The final wine photo from StAnza 2017: to the fabulous sounds of the Ekobirds
The final wine photo from StAnza 2017: to the fabulous sounds of the Ekobirds
In some ways, it feels as though this year’s festival lasted for weeks – every day was packed full of several days worth of events, so that I started to feel as though I had always been at StAnza. Then Sunday arrived and suddenly I was wondering how it had all gone so quickly.
Compared to the frenzy of Saturday, trying to concertina myself into as many events as possible, Sunday had a kind of easy calm. Perhaps it was the early onset of end-of-festival Blues, or perhaps people’s brains were just saturated with so much wonderful poetry – but all day you could see volunteers, participants and audience members sitting on the comfy red sofas in the Byre, or having coffee downstairs, enjoying the calm and soaking up the feel of just being there.
But of course, it wasn’t just a day for sitting around on the outside of the events. On the final day of StAnza 2017, I attended five events.
The first was, of course, Poetry Breakfast. Powered by much-needed coffee and delicious Fisher & Donaldson pastries, we settled into the cosy armchairs of the Studio Theatre.
The morning’s discussion centred around translation, in the sense of movement across from one language to another, but also around the collaborative nature of translating. As Aurelia Lassaque put it, ‘When you write, you are very alone, and collaboration is a way of first sharing your work.’ Claudia Daventry, who chaired the event, described translation as the child of two creative minds: the poet and the translator. ‘The translation,’ she said, ‘always has the ghost of the translator in it.’
Though of course, it also carries the spirit of the original writer. As Jean Portante said, ‘You are never translating a language into another language. You are translating the language of one poet, and every poet has his own. Rimbaud is not writing in French, he is writing in Rimbaud.’
This notion of every poet having their own language continued into my second event of the day: the Clydebuilt Showcase. Four poets, who have all come through the Clydebuilt mentoring programme, performed their work amid the grandeur of the Town Hall Council Chamber.
One of the things I always find fascinating about StAnza is the diversity of voices, and the diversity of styles. Like a microcosm of the festival as a whole, each of the poets at the Showcase was very distinct in their style, and spoke to the audience – to that poetry-receiving part of our brain – in a different way: even more impressive given that they had all come through the same mentoring programme.
Continuing the theme of different voices, the day wouldn’t have been complete with the Loud Poets showcase to start the evening off. Curated by Kevin McLean and Katie Ailes (whose name is so similar to my own, it’s led to a bit of confusion this festival…) the Loud Poets is a Scottish poetry collective, creating events that are enjoyed by both ‘poetry-people’ and ‘non-poetry-people’ alike. Accompanied by the Ekobirds, the a selection of poets took the audience on another journey through varying styles and voices and subject matter – right across the whole range of our emotions. We left the Studio Theatre feeling energised and passionate, and ready for the night ahead.
Which was a good thing, because the night ahead blew me away.
The final Centre Stage event of this year’s festival featured Vahni Capildeo and Elaine Feinstein. Although very different in their styles, both poets spoke with a wry humour that worked in synergy with the strength and power of their poetry, and that complemented each other’s readings, creating the perfect Centre Stage to round off the festival.
Out into the Byre bar for a well-deserved glass of wine, and dancing to the energy-packed sounds of the Ekobirds. As we whirled and stomped and swung around on the dance-floor, it was as if all the rhythm and language and thought of the past few days came out in pure joyous movement – movement that will hopefully carry us forward, through whatever dark times the world might offer up, until we come together again next year.
By Katie Hale, officially signing off as In-House Blogger for StAnza 2017. Thanks for reading!
Eleanor Livingstone's closing speech of StAnza 2017
St Andrews in the mist...
St Andrews in the mist...
Yesterday, I talked a bit about uncertainty, and the opportunities uncertainty offers. Far from a negative thing, it’s all about possibility. Of course, this can be stressful in itself – just ask anyone who works freelance. But it can also be freeing.
Something that has come up again and again in connection with the festival theme of On The Road is the necessity of getting lost.
At Poetry Breakfast, David Evans talking about flaneuring: the idea of wandering, observing and being lost, in contrast to the fragmented nature of our modern existence, where we are constantly hurrying from A to B, bombarded on all sides by images and information clamouring for our attention. Michelle Cahill then linked this fragmentation of modern experience to the fragmented narrative of the journey, and particularly of migration. ‘Is identity a structured thing,’ she asked, ‘or is poetry a way of bringing it together through fragments?’
