One of the highlights of any poetry festival is the chance to discover new poets and to take home treasure in the form of books… We asked a few friends of StAnza which books they’re most excited for at this year’s festival.
All these titles are not only available at the bookstalls after events, but also at the wonderful J & G Innes, just down South Street from the Byre Theatre, who transform into a poetry lover’s Aladdin’s Cave this time of year. Make sure you take a peek!
Georgi Gill recommends:
Fugitive Colours, Liz Lochhead
If Scottish poetry were a wedding, Liz Lochhead’s Fugitive Colours would be the perfect guest, the lynchpin of the wedding party. From the Bairnsangs through to the Makar songs, there are poems to delight little ones alongside those to inspire and celebrate an adult audience, including, of course, ‘Wedding Vow: The Simplest, Hardest and the Truest Thing’ and an epithelium (‘Anniversaries’). It’s all fine stuff, but for me, the treasures are the poems that would come out late at the evening reception when everyone is whisky-tinged with gossiping, dancing, romancing and reminiscing; poems like ‘Another Late Song for that Same Dirty Diva’ and ‘In Praise of Old Vinyl’. If like me, you read poetry collections out of order, round off your read with ‘Persimmons’ an achingly beautiful poem of love and grief.
All the Prayers in the House, Miriam Nash
On first reading Miriam Nash’s All the Prayers in the House, I was impressed by her dexterity with a wide range of forms – ghazal, sonnet, epistolary verse, villanelle – all these and more are represented here. (A well-crafted villanelle like ‘Higher Maths’ is a very rare thing and deserves special mention.) If you are someone who aspires to write poetry and wants to explore technique and form, read this collection. Yet, whether you are interested in poetry’s formal possibilities or couldn’t give a sestina, read this collection for its dysfunctional divorced parents, its fascination with The Ladies Dictionary (1694) and its conversation with Robert Louis Stevenson. Most of all, read it for the balance of darkness and illumination with which Nash captures all of her varied subjects.
Pirate Music, Miriam Gamble
I am fascinated by Miriam Gamble’s Pirate Music and have been since first reading the collection a couple of years ago. Miriam Gamble is mistress of opening lines that hook you straight into poems that embrace the strange and the magical world of prophecy and ghosts. The collection also finds strangeness in the known through its domestic poems and their interactions with humans and animals. I make no claim to understand all of Pirate Music, but I do find humour and tenderness throughout it and am left with striking images that reverberate in my mind years later, a sure sign of an important collection.
Jess Orr recommends:
Wristwatch, Jay Whittaker,
I’m really excited to see Jay Whittaker’s debut collection Wristwatch at this year’s StAnza, as it manages to capture aspects of human experience which often feel unsayable or inexpressible. The tragic loss of a partner followed by one’s own suffering from a life-threatening illness is an ordeal that many find hard to imagine let alone able to write poetry about. Nevertheless, Jay’s poems combine the stark reality of her loss with a generous sense of humour and renewed sense of hope for the future, which uplifts the reader and reminds us to make every day count.
Kate Bone recommends:
The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx, Tara Bergin
The stand-out book at StAnza this year for me has to be Tara Bergin's The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx (Carcanet, 2017). Eleanor Marx (the English-born daughter of Karl Marx) was a social activist as well as being the first English translator of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and yet is a figure that remains unknown to many. With great dexterity, wit, and imaginative flair, Bergin paints a vivid portrait of this complex woman, delving into the tragic events that led to her suicide to ask questions about the way in which women's narratives are so often silenced or obscured. This is also a book about the art of translation, and makes use of myth, folklore, and song in exploring the nuances of language itself. This is a book I will return to for years to come.
All this is implied, Will Harris
Anglo-Indonesian poet Will Harris' first chapbook All this is implied (Happenstance, 2017) is one I'll be sure to pick up at StAnza this year. A rarity amongst younger poets, Harris has proved himself a master of more traditional verse forms such as the sonnet, making great use of that 'narrow room'- to use Wordsworth's phrase- to explore issues of identity, homeland, and the complexities of British colonial history. I look forward to reading more of his work in the coming months.
