The gaggles of excited schoolgirls were an early indication that this was no ordinary poetry festival.
Roger McGough, Adrian Mitchell and James Fenton, Oxford University's poetry professor, may have their following, but their fans rarely swoon.
Pop fans, of course, do. So when Michael Horovitz, the poet, persuaded Damon Albarn, the singer-lyricist of the Britpop band Blur to appear in yesterday's Poetry Olympics at the Royal Albert Hall, London, the fans came too.
Horovitz was as pleased as punch at the extra interest in his nine-hour extravaganza of words and music, starring more than 40 performers. He thought the inclusion of Albarn, alongside Ray Davies from the Kinks, and singers Patti Smith and Nick Cave, was exactly what the event should be about.
"Poetry has always overlapped with music and dance and drama," he said. "It's only silly narrow-mindedness when people want to categorise anything, pushing people into pigeon holes. The thing about a good poem is it is strong communication which is just what a good song is."
Stung by recent newspaper literary criticism of some of his unfinished lyrics, Damon Albarn was making no claims of literary merit for his own works. "I write words that rhyme occasionally. I don't write poetry," he said. "I think poetry is more ordered. I like the energy of words but I'm not really interested in being that ordered."
Yet he was delighted to have been asked to take part. "I wouldn't be here if I wasn't ecstatic about doing it," he said. Horovitz turned up in person on his doorstep to ask him. He proved so charming that Albarn's girlfriend, Justine Frischmann, the singer-guitarist with Elastica, agreed to take part too as a compere.
"I think it's a great concept," she said yesterday. "It's nice to be involved in something that isn't just music."
The other writers were taking their glamorous pop rivals in their stride. Roger McGough, a Liverpudlian "Mersey beat" poet, said there was room for everybody. "If it brings young people in who wouldn't come if they thought it was severe poetry, that's great."
Not that poetry needed pop to draw the crowds, he added. "Poetry always has been popular. I've been doing big readings and making money out of it for years. It's just there's more attention being paid to it now."
Carol Ann Duffy said she was always amazed to discover that some people were very distant from poetry. "I'm very much in favour of something like this. Something that uses a bit of showbiz and a bit of humour is necessary still."
Sharon Swanepoel and Cathy Elam, both 21, from South Africa, would probably have come regardless, but Nick Cave was definitely the draw. "I think we'd have been here, but in cheaper seats," Ms Elam said.
Even traditionalist poetry lovers did not seem to mind the pop incomers. …