Poetry certainly brought people together in my second event of the day: Border Crossings, with R. A. Villanueva and Matthew Caley. In the atmospheric cavern of the Undercroft, R. A. Villanueva captivated and carried the audience through his set, finishing on a poem that involved audience participation. Normally, audience participation is something I balk at (isn’t it sometimes like going to a Robbie Williams concert, where he makes the audience do most of the singing?) but what R. A. Villanueva set up was a kind of call and response, an intonation of a repeated line, ‘The world has always been ending.’ With the collective voices echoing off the rough stone of the Undercroft, it was like a congregational affirmation at a church service. The poem felt ritualistic, almost religious.
Next Mattew Caley took the microphone, his deep rich voice resonating through the low-arched room, causing a ripple of laughter at his definition of a tanga as ‘a morbidly obese haiku.’
From one of the festival’s most intimate venues to its largest, with In Conversation with Hamish Brown and Jim Crumley. The event was billed as two writers discussing ‘poetry, travel and seeking high places’, but the part of the event I found most arresting was the discussion of silence. Both writers described moments of experiencing absolute silence in nature, when there were no human noises, no bird sounds, no rustles in the grass. They talked about ‘feeling’ the silence as much as hearing it, and Jim Crumley described that kind of absolute natural silence as ‘sacred’. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last few days with my head so steeped in words, but the sanctity of that silence really hit home for me. In the midst of language, it can be so easy to forget about the silence that it is born out of.
But, at the penultimate day of StAnza, silence can only reign for so long. After a quick dinner at the Byre, it was time for Poetry Centre Stage.
The first poet to perform was Sarah Howe, reading from her T S Eliot Prize-winning collection, Loop of Jade. A personal thanks has to go here to Annie Rutherford, who introduced the evening, for mentioning the #derangedpoetess twitter hashtag, and for her shoutout to me for being the hashtag’s initiator.
Sarah Howe’s poetry struck me as being very tied up with the idea of protest. Not just because of the controversy that emerged following her winning of the T S Eliot Prize last year, but because of the rhetoric with which she surrounded her poems. She spoke about prose poems, and described the prose poem as a form that defies definition, falling in the gap between poetry and prose – in a sense, a form that protests against segregation of different forms. In reference to her own position as a ‘controversial’ figure, she said: ‘If Plato thought poets were important enough to banish us from the ideal Republic, that’s good enough for me.’ Reading in her beautifully narrative voice, she kept the audience hooked right through her reading, until I couldn’t believe it when the interval arrived so soon.
After the interval, it was Jackie Kay who took to the stage. She spoke about her role as Makar, and how the word is so much more appealing than the English term ‘laureate’; rather than resting on her laurels, her role is all about making – the creation of poetry. In contrast to Sarah Howe’s calm and restrained storytelling, Jackie Kay is an entertainer. Watching via the big screen in the upstairs Studio (or, as she called us, the ‘overspill’ people), her fun and humour translated into a kind of raucousness. There's something about the poet not actually being in the room that allows for a kind of free and raucous reaction to the work. (It also allows you to take off your shoes and curl up in the big comfy armchairs, but maybe that's just me.)
And speaking of raucousness… Last night was the StAnza Slam. Hosted by Paula Varjack, poets competed for the title of StAnza Slam Champion 2017, and the chance to go on to compete in the Scottish National Slam. The crowd whooped and hollered and cheered for their favourites, as a wide variety of voices and styles stood before us on the stage. However, there could only be one winner. With a fiercely energetic poem about tiredness (one which seemed hugely appropriate as we reach towards the end of StAnza 2017), Kevin McLean took the coveted title, to rapturous applause.
Kevin’s victory poem rounded off the night, and we headed home with words still flickering through our heads. A late night hot chocolate and a sleep, ready to begin the final day of StAnza 2017.
By Katie Hale, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2017
Kevin McLean: StAnza Slam Champion 2017
Just a pretty picture of St Andrews...
Of course, all things are relative, and my ‘relaxed Friday’ still saw me attending four events, plus tuning in to the live tweeting that was happening during Poetry Breakfast – while I was holed up in a café with an enormous latte, writing Thursday’s blog post. (The only downside to StAnza is that it’s so packed full of wonderful events, I have to be very strict on myself to wrangle a moment or two to write.)