Feline Streekstra recommends:
The Hunger in Plain View, Ester Naomi Perquin
Ester Naomi Perquin is not only the current Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, she could also be considered one of the country’s leading poets. In The Hunger in Plain View poems from her first three poetry books are collected, including from the much praised and awarded collection Cell inspections, for which Perquin drew inspiration from her past work as a prison guard. Perquin’s language and poems are always familiar yet alienating, beautifully captured in David Colmer’s outstanding English translations.
The Lonely Funerals, ed. Frank Starik
Since 2002 the ‘The lonely funeral’ project (‘De eenzame uitvaart’), coordinated by Frank Starik, provides a poet and a poem to a funeral that otherwise would not be attended by anyone, a funeral of someone who died in loneliness or anonymity. A group of poets in Amsterdam - and in other cities too quickly after - joined this unique project that is both heart wrenching and heartwarming. The poets alternatively attend one of these ‘lonely funerals’ to memorialise the deceased, someone the poet has only gotten to know after his/her death.
This is an update on ticketing for StAnza this week. The Byre Theatre will now issue tickets to those attending the following free events.
Wed 7 March 18.30 Poetry Extravaganza Opening Night Event
Thu 8 March 18.15 #MeToo
Sun 11 March 14.15 TheoArtistry Showcase
Sun 11 March 15.30 Catastrophe Forms
Sun 11 March 15.40 Mind the Time
This event is free. It is, of course, limited to the capacity of the venue, and if you’d like to reserve a ticket to be sure of getting in, you can now do so by contacting our box office on firstname.lastname@example.org. However, please note the tickets will only be available for collection on the day and they will not be issued until 40 minutes before the event starts. They cannot be received online or by post. Reservations will expire on any tickets not collected 15 minutes before the event starts. Or, of course, you can take your chances on just turning up on the day.
StAnza 2018 starts on Wednesday 7 March. If you can’t be there every day, or can’t make it at all this year, I’m glad to say there are other ways you can still get some of StAnza.
We plan once again to have live webcasts of four events this year, the three Poetry Breakfast events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10.00 UK time, and also our new Poetry Café Plenary on Sunday at 20.00 UK time. We will have the link to view the webcast on each of these event pages, and also on our home page, and on Facebook, and you'll find it here as well.
Here is the link, but it will only work during the events being webcast.
Here are the links to the events.
More informally, we’ll also try to share some of the festival with Facebook Live.
If you haven’t yet bought your tickets, why not do so today. If the Poetry Centre Stage events sell out, we shall have them live-streamed to the Studio Theatre to accommodate the overflow audience. If you haven’t got your accommodation sort d yet, there are still some rooms available, check this out through www.stayinstandrews.comPoetry Extravaganza, with short readings from 11 poets, including Sinéad Morrissey, Michael Symmons Roberts, John Glenday and Rita Ann Higgins, some of this year’s headliners, as well as glimpses of this year’s visual art and films. There will be music too from this year’s Special Guest Barbara Dickson who will open the festival, and also Hamish Hawk.
And if the snow is keeping you at home today, why not check out some of the reviews of newer books by poets coming to StAnza on the DURA page.
Stay warm, stay safe, and see you in St Andrews later this week!
If you're staying home today, by way of distraction from the weather, you might be interested in this article from last year's Digital Poet in Residence at StAnza, Christodoulos Makris from Dublin. The outcome of his residency, Browsing History, is published today from Zimzalla; let him tell you about it.
Browsing History: a StAnza 2017 Digital Project & 2018 Poetry Object
The post of Digital Poet in Residence brings into focus the spaces a festival operates in, suggesting there are dimensions to experiencing it other than the physical. It acknowledges that contemporary operations – and the making of poetry cannot be an exception – take place in a hybrid physical/digital environment. The poet occupying this role could be anywhere, engaging with audiences at the festival’s physical location and those following it from a distance through a shared virtual space.
