An Archipelago of Poetry

Sunday 8 March 2015

I have a theory of festivals, copyright to me, so don't steal it," said Eleanor Livingstone—our Festival Director—the other night at dinner. (No points for guessing what I'm about to write about.)

Her theory is that a festival like StAnza, with so many events in such a short space of time, gains its character from the connections that form between the readings. A workshop about the difficulties of translation will illuminate a Border Crossings presenting a poet in translation, of course, but a lot of the time the connections are more unpredictable here.

A metaphor in the morning might resonate with a totally different poet and poem in the afternoon, say. The compare and contrast improves your experience of both... For example, I was struck how both Simon Armitage and Toby Campion—poets otherwise extremely contrasting—both used public announcements on transport as a poetic device to critique similar themes of social injustice. Who knew?

StAnza and the Byre are just one island of poetry among the archipelago of poetry festivals that take place worldwide. We're honoured to host many international poets, of course, but also programmers and artistic directors who run other poetry festivals. The connections they make here at StAnza spiral outwards—taking poets and their ideas to read, share, and make more connections all over Europe.

One StAnza connection was between poet Jon Ståle Ritland and media artist Michiel Koelink, who met at StAnza in 2012 [check] and found that their practices were well-suited to each other.

Jon's poetry is often laid out to be read in different directions, in three columns that can be read together as a whole or individually to make subpoems. Michiel's PoetryMachine, similarly, presents a solar system of poetic fragments revolving, tied down by elastic strings and thrown apart by gravitational repulsion.

The multiple reading paths this creates fits well with Jon's BodySearches. Jon and Michiel presented their collaboration at StAnza this Saturday. They used the PoetryMachine to typeset Jon's poems in three-dimensional space - you can view and download the results here. The next step for them, they say, is to think about what a poem designed in three dimensions instead of two might be.

Watching the poems revolve about themselves on the projector screens in the Byre, I am struck by how much like Eleanor's idea of a poetry festival they are...

and the eyes spring up

and one unknown

All poets are islands, said Bill Manhire, with apologies to Donne. But at festivals like this one we see how they're animated by the pull of the lines between them. Even a brief look at the #StAnza15 feed on Twitter shows a huge variety of new relationships formed, old friends reconnected, and the beginnings of new ideas squeezed out by the collision of poems.

As Kei Miller commented at Saturday morning's Poetry Breakfast, asked about the theme of the sea in Jamaican poetry: the sea is not what separates our islands, but what brings them together.

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