StAnza Turns 18, Contemplates Mortality

Thursday 5 March 2015

"We're all going to die, so we might as well enjoy this week of poetry, art and music while we can!" So said Clive Russell (AKA The Blackfish in Game of Thrones) as he cut the metaphorical red ribbon on #StAnza15—the eighteenth yearly StAnza festival, no less!

Words to live by, I'd say. Now we're 18, we're old enough to go clubbing, read 18-rated poetry, and even vote in the upcoming general election. Now is the time to explore new things, and there's truly something new and exciting for everyone coming up this week in St Andrews.

Short readings from Glyn Maxwell, Sheenagh Pugh and Shara McCallum at the launch party set the tone, and are a forewarning of extreme variety, for the poetry this year. I was particularly moved by Shara McCallum's evocation of her childhood, "where violence and beauty still lie down together, city of my birth"—this is Kingston, Jamaica—and I'm looking forward to her reading today at 11:30 in the Town Hall.

Our launching evening event last night was the enthralling Bedazzled - A Welshman in New York. But which Welshman in New York? I hear you cry. Dylan Thomas, of course, of set fire to the stars fame.

Ben Gwalchmai and the Bedazzled Company took over the Byre and transformed it into a New York poet's dive, replete with a working bar and large amounts of real and stage whisky—served with ice to "take the edge off." The word "immersive" here is quite literal, as the audience was invited to interact with the cast of six literary figures including e e cummings, Maya Deren and Allen Ginsberg. Much amusement was to be had over at my table by my iPad camera. It's not exactly period appropriate!


The play itself took place in and among the audience on cabaret seating onstage, with subtle yet effective projections and sound design evoking New York, Swansea, and the various boozy poetic dives therein. Imaginary and real encounters between Dylan and literary figures of the day, from a satirical poet off between cummings and Thomas to a fist fight between young Thomas and old Thomas!—swirled together, culminating in a euphoric dance sequence (no really) and Thomas's inevitable demise, raging against the dying of the light.

It was a fittingly boozy bang to kick off StAnza this year, celebrating our newly-minded ID for alcohol purchasing and tying in with our theme of Unfinished Business. We're all going to die, after all, so let's cram in those stanzas and StAnzas while we still have time.

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