The contemporary physical/digital dichotomy is a prevalent condition, and a familiar conundrum, creating solutions as well as problems. I’m interested in our toggling between physical and online personas, and contemporary language use as influenced by digital media; in how reading becomes a creative act; and, as our communication has become far more text- and gesture-based over the past 25 years, how this aspect can be / is manipulated. Given the vast amounts of literature (with and without a capital L) instantly available to us, and our everyday writing & editing tools, our current technological environment has helped mature the appropriative into a valid form of art making. A new understanding of artistic ownership is beginning to emerge, slowly, challenging received ideas of copyright and content use, which will take time to crystallise into a new orthodoxy.
The concept behind Browsing History, the project I undertook as StAnza 2017 Digital Poet in Residence, was based on appropriative compositional strategies in an attempt to produce an oblique poetic documentary of the festival through my concurrent online behaviour. Over its five days I made 16 poems in real time, using text and image from my personal browsing history as I went along. Enhancing the residency’s performative aspect were two hour-long sessions during which my computer was hooked to a screen in the foyer of the Byre Theatre, where those present could watch me in the act of composing these poems.
Of course I visited more than 16 web pages over five days: but the process of composition relied on identifying the poetic potential in the material I encountered and – it’s crucial to emphasise – instinctively and immediately producing a poem through selecting, copy-pasting, re-framing and re-aligning text from each of the pages identified. As the internet is a strongly visual medium, I wanted to imbue the poems with a visual quality: to do so I used images excised from the same webpage the text was found on. I decided in most cases to refuse easy identification between text and image, so my process involved manipulating each image to a dimension and position that seemed right before setting it as a faded wallpaper background to complete each poem.
In line with the physical/digital dichotomy of the residency, I produced roughly half of the pieces while at home in Dublin, and the rest after arriving in St Andrews midway through the festival period. My location, in addition to being an influence on my browsing behaviour through my physical conversations and concerns, was also a factor in the digital dimension: this happened through the inevitable monitoring of my online activities by various programmes whose algorithms fed suggestions back to me in the margins of my screen. The implicit comment on surveillance was a conscious element in my decision to mine my own digital behaviour – my awareness that I was doing so mirroring our understanding that our data is being gathered by a host of actors, even though to various degrees we tend to ignore this. In an effort to contaminate my browsing with external, unanticipated factors, I put out a call for people to send me links to things they found interesting over those five days.
Looking at the results a year on, I note that certain concerns looming large in March 2017 have remained so in early 2018 (eg Trump, the refugee crisis) even if altered in focus or intensity; some news stories were particular to that period (eg Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes, email security) but continue to cast a shadow; others could have been viewed at any time, and still others have faded from my memory to the extent that I struggle to distinguish what gave rise to the poems. What remains, I hope, is a poetic attention to language and image that prompts a memory or an extrapolation in the mind of each new reader.
Today, on the first anniversary of the start of my residency, these 16 poems are being released as a set of postcards by the innovative Manchester-based publisher of poetry objects zimZalla. Extending the life of the poems beyond their initial installation speaks directly to the documentary concept behind the residency, and I’d like to thank Tom Jenks of zimZalla for making it happen. I’m also keen to thank Eleanor Livingstone for suggesting the digital residency to me in the first place and for going along with the idea for this project from the beginning (when even I wasn’t entirely sure how it would play out!) and to Annie Rutherford for her attention in ensuring the residency ran smoothly and that what I was making went on display immediately around the Byre Theatre.
The festival starts in 10 days’ time so it all feels very imminent, and we have some updates for you. Further to last week’s announcement about the additional Douglas Dunn Round Table, I’m pleased to advise of two new readings at the festival. We’re delighted to have added Pippa Little to our programme. She was shortlisted for the Saltire Poetry Book of the Year award in 2017 for her latest collection, Twist (Arc Publications), and will now read at StAnza on Friday 9 March at 8.00pm; and John Glenday who is already on the programme for a sold-out workshop and short appearance in our opening night event, will also now take part in a Round Table intimate reading on Saturday 10 March at 3.45pm. These changes to the programme came about because Ko Un has had to cancel his appearance at StAnza for health reasons, and while the circumstances are unfortunate, we’re all the more grateful to Pippa and John stepping up at the last minute and delighted to be featuring them in these events.
