James on Day 5: Split Screen, Karen Dunbar, How to Make a Psycho Poetica, Festival Finale

Tuesday 20 March 2012


Split Screen Anthology

The Split Screen launch event had 21 poets, the largest number of participants ever on the same StAnza stage. Apart from that gathering of 100 poets, of course, in 2007.

Split Screen is an anthology of new poetry inspired by Sixties and Seventies screen culture. Think Carry On films, Dad’s Army, James Bond, and – of course! - Dr Who. You can read editor Andy Jackson’s account of how the anthology came about here

My personal highlight was a poem in the voice of Yoda (“I, too, an archetype am”). Annie - the festivals’ Media and Marketing Exec -preferred the Clangers’ poem which was performed in the original Clang, much to the delight of a trainee guide dog that had been brought into the audience.

My overall impression of the anthology is that it’s a vibrant and nostalgic tribute to the a culture that made its generation great. Some of the poems presented were of a more thoughtful turn too.

Karen Dunbar Performs Denise Mina’s A Drunk Woman Looks at a Thistle

This poem-play, which was first performed at Oran Mor for their Play, a Pie and Pint series, was one of my favourite items at the festival.

After a stand-up introduction in which she promised to “try and keep you amused between the words as well”, Karen Dunbar donned a pink cowboy hat and unscrewed a bottle of MD 20/20.

The poem, which Karen performs as only she could, is a dramatic monologue about a drunk and wanton “thistle”of Scotland, who captures herself an audience to tell the suppressed role of the wild women within the Scottish identity. Who cares, the poem asks, what treaties politicians sign? It’s what ordinary people think that matters when it comes to defining Scotland as a nation.

Scottish identity is no small topic, and Denise’s poem isn’t afraid to have a go at the issues with a broken bottle of Bucky. She’s critical of the Scotland, which she calls the “village drunk of the world”, but she also knows that Scottish are “no all batter and bagpipes”.

The poem concluded that only a fool would bother to define something so flimsy as an identity anyway.

The performance closed the case on my brewing suspicion that Karen Dunbar is a fantastic comic performer. It’s a witty and intelligent poem performed by a witty and intelligent actress. And as if that’s not enough, the language is beautiful too.

Psycho Poetica

I just can’t get over how brilliant the recipe for Psycho Poetica is.


  • One iconic film,
  • twelve poets,
  • an up-and-coming composer.


  1. Take the iconic film and slice in into twelve equal pieces.
  2. Pair each film slice with a poets and distribute on twelve separate baking trays.
  3. Leave to simmer for a couple of weeks.
  4. Take the resulting poems and stitch them together in a live performance.
  5. Drizzle a score inspired by the original soundtrack over the top to garnish.

The result of applying this recipe to Hitchcock’s Psycho was a thirty-five minute poem cycle inspired by the film, but in sometimes unexpected ways. It was a moving experience, and the poetry was read in suitably dramatic tones by Simon Barraclough, Isobel Dixon and Joe Dunthorne. The score by Oliver Barrett from Bleeding Hearts Narrative really helped contributed to the meditative yet frantic mood.

Exit, Pursued by a Swing-dancing Poet

After a wonderful Poetry Centre Stage finale, the poets, audience members, and the many people who occupied a space somewhere in between headed down to the Byre bar.

To the accompaniment of Scotland’s only Western Swing band, StAnza heads of all shapes were to be seen trying to work out quite how the Lindy Hop and line dancing could best be combined. Thanks are due to the Mending Hearts Trio for playing their music so irresistibly. I should know – I have the bruises to show for it.

General agreement is that this year’s StAnza was bigger, better, and more technologically advanced than ever before. And that the food in the Byre’s restaurant is delicious.

I know for a fact that the organisers have begun preparations for next year already. I can’t give you any sneak previews of what to expect – mainly because they haven’t told me anything – but I can say with confidence that Stanza 2013 will take place 6-10 March 2013 and that it will be, a week of wonderful poets, poems, and poetic inspiration.

Thank you for reading my blog thus far. I’d love to hear your own memories of the festival, so do tweet us links to anything you happen to write.


As the disc jockeys of time put on “Don’t Stop Me Now” and cover their ears in desperation, so today’s blog post, and indeed the StAnza festival blogging for this year’s festival has come to an end.

Never fear! You can view my Storify timeline of the pick of the pics, best links, tweets and boos surrounding StAnza here

I’m available for stalking at www.james-t-harding.comand on Twitter @empowermint.

Photos in this post were taken by John Starr, who also maintains a website at www.starrphotographic.com.