Poetry is all around us. One of the things that I love most about StAnza is that there are many unique venues where you can interact with poetry. While The Byre is the vibrant hub, you can also hear haunting and resonant words echoing off stone walls in the dimly lit, atmospheric Undercroft, as I did with Cumbrian poet Katie Hale and Chinese poet Cai Tianxin, at their Border Crossings event yesterday. As Katie Hale observed during her lyrical, evocative and gracefully paced reading, that space is like a ‘cathedral to poetry.’
Or you can munch on delicious macaroni pies and sip a pint in the comfy seats of the Byre Studio and listen to some poems during Poetry Café, as I did with the fantastic spoken word poet Sara Hirsch. Sara’s poems are candid and intimate, her delivery full of humor and heart. Perhaps because I actually do know Sara, yesterday’s Poetry Café felt like sitting across from a friend at lunch, telling you stories of their fascinating life (albeit in sharply observed, poetic way!). It was definitely a festival highlight for me.
Or you can sit in the beautiful Byre Auditorium at a Poetry Centre Stage event and listen to a literary giant like Liz Lochhead with her wit and wisdom, leaving everyone laughing but also thinking about some deeply important and relevant themes. Two personal favorite poems of mine that she shared last night were ‘How to be the Perfect Romantic Poet’, with its cutting and hilarious first line: ‘Be born male.’ As well as ‘Photograph, Art Student, Female, Working Class’, which describes experiences of sexual harassment in the 60’s, before the vocabulary was around to articulate what was going on: ‘In sixty-six there’s plenty sex, but not ‘sexism’’. You can read the full poem here on the Scottish Poetry Library’s website: http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/photograph-art-stud...
In short, yesterday was full of great poetry and each venue at StAnza brings its own flare and feel, giving the festival a lovely and varied quality.
As Katie Hale mentioned in one of her earlier blog posts, there are as many versions of a festival as there are attendees. One must choose what to see, which events to attend, from this medley of not just poetry but also film, music, art, exhibitions, installations and more. For me, a favorite event of the festival is always the StAnza Poetry Slam, which I won back in 2013 and it essentially launched my career as a spoken word poet. It was the first major slam that I’d ever won and opened up lots of career opportunities for me (winning Scottish Nationals, competing at the World Series of Slam in Paris and placing 4th in the world, publication opportunities, etc.). Many other winners, such as Agnes Torok and Hannah Raymond-Cox, have also gone on to do amazing things, so this is definitely a launching point for a career in spoken word.
I was delighted to be asked to judge the slam, alongside Sara Hirsch and Clive Birnie, Director of Burning Eye Books. Sara’s a slam champ at both a UK and European level and a seasoned performer (as I mentioned before!). Burning Eye is a wonderful press, specializing in spoken word. So what is it like to judge The StAnza Slam, you ask? I thought it might be interesting to talk a little bit about that experience here.
At the start of the event, I enjoyed chatting with my two fellow judges about what we’re looking for in a poem, which, as we told the audience at the start of the show, is deceptively simple: we’re looking for great words and great delivery. Having judged a number of slams, I look for something that feels fresh, is engaging, full of surprising language and holds the audience.
Jo Gilbert performing in the StAnza Slam, 2018
Jo Gilbert performing in the StAnza Slam, 2018
We had a talented array of poets compete last night and I think it’s important to note that it takes so much courage and bravery to get up there and actually perform. Jo Gilbert (who, spoiler alert, WON the slam) had a great first poem about the courage it takes to do just that: to battle your inner critic to get up and read something you wrote…aloud! And then, to be judged by strangers! Before I competed in my first slam, back in 2011, I was so nervous I thought I’d pass out. And I still get nervous sometimes before sharing my work aloud (particularly new work). So congratulations to everyone involved.
In the end, Jo’s poems won the day. Her hilarious poem about trying to suppress that familiar midday desire to take a break from work to go and have a sugary snack (namely: cake) brought the house down with laughter. Having taught a performance poetry workshop that Jo was in, about a year ago, I knew she was talented from the first time I met her, but I’m delighted to see how she has grown and developed her poetry even further, commanding the stage and leaving everyone in stitches.
Congratulations as well to our runner up Emily Elderfield and to all of the poets who competed. I had a wonderful time judging and seeing some of the best emerging poets that Scotland has to offer. So congratulate yourselves, poets. We appreciated your lyricism, your humor, your clever metaphors, your turns of phrase. It was an honor to judge the event. Thank you StAnza for asking me!
