The week has finally arrived. Poets from near and far have flocked to our little town on the coast of Scotland for five days of poetry, art, film, music and more. Five days of celebration, collaboration and creative conversation. Five days, in short, of StAnza Poetry Festival.
I myself travelled to St Andrews from Edinburgh – not too far a jaunt, considering that many of our poets hail from much, much further afield! Once I arrived in town, I headed straight to the Byre Theatre and met up with some of the other poets and volunteers, some I’ve known for years through working and performing at the festival, and some who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time yesterday.
After delicious sandwiches and wine, we kicked off the festival in style at the Launch Event, which provided a taster of just some of the poetry, film and music on offer this year. You could call it a poetic smorgasbord? Poetry tapas? It’s possible I am just reaching for these food metaphors because I’m very excited for the macaroni pies this afternoon at my own Poetry Café event!
Nevertheless, it was a rich variety of voices and styles, featuring poets from a myriad of locations - from London, to Toronto, to Colombia. As Douglas Dunn reminded us in his speech launching the festival, ‘there are many different kinds of poetry, all of them valid’, and it was great to see so many different kinds of poems last night. Poetry in Catalan and Italian, poetry sung and poetry projected on the walls.
And perhaps because it is, as Festival Director Eleanor Livingstone pointed out, the ‘year of conversation’, last night I kept thinking about how poetry itself is always a form of dialogue, an ongoing conversation between each poet and each reader. Whether that conversation happens by someone flicking open a collection and reading in the silence of their living room, interacting with the words on the page, or whether by sitting in a bookstore, pub or theatre listening to someone share their work aloud with you – as we did last night.
Conversation itself was a theme that cropped up at various times in the poems we heard at the launch. Both of Fiona Moore’s poems, she informed us, were started from different conversations, including one begun in dialogue with another poem and one inspired by a real life conversation. Poetry is so often a response to other works of art, as well as an ongoing conversation with the past. Peter Mackay read a bawdy and brilliant poem from The Light Blue Book: 500 Years of Gaelic Love and Transgressive Poetry and Anne Martin shared with us a beautiful and haunting Gaelic song.
Another particular highlight for me was Poet in Residence Caroline Teague’s searing poem about her experience of feeling like ‘the abominable woman of anger, the monster in the hills’ and the societal pressure on women to be smaller, to take up less space, both literally and metaphorically.
I was also invited to perform at the launch, which was very special for me. Having volunteered at StAnza since my first year at the University of St Andrews (8 years ago!), I always dreamed of one day performing at the festival. So it was a real pleasure to join the other poets on stage and share my work last night. 19-year-old Carly would have been thrilled!
Throughout the event, we were also treated to readings from John Burnside and A.E Stallings, who will be reading at tonight’s Poetry Centre Stage event, and some lovely, lyrical tunes from Megan D.
As Robyn Marsack pointed out in her closing remarks, poetry and conversation are essential, now more than ever. At such a turbulent time, where there is a lot of talk of walls, barriers and isolation, poetry is a space of traversing distance, of connection, of taking someone’s hand and saying: This is how I see it. How do you see it?
And StAnza offers a space for those conversations to continue beyond the sharing of the work itself, but also spilling out into the Byre Theatre, the pubs and coffee shops, the beaches and cobblestoned streets afterwards, so that we can continue to converse and connect. Yes, our throats might be sore from all that talking by the end of the week (in my case, it already is!), but what a valuable opportunity to have so many voices in one place and to be inspired by one another.
So let’s raise a toast to the 22nd year of StAnza! After what we saw yesterday, it is bound to be a hugely enjoyable and stimulating festival indeed.
By Carly Brown, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2019
If you can't join us in St Andrews this week, or can't be here every day or at each event, you can still be part of the audience, and take part in the conversation at three StAnza events this week. Each of our three Poetry Breakfast events, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10.00, will be webcast live at https:/www.st-andrews.ac.uk/livevideo/ Tune in to watch and listen, and then let us have your comments and questions via twitter (@StAnzaPoetry) or on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/stanzapoetry/.
All events connect with A Year of Conversation. On Friday, Fiona Moore will chair a discussion on our Another Place them, with particular reference to climate change and other current issues. She will be joined by Jon Plunkett, Harry Josephine Giles, Polly Atkin and Alice Talbot.
On Saturday, Jill Abraham will take poetry Off the Page with Ben Norris, Sara Lodge, Julia Bird and Will Harris.
On Sunday, Tom Pow leads a discussion on translation as coversation with Ken Cockburn, Madeleine Campbell, Richard Elfyn and Mónika Ferencz.