So, fuelled by caffeine and curiosity, I headed to the Town Hall for the Society of Authors event, ‘Making a Living as a Poet’. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this event – but any event that pairs poetry with the ability to make a living is like a rare jewel, so it didn’t seem like one to miss.
Chaired by Ken Cockburn, poets Sarah Heskith and Harry Giles talked about ways to make poetry pay – although, as Harry qualified, ‘You can make a living from poetry, but it’s a crap living.’
The overwhelming advice seemed to be about going out and finding your own work, rather than waiting for the work to come to you. Create your own residencies, live somewhere where the rent is cheap, turn up to things, meet interesting people, meet deadlines, be a nice person to work with, say yes to opportunities. You may not be able to get a full-time job just making art, but (as Harry Giles made clear), you can stitch together enough arts jobs to almost make a living. There’s an uncertainty to being an artist and trying to exist solely on arts-related jobs, but both writers made it clear that (for them) this was something they preferred to working in a non-arts job in order to support their writing.
Uncertainty was a topic that seemed to keep on cropping up today (along with Gogglebox and Blind Date – but who said all conversations at poetry festivals had to be intellectual?). I had a really interesting conversation with a poet over lunch time about how uncertainty is always portrayed as a negative, and yet it’s much more useful to see it as possibility.
In fact, I spent so much time having interesting conversations with people in the Byre bar, that the next event I made it to was the Poems Aloud University Library Recitation Competition. Twelve students from the University of St Andrews recited poems by poets who are at StAnza this year, and the thought of all the effort that had gone into the learning of the poems, and which went into their performances, was enough to leave me needing a rest by the end of it!
Poems Aloud led almost straight into Five O’Clock Verses, today with Aurelia Lassaque and Sasha Dugdale.
Having heard Aurelia sing at the festival launch, I was excited at the chance to hear her again. Writing in French and Occitan, Aurelia Lassaque’s lilting, travelling melodies carried over into the music of her spoken poetry. Her poetry (read in translation by StAnza’s own Annie Rutherford) became a cradle in which the audience rocked.
The spell cast by Aurelia Lassaque continued to be cast by Sasha Dugdale. One phrase that stood out to me was ‘crow-pocked wind’, not just because of the music of its sounds, all existing like a breath exhaled at the front of the mouth, but also because it tied in with something Alice Oswald said on Thursday, about poetry that has movement, and a wind blowing through it.
This idea of movement is something that continued into the evening, with Jacques Darras and Kathleen Jamie at Poetry Centre Stage.
As Jacques Darras said, ‘To be a poet is to sit on an armchair to write about movement. To read a poem is like sitting on that chair that has just been left vacant by the poet.’ Sitting in the armchairs of the Byre Studio Theatre, watching the event being live screened from the auditorium, it was as though both poets were speaking directly to me, curled up in the dark box of the Studio: Jacques Darras’ rhythmic energy and Kathleen Jamie’s soft measures speaking directly into my head. As at Five O’Clock Verses, at one point I felt as though I was rocking gently in a boat, surrounded by a sea of poetry.
Continuing my theme of a relaxing middle day at StAnza, I left before the open mic night really got underway in the Byre bar. Instead, I went back to the guest house, where I fell asleep to the sound of the rain, beating like consonants on the roof.
By Katie Hale, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2017
Good morning live from StAnza 2017 in St Andrews. I hope you'll be joining us either in person or via one of our live webcasts this weekend. We'll have a warm welcome for you either way. There are three live webcasts still to watch, at 10.00 am today and 10.00 am tomorrow (Sunday) and also at 3.30 pm tomorrow.
You will find the link for the webcast at https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/livevideo/one/ and also on the listing page for each of the webcast events.
Don't forget to join our 10 minute Collective Reading today at 6.50pm in the Byre, when with texts which address oppression, hope and survival, we'll see how poetry offers us a way of mapping the world and of building bridges, not walls, between people. If you can't be here in person, we hope to Live Facebook it from our StAnza Facebook Page.
You can get information on other festival events at www.stanzapoetry.org. Events are selling out but we'll have live streamings into the studio theatre of the sold-out Poetry Centre Stage readings, and lots of events are free and unticketed. There's a great atmosphere here this year, do come along in person or virtually and enjoy it.
Haiku at Large
I started the day with the first Border Crossings event of the festival, with David Wilson and Janette Ayachi. (Actually I started the day with a delicious salmon & scrambled egg on toast, but who’s counting?)
