Day 1: beginnings!

Thursday 17 March 2011

Before I take a step across the threshold into a curtain of fine St Andrews rain, towards another delightful day immersed in poetry, a cup of tea and an admiring glance over yesterday's fine beginnings, begun in earnest at 5pm in the Byre Theatre.

A big jostly crowd of poets, poetry fans, guests and students were treated to a taster, 'both figurative and literal' in the words of Director Eleanor Livingstone, of this year's programme: what with this year being Scotland: Land of Food and Drink, there's a raft of excellent locally produced nosh to complement what’s always on the StAnza menu. The fine Cairn O' Mhor wines doing the rounds (strawberry and bramble and elderflower, oh my!) were only the tip of the gastronomic iceberg; I solemnly declare to sample those cheeses and chocolates and pies for your vicarious pleasure.

Glasses charged, we heard a poem each from Emory-based Kevin Young, StAnza's first ever Gaelic Poet in Residence, Maoilios Caimbeul, Lidija Šimkutė, gorgeous traditional music from the sickeningly talented Mairi and Steaphanaidh Chaimbeul, and an address to visiting poets on the perils of St Andrews from BBC Radio Scotland's Tom Morton. Appetites finely whetted, we repaired for a big warm welcome to StAnza meal (salmon to start and chicken stuffed with haggis, if you foodies care to know!); this was a great chance to chat with the likes of Ghent based Jelle and Helen, aka Krikri, who'll perform today at 2.15pm (a must see!) The disconcerting part of the meal for my myself and fellow diner Jim Carruth was being observed by Jay Bernard's cartoon portrait of me from StAnza 2010.

Onward then to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's opening concert at the Younger Hall or the Golden Hour in the Byre bar, depending on your fancy (options!); I was introducing the Golden Hour and my friend and colleague at the Scottish Poetry Library, beard about town Ryan Van Winkle and it was a joyful occasion. Ryan opened with poems from his new collection Tomorrow, We Will Live Here. Then Billy Letford (I went from never having met Billy to being introduced to him 5 separate times) seduced the entire rapt room with his fine poetry from the rooftops and poetry of bird song, all read from memory. Singer songwriter Hailey Beavis never disappoints, with those swoonsome lyrics and that eargasmic voice, and the compulsive energy of the John Langam band, all folky and fiddles and klezma makes this non-dancing library worker want to shed her cardigan and dance.

And the wonderful thing about StAnza, that always sets it apart from other festivals, is the craic; the ending up in Aikman's Cellar Bar with Jo Bell (also on later today at the Poetry Cabaret,1pm) and Billy and student volunteers havering on about Raymond Carver and hotel beds wider than boats and toasting St Patrick at midnight. So here's to a fine beginning and four more days of the same potent stuff!