There’s only one more day of the festival, but, as I write this in the Byre, the café bar is still full of people, noise and life. Glasses clink, voices mingle, and poems are projected on the walls all around me. There’s still more to come. I’m particularly looking forward to the finale party this evening, one of my other favorite parts of the festival, where everyone takes to the dance floor to celebrate the end of another wonderful year at StAnza.
By Carly Brown, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2018 (Part II)
The sun was shining in St Andrews yesterday and it was my first day here at StAnza 2018. You’ve no doubt been enjoying the previous blog posts from our other In-House blogger, the fabulous poet Katie Hale. If you’ve not read them yet, go ahead and have a look! But Katie has now handed over the baton to me for the rest of the festival, so allow me to introduce myself. I’m Carly – spoken word poet and longtime StAnza volunteer. I’ll be blogging about the last few days of the festival and I’m looking forward to experiencing all that StAnza has to offer.
As you know, one of the themes we’re exploring this year at StAnza is The Self. Perhaps because the first event I saw yesterday was about poetry and memoir (‘From Metaphor to Memoir’ featuring Brian Johnstone and Anne Pia), I spent the whole day thinking about poetry as a means of self exploration – how poetry can be used to reflect on, shape and order our life experiences. How it can help us to construct a sense of self or to create a narrative of our lives. What events do we choose to zoom in on, to go back to over and over in our minds, like thumbing through the pages of a well-read book? And what moments are lost in the messy tangle of time?
For many of us, the big world events that we’ve lived through loom large in our personal narratives. Anne Pia and Brian Johnstone both spoke about WWII as a key topic in both their memoirs, Johnstone calling it an ‘omnipresent point of reference’ in his life and work. Yet these big, tumultuous world events affect us all in very distinctive ways. Our lives and senses of self are often located in prosaic moments and personal relationships with those around us: Johnstone’s memoir focuses on revelations within his own family and Pia’s traces the lives and experiences of her Italian-Scots family members in post-WWII Edinburgh.
In Martin Figura’s vibrant and innovatively staged show Dr. Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine, his relationships with his family dominate the poetic narrative as well, specifically his relationship with his daughter, Amy, whose smiling face beams out at us in bright photographs on a screen above him in the Byre Auditorium. We locate ourselves within these constellations of interpersonal relationships. Indeed, the language and imagery of orbiting celestial bodies is present throughout Catastrophe Machine.
Or we may find a sense of identity and connection with people who we have never met, such as authors or activists who came before us. At Poetry Café, Hannah Raymond-Cox performed an extract of her show Polaris, which explores how she located herself within queer history and culture as she was growing up and searching for connection and community. Catherine Wilson performed next at Poetry Café and one of her poems was a modern reimagining of a poem from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. Catastrophe Machine paid homage to another writer, Allen Ginsberg, including photographs of Figura’s visit to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and a playing a short snippet from a recording of Howl. At Poetry Center Stage, we encountered Ginsberg again, only this time in a short poem by Mark Ford entitled ‘Oxford, 1985’, which relates a witty anecdote from that ‘golden summer’ when he met the famous American poet.
Or perhaps we might express and explore our identities in poetry through evoking specific tastes or smells. Hannah Raymond-Cox’s poems described the cracked black pepper in her aunt’s soup, or the act of drinking mugs of tea as comfort and refuge. Anne Pia’s work brought to us mouthwatering descriptions of Italian cooking: homemade ricotta, pizza with oil.
Poetry is a place where you can also play with this idea of a self. Many of the poems I saw yesterday were (according to the poets themselves) at least somewhat autobiographical, but I often thought of the many multifaceted selves on display during any one reading. There was the self who experienced the event, who composed the work, who edited it (perhaps many times) and who read it in that space, right then. These might all be very different people. The self is always transforming, in flux. The self expands and multiplies the longer you look at it. There are also, of course, the many different selves who are listening to the poem, each getting something slightly different from it.
Masks and fake mustaches at the Byre Theatre
Masks and fake mustaches at the Byre Theatre
We are creating ourselves everyday and poetry is a vibrant way to explore and express that creation. In Pippa Little’s poem ‘Against Hate’, which she performed at Poetry Center Stage, she spoke movingly about choosing deliberately to focus on that which is good, in a world where so much is ‘bloody, inexplicable.’ She describes a moment of connection with a train conductor, when he stops the train to care for a wren. Then, she and the conductor ‘talk of things we love until the station.’ We create ourselves through our relationships, our influences, our modes of expression, but also through what we choose to focus on and what we choose to love.
