 years the Manchester Poetry Festival has become the largest urban poetry festival outside of London. "I noticed all the poetry festivals I ever went to were rural events in small towns," says Normal. "Poetry tends to be about urban issues now, so I centred it around Manchester."

"Poetry is often put into two camps," says Normal "The pretentious and worthy or the trite and trivial. There is a great deal of poetry between those two areas as relevant as any pop song, as cutting edge as any comedy and as informed as any play. This is what the Manchester Poetry Festival is all about."

Previous years have seen acts as diverse as Alistair McGowan, Sean Hughes and Labi Siffre, and performances in venues such as The Temple of Convenience (a disused lavatory) and from atop the wing of a plane in the Museum of Science and Transport - a performance that festival co-ordinator Helen Riley describes as the most amazing performance she has ever seen.

Prospective highlights of this years' festival, which coincides with National Poetry Day - on 9 October, include the Crocus Books' Stage to Page, a daily knockout competition, voted for by the audience, offering a publishing deal to the weeks' two best performers. England's Burning at St Ann's Church will be a candle-lit evening of oration by The Fire Poet with music from The Inklein Quartet and percussion from the tabla player Sirishkumar. And the club night "Doodlebug presents at Renaissance" provides live music, DJs, film and poetry until the early hours.

After a number of years away from the festival, writing programs such as The Mrs Merton Show, The Royle Family and co-founding Baby Cow Production with Steve Coogan, Normal is returning to Manchester, joining the likes of Diké, Paul Farley, Sophie Hannah, Shamshad Khan, Michael Schmidt, Max Seymour, Jeffrey Wainwright. His show, Poetry On The Box, is about poetry on television now and how we can get more of it on in the future.

Normal admits that though he may be the father of the festival, it is his friend Ric Michael, the festival director, who is the mother. "Ric's experience as a rock promoter cut through all that pretentiousness often associated with poetry. I hope it continues for another 10 years."

Manchester Poetry Festival (0161-236 5725; www.manchesterpoetryfestival.co.uk) 5-12 October

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