A Poetry Breakfast, complete with coffee and pastries, is a great way to wake up at StAnza. The Breakfast topic today was 'Iconic' with Robert Crawford, Michael Symmons Roberts, Lavinia Greenlaw – all poets and professors as Norman McBeath, the only photographer, commented. They all brilliantly highlighted the various perspectives and aspects of issues surrounding the image- even straying into the different perspectives of poetry and science, poetry and the religious icon. In fact, the conversations were so complex and detailed I cannot do more than recommend you try to hear audio clips of it online – when it eventually appears on the StAnza website.
Photography featured in this discussion and has throughout the festival. So I was intrigued to learn that the University also holds one of the largest and most important collections of historic Scottish photography. St Andrew's is the hub of Scottish photography.
Apart from the other major photo exhibitions I've already blogged about, wavering on the walls of the Byre today were a selection of poems alongside photos which inspired them : one from the University's Special Collections archive and others from contemporary student photographers , chosen by 'Stereoscope,' the university's student-produced photography magazine.
A Stereoscope is not something I had encountered before. If you're into Photography, you may know that it was invented by Sir David Brewster (based at St Andrew's) to provide the viewer with a dual perspective, creating a 3-D effect, (though wikipedia disputes this- oops do we believe wikip?– conceding he did invent a certain type of stereoscope with prisms instead of mirrors. Not sure I want to get into this controversy and irritate the powers that be at St A. ) In his day he was more famous for inventing the kaleidescope (though he never made a penny from it as others copied it before he got his patent granted.) No wonder he was noted for his bad temper, but Brewster's correspondence with Wm. Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the calotype established St Andrew's as 'the epicentre of early photography.'
Carson Wos from 'Stereoscope' told me the two intriguing photos that got the most responses were Roman Koblov's and Jeremy Waterfield's . You can see all 5 photos on their magazine blog.
Outside in the grassy courtyard, chiselling away, was line cutter, John Neilson, working away at a plaque depicting a few lines of verse by Brian Johnstone (former StAnza Director). What had poetry, calligraphy and line cutting on stone in common I wondered? Beauty of line? John's response was that he felt both poet and line cutter valued paring down. For him, if he was going to spend hours, days, chiselling away, thinking about the poem, it must not be banal or trivial. Each word must count. And literally too, he said grinning. The more words, the more it cost! Hmm, I thought, perhaps many of us wordy, rambling poets should take that to heart.
John has much experience carving lines of poetry. In particular I loved the serpentine words carved on stone slabs on the floor of a church in Bath and also his carving of Carol Ann Duffy's words at the Much Wenlock Festival, 2010:
'How your sweetness pervades
My shadowed, busy heart.'
You can see photos of his work on the Letter Exchange website. He is also Editor of their journal 'Forum'.