Festival Blog: Stephanie Green at Balmungo House, Day One, 14 March

Friday 16 March 2012

What a treat: an all day workshop with poet Lavinia Greenlaw in the beautiful surroundings of the Georgian Balmungo House, just outside St Andrew's.   Lovingly restored, the exterior of the house is primrose yellow set in woodlands. And as it is spring, swathes of  daffodils scattered under the trees and a lawn framed by the graceful branches of an old larch is the peaceful view we will have during the day and a retreat to wander in the lunch break.   This is the perfect spot for a workshop on the 'Image' and links between art and poetry for this was the house of an artist, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, one of the St Ives set.

Willie, as she liked to be called, sounds fascinating – battling against a Victorian father who did not want her to got to Art School, she finally made it, with the help of her aunt who eventually willed her this house. The St Ives and Scottish link made me think of another one - that of the author, peace activist and philanthropist, Margaret Gardiner (1904-2005) and her collection of St Ives' artists' work bequeathed to the Pier Art Gallery in Orkney, including Barbara Hepworths- there must be something about the sharp, clear light of Cornwall and N.E. Scotland/Orkney, which inspires  affinities with both places.

Inside Balmungo,  dove-grey walls are a perfect foil to the bold colours of Willie's abstracts  on display. The first that meets your eye is the vibrant blue of the hall carpet which was woven by Doocot Studios based on one of her screen prints.   It is amazing to think that many of the works were done in her eighties. She was immensely energetic, prolific and continued to experiment with new ideas and media to the end. An inspiration to us all.

Lavinia's own interest in perception, especially in the work of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop, both poets famed for their precise, evocative imagery,  and Lavinia's own background in art history (she studied 17th century art at the Royal Academy) were particularly relevant.

She asked us to use Willie's strategems for her art  to compose our own poetry.  Willie liked to impose restrictions on her palette or for instance, only using lines and circles, we were asked to use an image in our poem, but let the image speak for itself-any emotional back story to be unmentioned, only inferred.  During the eventual reading of work produced in the day, it was exciting to see how everyone 's  precise, clear imagery led to charged poems.

It was a fantastic day.  Beautiful house and grounds, fabulous art work and fabulous poems produced. What more could you ask?  Maybe that an all-day workshop at Balmungo becomes a fixture at StAnza!

Then rush, rush back to St A for supper, the Festival Opening and lots of jazz – three bands – an impressive student St Andrew's saxophone quartet and yet more jazz in the main hall – the Dave Batchelor Quintet, 'Kind of Larkin' (as in Kind of Blue, of course to you jazzers who get the ref) – but what a miserable git Larkin was. The jazz was great though, including Don Paterson as jazz guitarist, not poet for a change.