Five Festival Highlights (James's Witterings #3)

Tuesday 11 March 2014

What a cracker of a StAnza was pulled this week in St Andrews! The good people of Twitter are chatting about their festival highlights, so I have taken it upon myself to force my own upon you here.

The Byre Reopening

After last year's last-minute relocation, it was lovely to be back in the gorgeous Byre Theatre with its magisterial auditorium, comfortable studio (I think those armchairs are new?), and bustling restaurant. Patrons, patrons and StAnza volunteers alike were prone to spontaneous cheers whenever a Byre staff member walked past, which lent an most pleasant atmosphere of celebration to proceedings. We wish Stephen and all the team the best in securing the venue's future for years to come .

Spoken Word

This year there was a more diverse spoken-word strand than ever before in the One O'Clock and Poetry in Performance slots, ranging from the resonant word-sharing of Rachel Amey and Ross Sutherland to the fabulously fully staged extravaganzas of Robin Cairns and Alex Gwyther.

I particularly enjoyed the joint reading given by Sophia Walker and David Lee Morgan. Both took their 45-minute shows from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and boiled them down to 27-minute slots. The effect was intense, memorable, and highly enjoyable.

Scotch Pies

And did I mention that Stuart's of Buckhavens, who provide macaroni and scotch pies for attendees, are world Scotch Pie champions? Anyone who attended a Café this year probably suspected as much.

The StAnza Slam

Sometimes at StAnza we're so busy being happy and nice to each other that we forget that poetry is actually the most competitive sport there is. It was great to reminded of that on the Saturday night by the most vicious and violent StAnza Slam to date! (I'm told it took three hours to wash the blood out of the seats.)

It was a close call, but a winner was declared and reigning champion Carly Brown graciously handed her crown to Edinburgh-based Agnes Török, along with a ticket to compete in this year's Scottish Slam Final on Saturday. Break a few legs, Agnes!

Rachel McCrum, Rachel Amey and Jenny Lindsay

Poetry Centre Stage

And of course, Poetry Centre Stage! Where else but StAnza can you hear Paul Muldoon, Carol Ann Duffy, John Burnside and Menna Elfyn all on the same stage in the space of less than a week?

Poetry Centre Stage Audience

I think a highlight for many will be Paul Muldoon's reading on Sunday. Reading a mixture of familiar and new poems, he reminded us all that "The best poems, meanwhile, give the answers to questions that only they have raised."

And also that dung beetles navigate by the stars.

Boozing and Schmoozing

One of the best things about StAnza every year is its friendly atmosphere and the exchange and interchange of ideas that happens between everyone who comes here. Poetry is an increasingly international community, and festivals like StAnza bring together voices from all over the world—this year from no less than three continents. (No penguins were in attendance, sadly. I'll put it in the suggestions' box.)

David Constantine

As David Constantine said in his poignant StAnza Lecture about the poetry of the Great War, poetry finds the universal in the specific. The more voices we listen to, the wider our consciousness of the world, the more we will enjoy our time in it.

All photos taken by @empowermint.

See you next year!

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