StAnza launched its programme on Wednesday in Edinburgh at the National Library of Scotland. In attendance was our Festival Blogger, James Harding, who gives us his unique account below. The photographs are by Chris Scott, Edinburgh's literary paparazzo. James and Chris will be providing more words and pictures on this blog during StAnza in March.
'I couldn't describe StAnza dust with scientific precision, but it's something to do with a room's rumble when a StAnza event is about to start, something to do with the friendly greetings of audience members - between both old friends and new acquaintances. It's a touch of anticipation in the air, the knowledge that something interesting is about to happen.
It surprised me that a room so far away from the festival's home felt like a true StAnza event, but it did. Maybe it just feels that way because of the proximity of the library's thousands of books? Maybe it was the steel woks, yoga mats and blue beards brought in by some of the audience? (True story.) Or perhaps it is simply NLS has a secret passageway to St Andrews? (Not a true story.)
Whatever the reason for the audience's good mood, they were treated to a preview of the festival by poets Ron Butlin, Harry Giles and Rachel McCrum. Harry Giles was a student at St Andrews and a volunteer at StAnza a few moons ago, and Eleanor Livingstone, the festival's director, commented that it was such a pleasure to have watched his career develop - and now to be able to invite him to attend StAnza as one of the readers.
By now many of you will have heard the sad news about the Byre theatre going into liquidation. The festival has been inundated with offers of support and messages of goodwill from poets, venues, partners, funders, volunteers and audience members alike. Angela Wrapson, chair of the StAnza board, singled out two parties in particular for their goodwill. The University of St Andrews for their immediate offer of help in finding new venues; and the staff of the Byre theatre, who, on hearing that the Byre was closing, came in to work specially to print off hundreds of tickets for StAnza so that all of the tickets booked so far can be honoured. (Stand by for details of the new bookings system.) It's humbling, somewhat exciting, and not the least bit surprising that StAnza has the support of so many wonderful people.
And as Eleanor assured us this evening, the show will go on! "The ocean of goodwill and everyone's determination to help us overcome this setback gives me confidence that this year's festival is going to be sensational." And it will be sensational, especially if Mark Doty, Robin Robertson, Liz Lochhead, George Szirtes, Paula Meehan and all the other poets attending this year have anything to do with it!
I think tonight's launch proved that StAnza can sprinkle its magic anywhere it chooses. But tonight was just a tiny taster of the full-throttle celebration of poetry to come this March in St Andrews...
As the toaster of time prepares to trap the bagel of this blog post irretrievably in its toothy wires, so this blog post comes to and end. I am available for stalking on t'Interwebs, and look forward to seeing you all at #StAnza13 - offline or on.
P.S. Eleanor Livingstone has confirmed rumours that edible poetry will return to the festival this year, with the somewhat cryptic comment "This year we'll make sure you can have your cake and eat it." I'm not sure what exactly what this will entail (presumably poetic cakes of some sort) but it sounds very exciting! I will keep you informed of further developments on Twitter @empowermint.'