Friday 10.00-11.10, Saturday 10.00-11.10 and Sunday 10.00-11.00
Good morning. First of all, a quick reminder about our free Edinburgh Preview event which this year will take place in an early afternoon slot at 2pm on Tuesday 5th February at the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge. Do come along if you can to hear about this year’s festival and enjoy a few taster poets from three of this year’s poets – Diana Hendry, Lisa Fannen and Joe with the Glasses – and a song or two from Megan D, who will be part of this year’s opening night programme in March. You can reserve a seat by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
And of course, if you come along on Tuesday, you’ll be first to see our new-look StAnza brochure which we will be collecting from the printers on Tuesday morning, hot from the press.
If you can’t come on Tuesday but are on our postal mailing list for the StAnza brochure, then it will be winging its way to you over the next week or so. If you are not on that list, can’t easily pick up a copy where you are and would like us to post you a copy, please email us on email@example.com.
Meantime, this year’s pre-festival Book Group had our first very enjoyable session last Thursday, with fascinating discussions about the poems of Ishion Hutchinson and Liz Berry. We have one more to come, again at the Golf Museum Café and the next on Wednesday 13th February from 2.00pm to 4.00pm. It’s also free so do join us if you can to read and discuss some of the poets appearing at this year's festival.
As ever, none of the above would be possible without the support we get from our funders, sponsors and supporters. We manage to do a lot on a fairly small budget, and want to keep the festival affordable and accessible to everyone, so every pound of support helps. If you would like to help ensure that we can deliver all our plans for this year and continue after that, and could offer some support either as a single donation or a regular one, every pound would be hugely appreciated. You can donate anything from £1 using the donate button on the home page of our website, or anything from £2 via our LocalGiving page here. If you are a UK tax payer, on the LocalGiving page you can also click the gift aid box and help us even more, at no cost to yourself. If you appreciate what StAnza offers, please do think about helping us
Finally more reminders. Firstly, you only have a few more days to take advantage of our Early Bird Discount which ends soon; and if you haven’t booked your accommodation yet for March, you might want to see what Stay In St Andrews can suggest.
We are looking for volunteers to help with this year's festival. The festival has about 100 events featuring poetry, music, film, visual art and talks and discussions, and works with a team of about 80 volunteers, many of whom return year after year. We are looking for people willing to help with front of house duties, staffing exhibitions and events, taking tickets and handing out questionnaires, and also by taking photographs.
StAnza is famous for its friendly and inclusive atmosphere. We offer any necessary training and guidance, and try hard to ensure that our volunteers enjoy the experience. It can also be a useful thing to have on your CV.
If you are able to offer anything from a few hours up to several days, this would be welcome and appreciated. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with "front of house volunteer" in the subject line, and a note of your name, address and contact details, and let us know when you would be available between 9.30am and 8.00pm from 7 to 10 March. Please also let us have the name and contact details of a referee.
The festival takes place at various venues around the town centre of St Andrews. The hub venue is the Byre Theatre, Abbey Street, St Andrews KY16 9LA and volunteers report for duty to the Festival Desk on Level 2 (near the Box Office) in the Byre Theatre. The theatre is about 15 minutes walk from the town’s bus station, with other bus stops a few minutes from the theatre and there is a regular bus connection from Leuchars Railway Station. Car parking in the town centre is mostly limited to two hours but there are longstay car parks elsewhere in town. Volunteers would be expected to report to the Festival Desk in good time before the start of their duties. Travel expenses will be reimbursed to successful applicants.
Good news for the weekend - the box office will be open for ticket sales for StAnza 2019 from Tuesday 15 January. The hyperlink from our booking page to the Byre Theatre's box office will go live that day. So get ready to book! And why not spend time this weekend browsing the listings. There's a full page for each event, plus a profile page for each participant, with sample poems from most of the poets, which should give you plenty of information on which to make your choices. Happy browsing!
And if it helps decide which events to choose where they are at the same time, here's the Matrix of the programme as it is at present.
(c) flyer cover image by Nichola Martin
As ever, thanks to our generous and welcoming hosts, our Edinburgh preview event takes place at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EW. In an innovation this year, we've moving to an early afternoon slot on Tuesday 5 February at 2pm, and we’re very grateful to the NLS for their support. There will be short readings from two of the poets on the StAnza 2019 programme, Diana Hendry and Lisa Fannen, a short set from Joe with the Glasses, one of this year's spoken word poets at our lunchtime Poetry Cafe events, plus some music from singer-songwriter Megan D, who will be playing also at the Byre Theatre on the opening night on 6 March. As well the poetry and music, there will be a round-up of some of the festival highlights. It promises to be a delightful hour of entertainment and festival information, a great way to get up to speed quickly on what will be on offer in St Andrews in March. If you’re in the Edinburgh area, be sure not to miss it. It’s a free event but please book a seat by emailing us on email@example.com, or phoning 07391 247 661.
Meantime, of course, you can check out the whole programme as so far confirmed at our website at www.stanzapoetry.org and tickets go on general sale on Tuesday 15 January.
Watch this space also for news soon about this year's pre-festival Poetry Book Group.