I sat in the Supper Room at the Town Hall as Janette Ayachi started to read, and I felt the world open out before me. Her poems ranged from Venice, to Barcelona, to the Adriatic Sea, to airports, ‘where the the choked heart unclogs itself.’ She spoke with the uninhibited wanderlust of someone who is utterly in love with travel, and by the time her reading ended, I thought my own wanderlust couldn’t get any more pronounced.
Until David Wilson took the microphone, that is. His poetry spoke of a different kind of travel, of the pull of using your own body to climb a rock face, or scale a mountain. His poems had a deep gravitas that contrasted interestingly against Janette Ayachi’s wonder-filled (and wander-filled) poems, and both left me desperate to travel the world.
But instead of countries or continents away, my next event was just upstairs: Past & Present,with Neil McLennan talking about Wilfred Owen, and Alice Oswald talking about Homer. For me, this Past & Present really earned its name. Both speakers, although talking about historic poets, seemed also to be talking about StAnza itself. First Neil McLennan, in talking about Wilfred Owen’s experiences at Craiglockhart Hospital, emphasised the importance of his meetings with Sassoon and Graves, and the coming together of poetic minds: the importance of ‘space to think, to connect, and to write.’ What is StAnza, but a space to think and connect?
Next, Alice Oswald spoke about Homer, and the lightness of Homer’s work in the original Greek, pitted against the bodily weight of translations. She explained how Homer’s poetry, like jazz, worked through a kind of improvisation, formed of blocks of ‘lucky grace’ – a kind of stance against the ‘classical-poetry-as-formula’ approach – and how the whole work had a kind a of movement, a wind blowing through it (something else very relevant to St Andrews).
‘That’s the thing about oral poetry,’ she said, ‘You can’t really trace it – it just goes on, looping and looping into the past.’
Neil McLennan talking about Wilfred Owen
This oral (and aural) sharing of poetry continued with the first Five O’Clock Verses of the festival, with two Bloodaxe poets: A. B. Jackson and Joan Margarit. Both poets took the audience on a journey, whether it was in a boat with St Brendan, to a garden holding vigil for a dead mouse, or through the melodic sounds and language of Joan Margarit’s Catalan poetry, so beautifully translated by StAnza’s own Anna Crowe.
The journeys continued into the evening, with Rebecca Sharp talking about her experiences at a Nicaraguan poetry festival in Poet on the Road, and then with Poetry Centre Stage. Robert Crawford’s lilting Scottish voice took us on a journey through Scotland, and down to Grasmere in the Lake District, with a tour of Dove Cottage (former home of William Wordsworth). This was a poem that particularly struck home for me, as I’ve done quite a bit of work for the Wordsworth Trust over the past few years, and taken that tour alongside numerous school groups. And with such a big contingent of Cumbrian poets in the audience, I know I wasn’t the only one fighting the urge to cheer!
Next, Alice Oswald took the stage for a second time that day, with spell-binding performances of poems from her latest collection, Falling Awake. Falling is definitely the right word; throughout her reading (which I watched from the comfortable chairs of the Studio Theatre via live screening) I felt as though I was tumbling into her voice. As someone said to me in the bar afterwards, it was as if she sucked all the light from the room and gave it back to you in the form of a poem.
The evening drew to a close with the Jazz Night: jazz musicians jamming and performing to a packed Byre Theatre bar, with five poets taking floor spot to read alongside the band. Watching the poets and musicians perform together was a fascinating experience, as each sought to find the rhythm and tone of the other. With every performance, there was an uncertainty as the poet began to speak, a slight and tentative disconnect between music and voice that quickly found its groove. As voice and music wended together, it was visible not just in the eyes of the performers, but in their bodies, as poets started to move and speak to the wandering beat of the jazz band. If StAnza is all about that space to connect that was so key to Wilfred Owen, then this was a connection on the most intuitive, corporeal level.
Perhaps it’s true what Joan Margarit said during his reading: ‘I doubt whether any journey could be anything that the traveller was not, before he set out.’ Perhaps we all bring our previous ideas and expectations to any event we attend. But what this first full day of the festival certainly did do was to speak to those ideas that had already lain dormant inside us.
As Janette Ayachi said in her opening poem, ‘An Inch from Rapture’: ‘I just want to keep my eyes open when I walk.’ And I for one feel as though I spent the day with my eyes as big and wide as the blue St Andrews sky.
By Katie Hale, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2017
St Andrews: StAnza 2017