Here at StAnza, it’s amazing that all of these various selves are coming together to share in a love of poetry. And I cannot wait to see what the rest of the festival brings. Cheers!
by Carly Brown, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2018 (Part II)
‘There are as many versions of a city as there are people living in it.’
Michael Symmons Roberts
(Poetry Centre Stage, StAnza 2018)
This is my second post as this year’s in-house blogger for StAnza. It is also, coincidentally, my last. Don’t worry, though – there’ll still be reports from the poetry epicentre. It’s just that, between now and tomorrow, my words will magically morph into those of fellow poet and StAnza volunteer Carly Brown. (Teamwork makes the dream work, right?)
It seems to me that a lot of this sort of transformation happens at StAnza.
Last night, at the Poetry Centre Stage event, Michael Symmons Roberts spoke about his latest collection, Mancunia, which both is and is not Manchester – a kind of transformation of place from real to semi-fictionalised. When introducing this idea of the sort-of-real city, something he said really resonated: that there are as many versions of a city as there are people living in it.
It struck me that the same is true of a poem: there are as many versions of a poem as there are people who inhabit it, whether fleetingly at a reading, or long-term through a constant return to its music and structure. Pushing the metaphor even further, I think the same is true of StAnza, too. There are infinite versions of the festival – not least because Thursday is the day when it starts becoming impossible to go to everything without some form of time travel.
So we choose. We sit in a room with other people who have made the same choice to come to this particular event, but may make different choices in an hour’s time. We become both individuals and collective audience in the same moment.
This idea of the collective self segways nicely into talking about another of Thursday’s events: Sinéad Morrissey’s sold-out StAnza Lecture: ‘Put Off That Mask’ (sponsored by the Poetry Book Society). In the lecture, she discussed portrayals of the self in lyric poetry, and how ‘I’ is ‘the most dangerous and dynamic word you can use in a poem’. To what extent do we trust the poet’s portrayal of themselves as an individual? To what extent is the lyrical ‘I’ a ‘dazzling fiction’, a ‘trustworthy conduit’?
Sinéad Morrissey talked about the existence of multiple ‘I’ voices in any given narrative. Perhaps, as with cities and poetry festivals, there are as many different versions of ‘I’ as there are people who read the poem.
This blending, of the individual into the communal togetherness of a poetry festival, is something that continued throughout the day – from the combined voices of poet and translator in Ester Naomi Perquin’s wonderfully sharp and tender poems, well into the Jazz Night in the bar of the Byre. Yesterday, I wrote about how music knits people together, creating new friends and reuniting old. But last night at the Jazz session, something more took place. Instead of the music just connecting people in a common experience, a kind of fusion occurred. As performers with and against the rhythms and melodies of improvised jazz, the individual voices of both poets and instruments blended to create one performance, both poetry and music at the same time. Not just a coming together of individuals (or, to push yesterday’s metaphor, three separate wine glasses on the same table), but a real uniting of form and voice to create something greater.
Which is sort of a metaphor for StAnza, when you think of it.
And with that perhaps unwisely stretched metaphor, I will now step away from my thumb-worn keyboard, and seamlessly become Carly Brown, so that together, this blog may transform into more than the sum of its bloggers.
Thanks for reading and keep tuning in.
By Katie Hale, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2018 (Part 1)
NOTICE OF PROGRAMME CHANGES AT STANZA 2018
We regret that Ko Un, Hinemoana Baker and Miriam Nash have had to cancel their appearances at StAnza 2018.
The StAnza organisers very much regret these cancellations but are happy to announce the following adjustments to the programme:
Friday 9 March
11.30 Border Crossing
David Eyre will now read with Miriam Gamble
Friday 9 March
20.00 Poetry Centre Stage
Pippa Little will now give a reading
Saturday 10 March
11.30 Past and Present
Paul-Henri Campbell will join Brother Anthony instead of Miriam Nash
Saturday 10 March
11.00 Double-Voiced Bird Workshop & 13.00 Performance
Ulrike Almut Sandig will lead this workshop without Hinemoana Baker
Saturday 10 March
Maud Vanhauwaert and Ulrike Almut Sandig will perform as planned but will not be joined by Hinemoana Baker
Saturday 10 March
15.45 Round Table
John Glenday replaces Ko Un and Brother Anthony
Sunday 11 March
10.00 Poetry Breakfast
Paul-Henri Capmbell will join the panel instead of Hinemoana Baker
The spaces in the poem are yours.
They are the place where you
Can enter as yourself alone
And think anything in.
W S Graham, ‘Private Poem to Norman MacLeod’
We’re back, another year has passed, and another StAnza has begun!
