StAnza by Alistair Kerr
During StAnza this year, I gained a taster of a great wealth of poetry; a wide variety of styles and forms which have greatly influenced me as a young creative writer. I met with two poets, both of whom have spoken at StAnza and are enthusiastic about their craft and its impact upon young creative writers.
I’m currently in my last year at Madras College, where my Advanced Higher English class was visited by well-established poet Brian Johnstone. As well as being one of the founders of StAnza, he has taught as a primary school teacher for 22 years, returning his attention to creative writing in the early 90’s. Johnstone’s first public reading took place at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe poetry sessions in the Traverse Theatre when he was 18 years old. He strongly believes that poetry and music are heavily linked – he identifies as “a poet, writer, and performer” - and often collaborates with jazz musicians in live performances. He played a film of his poem “How Well It Burns” with the accompaniment of Rebecca Rowe on cello. It’s a haunting poem set to footage of bomber jets flying far above towns and cities – the poem commemorates the lesser known Clydebank Blitz, a Luftwaffe bombing in Glasgow which claimed the lives of 528 civilians. Johnstone creates a link between the inferno of the bombs and a fire-stoking method used by his father in which he would toss sugar onto the flames to keep it burning hot.
When asked about what advice he would give to young creative writers, he had this wisdom to impart:
- “Edit, edit, edit, edit - Never stop editing.”
- “Send as much stuff as you can to journals, websites, and poetry blogs.”
- “Don’t give up.”
Later that day, the creative writing club I attend hosted a reading by young poet Kim Moore. Her poems can range from comedic tales of trumpet teaching to dark lines littered with allusions to the famous tale of Red Riding Hood and the infamous Wolf. She read her first poem aloud at the age of 25, and continued to hone her craft. Moore described her poems as “More confession than art”, and said it took 10 years for her to soften and “rein in” her poetry. She has sent her work to various journals only for it to be rejected 13 times – her poetry has skyrocketed since, and she received a New Writing North Award in 2014. She had a few gems of advice for young creative writers:
- “Read lots, whatever genre”
- “Starting a blog is one of the best things.”
- “Writing a poem should be about finding what questions you want to ask yourselves.”
“Being young at poetry readings is great,” she said, “You get a fuss made of you!”
Erin Morrissey Gillman