If you don't have time to give several hours to a workshop, surely you can spare 10 minutes to join this year's Collective Reading on Saturday 10 March at 7.10pm in the Byre. Everyone is welcome to come and experience a moment of solidarity through the collective yet diverse voice of poetry. This year we'll be sharing poems from Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press, 2017), a bold, brave and beautiful anthology which explores and celebrates UK disabled and D/deaf poetics.
The StAnza Slam on Saturday night is another chance for performers. We have a full line-up for this but do come along anyway and enjoy the late-night fun and passion of poetry. There are also two Open Mics if you want a chance to read, try our early Friday evening Quiet Open Mic or later on Friday, Risk a Verse with MC, Andy Jackson. You can find out about all the ways in which you can participate at the festival at our Taking Part link.
If you plan to be out and about around St Andrews during the festival, watch out for poems on windows. You could join this year's organised Poetry Walk or make your own route.
As ever, there will be lots of small intimate ways of engaging with poetry at the festival, whether it's by taking an Inspire sheet or dropping in at MUSA for inspiration and then heading off to find your
own poem, or by trying on a temporary poetry tattoo (they went like hot cakes last year, don't leave it too late to get one!), engaging with concepts of masks, persona and identity in a hands-on way with the masks and moustaches on offer, helping put a poem En Route around town or dabbling with poetry scrabble.
You can get more information on our website or ask at the Festival Desk during the festival.
And if you haven't booked your tickets, why not make that this weekend's priority, before any more events sell out. All you need to know about booking is on our How to Book page.
And if you haven’t sorted your accommodation yet, several people have managed to book just this week so there are still places there, if you get in quickly.
Poetry is arriving here every day now, books for displays, including a multitude of sma buiks from Poems-For-All in California, poems on plant labels, translations and poems commissioned, artwork and films. It’s all building up to something very exciting coming very soon.
Meantime, however you spend it, enjoy your weekend and we look forward to seeing you in St Andrews in early March.
A quick reminder that this is your last chance to take advantage of our Early Bird Discounts which end today, 5 February.
More generally, with the festival now less than a month away, here's a quick update on some of the recent additions to the programme which you might have missed. While some events are sold out, you can still get tickets for about 75% of the ticketed events; and around half of our events and exhibitions, installations and projects are free and unticketed so for them you can just turn up on the day. The full programme is online and now you can now explore the brochure online as well. Our booking page gives full details of how to get your tickets.
We are delighted that the special guest cutting the metaphorical ribbon on this year's festival is the singer Barbara Dickson. She will also be giving us a song. Do join her and us at the Byre Theatre on 7 March at 6.30pm and help us launch StAnza 2018. This year our opening night event is a free gala extravaganza offering music, art, film and a taster poem from a range of this year’s festival poets from across the UK, Ireland, Flanders and the Netherlands, including headliners like Sinéad Morrissey, Michael Symmons Roberts, Rita Ann Higgins and John Glenday.
This year for our Collective Reading we'll be sharing poems from Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press, 2017), a bold, brave and beautiful anthology which explores and celebrates UK disabled and D/deaf poetics. No previous experience of reading poetry is necessary, and quiet voices are as welcome as commanding ones, and if you can't join us in person, perhaps you can read a poem at 7.00pm on Saturday 10th March and join us in spirit.
We have also been adding some other events, installations and exhibitions to the programme first launched on 30th November, including an event as part of our Muriel Spark 100 project. Some of the poets commissioned to write new poems in response to quotes from some of Spark’s novels will be there reading their poems and talking about their take on Muriel Spark. Our Necessarily Looking Backward free event will be on Friday 9 March at 2.15pm.
The StAnza brochure was unveiled and launched at our Edinburgh Preview event in the National Library of Scotland on 23 January with much trumpeting. Copies are now available to pick up around St Andrews, Edinburgh and beyond. If you are on our postal mailing list for the StAnza brochure, then it is already winging its way to you. 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 sessions have been going really well. We have had two fascinating discussions, the first in MUSA and the second in the Golf Museum Café. We have one more to come, again at the Golf Museum Café on Thursday 15th 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.
Finally, another reminder that if you haven't booked your accommodation yet for March, you might want to see what Stay In St Andrews can suggest.