And to celebrate, I’m reigniting a tradition I started at last year’s festival, and fully intend to continue throughout this year’s. Namely: StAnza Wine Tweets. The task is simple: to tweet a photo of every glass of wine you drink during the festival, but so that the photo in some way gives a flavour of the event at which the wine is drunk.
For reasons of balance (metaphorical and perhaps also physical), I should say that this challenge can also be attempted using non-alcoholic alternatives.
Here is StAnza Wine Photo number 1:
Admittedly, this might just look like a bunch of glasses, but really the photo is about much more than that – or so I’m maintaining. It’s about coming together. It’s about poetry uniting people, so that individuals from all across the world can sit at the same table and have interesting, in-depth discussions, or just chat about the weather. It’s about meeting up with old friends and making new ones (so thanks to poets Polly Atkin and Emma Jones for their assistance with this photo). It’s about unity and difference. It’s about synergy. It’s about intellectual relaxation, and also about just having a good time. It’s about the positive outlook that poetry can enable us to have on a deeply troubled world – because as you can see, the glasses are all at least half full.
Alright, so maybe I’m stretching the metaphor slightly, but I think the point still stands.
StAnza 2018 kicked off with an innovation for this year’s festival: a Festival Launch Extravaganza. Extravaganza was certainly the word, as 11 poets took to the stage (or, to adopt the term I’ve been using, the Ocean’s Eleven of poetry), alongside musicians and a selection of film poems. The evening was designed to be a sample event, showcasing the delights the festival has to offer in the days to come. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.
First up was the wonderful Barbara Dickson, who began the evening with two wonderful folk songs that had the Byre Auditorium cheering – followed by a cavalcade of wonderful poets: Sinéad Morrissey, Will Harris, Rita Ann Higgins, John Glenday – and finally Catherine Wilson, who rounded off the first half with a great poem about Scotland and identity, tying in beautiful with this year’s two themes of Borderlines and The Self.
Linking with this year’s language focus of ‘Going Dutch’, there are a number of poets from the Netherlands featuring at this year’s festival, and last night we heard from a few: Lies Van Gaase, Geart Tigchelaar and Thomas Möhlmann.
After the interval (side note: the Byre Auditorium now sells ice cream! Perhaps a viable alternative to Wine Tweets…?) we were treated to a selection of film poems, and the beautiful music and rich-cup-of-silky-coffee voice of Hamish Hawk, as well as hearing from another selection of this year’s poets: David Eyre, Michael Symmons Roberts, and – well – me. It’s been a secret dream of mine to perform on a StAnza stage ever since I first volunteered for the festival back in 2013, and being invited to not only perform at the festival, but also on the main stage, as part of the so-called Ocean’s Eleven, was more than ‘2013-me’ would have even dared to dream. Something I said on stage last night, and which I absolutely hold to, is how coming to StAnza always feels like coming home. There’s always such a friendly atmosphere, and a welcoming ethos that seems to say, ‘Look, here is poetry. If you already love it, then we’re already family. If you don’t know you love it yet, come and join in and witness how wonderful it can be. Come and explore. Come and say hi.’
Or, as Chair of Trustees Robyn Marsack said in her closing speech, quoting poet W S Graham’s ‘Private Poem to Norman MacLeod’:
The spaces in the poem are yours.
They are the place where you
Can enter as yourself alone
And think anything in.
And just like that, we’re back to that photo of three wine glasses together on a table, and all the many wonderful ways of being together as individuals.
Out into the bar following the launch, and the coming together of voices continued. As people sat together – talking, discussing the evening’s performances, meeting and making friends – Hamish Hawk continued from where his taster performance left off, followed later on by a showcase of work from the Inklight Poets: the University of St Andrews’ creative writing society.
These sounds floated up through the many levels of the Byre, together with the occasional chink of glass and ice from the bar, from those listening attentively, to those upstairs who were simply enjoying the company of others. And as these sounds spread out to fill the theatre, they knitted together everyone throughout the building – in that special way that music, and poetry, so often do.
Happy StAnza 2018 – and may you have a wonderful festival!
By Katie Hale, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2018: Part 1
One of the highlights of any poetry festival is the chance to discover new poets and to take home treasure in the form of books… We asked a few friends of StAnza which books they’re most excited for at this year’s festival.
All these titles are not only available at the bookstalls after events, but also at the wonderful J & G Innes, just down South Street from the Byre Theatre, who transform into a poetry lover’s Aladdin’s Cave this time of year. Make sure you take a peek!
Georgi Gill recommends:
If Scottish poetry were a wedding, Liz Lochhead’s Fugitive Colours would be the perfect guest, the lynchpin of the wedding party. From the Bairnsangs through to the Makar songs, there are poems to delight little ones alongside those to inspire and celebrate an adult audience, including, of course, ‘Wedding Vow: The Simplest, Hardest and the Truest Thing’ and an epithelium (‘Anniversaries’). It’s all fine stuff, but for me, the treasures are the poems that would come out late at the evening reception when everyone is whisky-tinged with gossiping, dancing, romancing and reminiscing; poems like ‘Another Late Song for that Same Dirty Diva’ and ‘In Praise of Old Vinyl’. If like me, you read poetry collections out of order, round off your read with ‘Persimmons’ an achingly beautiful poem of love and grief.
All the Prayers in the House, Miriam Nash
On first reading Miriam Nash’s All the Prayers in the House, I was impressed by her dexterity with a wide range of forms – ghazal, sonnet, epistolary verse, villanelle – all these and more are represented here. (A well-crafted villanelle like ‘Higher Maths’ is a very rare thing and deserves special mention.) If you are someone who aspires to write poetry and wants to explore technique and form, read this collection. Yet, whether you are interested in poetry’s formal possibilities or couldn’t give a sestina, read this collection for its dysfunctional divorced parents, its fascination with The Ladies Dictionary (1694) and its conversation with Robert Louis Stevenson. Most of all, read it for the balance of darkness and illumination with which Nash captures all of her varied subjects.
I am fascinated by Miriam Gamble’s Pirate Music and have been since first reading the collection a couple of years ago. Miriam Gamble is mistress of opening lines that hook you straight into poems that embrace the strange and the magical world of prophecy and ghosts. The collection also finds strangeness in the known through its domestic poems and their interactions with humans and animals. I make no claim to understand all of Pirate Music, but I do find humour and tenderness throughout it and am left with striking images that reverberate in my mind years later, a sure sign of an important collection.
Jess Orr recommends:
Wristwatch, Jay Whittaker,
I’m really excited to see Jay Whittaker’s debut collection Wristwatch at this year’s StAnza, as it manages to capture aspects of human experience which often feel unsayable or inexpressible. The tragic loss of a partner followed by one’s own suffering from a life-threatening illness is an ordeal that many find hard to imagine let alone able to write poetry about. Nevertheless, Jay’s poems combine the stark reality of her loss with a generous sense of humour and renewed sense of hope for the future, which uplifts the reader and reminds us to make every day count.
Kate Bone recommends:
The stand-out book at StAnza this year for me has to be Tara Bergin's The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx (Carcanet, 2017). Eleanor Marx (the English-born daughter of Karl Marx) was a social activist as well as being the first English translator of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and yet is a figure that remains unknown to many. With great dexterity, wit, and imaginative flair, Bergin paints a vivid portrait of this complex woman, delving into the tragic events that led to her suicide to ask questions about the way in which women's narratives are so often silenced or obscured. This is also a book about the art of translation, and makes use of myth, folklore, and song in exploring the nuances of language itself. This is a book I will return to for years to come.
All this is implied, Will Harris
Anglo-Indonesian poet Will Harris' first chapbook All this is implied (Happenstance, 2017) is one I'll be sure to pick up at StAnza this year. A rarity amongst younger poets, Harris has proved himself a master of more traditional verse forms such as the sonnet, making great use of that 'narrow room'- to use Wordsworth's phrase- to explore issues of identity, homeland, and the complexities of British colonial history. I look forward to reading more of his work in the coming months.
Feline Streekstra recommends:
The Hunger in Plain View, Ester Naomi Perquin
Ester Naomi Perquin is not only the current Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, she could also be considered one of the country’s leading poets. In The Hunger in Plain View poems from her first three poetry books are collected, including from the much praised and awarded collection Cell inspections, for which Perquin drew inspiration from her past work as a prison guard. Perquin’s language and poems are always familiar yet alienating, beautifully captured in David Colmer’s outstanding English translations.
The Lonely Funerals, ed. Frank Starik
Since 2002 the ‘The lonely funeral’ project (‘De eenzame uitvaart’), coordinated by Frank Starik, provides a poet and a poem to a funeral that otherwise would not be attended by anyone, a funeral of someone who died in loneliness or anonymity. A group of poets in Amsterdam - and in other cities too quickly after - joined this unique project that is both heart wrenching and heartwarming. The poets alternatively attend one of these ‘lonely funerals’ to memorialise the deceased, someone the poet has only gotten to know after his/her death.