The first of our guest bloggers, poet Matt Merritt, takes StAnza's theme, The Poets' Ark, as the starting point of his discussion of poetry, nature and ecology.
A couple of years ago, a collection of poets, authors, visual artists, photographers and academics – led by writers Mark Cocker and Paul Jepson – huddled into an Oxford lecture theatre, for the first 'Birds, Nature and Creativity Symposium'.
The aim was to explore ways of building links – or maybe that’s rebuilding old links - between scientists, policy-makers, charities, NGOs and volunteers working at the dirty end of conservation, and artists inspired by the natural world, and the many threats it faces.
Not that it was advocating dryly didactic work, or trying to formulate some ‘party line’, but rather trying to understand how the great passion and concern for ecological issues among many artists (open any British poetry mag, and a significant proportion of the work will be in some way inspired by nature) might be harnessed to good effect, for small, grassroots projects as much as any one great cause.
A second, larger Symposium was held at the end of 2010, and the plan is to organise spin-off events round the country, on a regular basis.
I get the feeling that it’s an idea that’s found its time, in the poetry world, at least. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen Shearsman’s fine The Ground Aslant, an anthology of radical landscape poetry which aims to move beyond ‘literary tourism’, and Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ Edgelands, a distinctly poetic look at what they call our ‘true wilderness’.
Now, thanks to one of its chosen themes – The Poets’ Ark – StAnza 2011 is asking many of the same questions that the Symposium considered. Are poets in a unique position to both capture and analyse our complex relationship with nature? Can they communicate the many issues at stake at times when the message isn’t getting through from elsewhere?
If you’re a poet, or an artist of any sort, involved in StAnza 2011, or if any of the events you attend inspire you to consider ecological issues, or those questions, in a fresh light, I hope you’ll consider getting further involved.
There are more details at birdsandculture.blogspot.com, or you can contact me through my blog, and I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, enjoy the poetic menagerie about to be let loose around St Andrews.
Matt Merritt (polyolbion.blogspot.com)
Matt will be reading at the Town Hall Supper Room on Thursday 17th March at 11.30am. Tickets available from the Byre Theatre Box Office 01334 475000
With just a fortnight to go before the festival begins on 16th March, the excitement is building up and the final preparations are underway: thanks to the team of organisers and volunteers who are responsible for the smooth running of the festival. Launch night is always a draw for the crowds and this year’s line-up promises poetry and music – and a few surprises. The festival kicks off at 5.30pm with special guest BBC Scotland’s Tom Morton, who will introduce some of the poets: our first ever Gaelic Poet-in-Residence Maoilios Caimbeul, USA poet Kevin Young and Australia’s Lidija Simkute will provide a taster of the poetry feast to come. The Byre will be buzzing, enjoy live traditional music, or watch Poetry Theatre’s strolling players perform impromptu poems to order. This is also the first chance to view StAnza’s art exhibitions and meet the curators and some of the artists. Words and music, though, are the theme of the evening ahead, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and mezzo soprano Karen Cargill performing in a concert at the Younger Hall, and the Edinburgh’s Forest Café’s fabulous Golden Hour at the Byre Theatre.
Find out more about StAnza: Follow the Blog over the next two weeks for a glimpse of what’s on offer during the festival, including some surprise guest blogs from poets on our festival themes.
StAnza's Director, Eleanor Livingstone
Eleanor Livingstone hosted the StAnza Preview at Dundee Rep this week, with poets Stewart Conn and Dawn Wood reading to an appreciative audience. The Courier covered the story.
New festival director Eleanor Livingstone hosted a preview of StAnza's festival programme at the NLS in Edinburgh last night, offering a taster of the poetic and musical feast to come.
Poets Rab Wilson and Claire Askew and the traditional group Lurach showcased three aspects of the festival programme: the two themes, Timepiece and the Poets Ark, and a special focus on Gaelic poetry and music. Eleanor and members of the StAnza team read a selection of poems by some of the UK and international poets who are coming to StAnza in March: Philip Gross, Carrie Etter, Selima Hill and Tom Petsinis among over 60 talented voices to look forward to.
Picking up on the theme of history (Timepiece) Rab unearthed the hidden history of Fife mining and Claire Askew explored the intersections between her own ancestors and history. Lurach gave us some slip jigs and reels and heartstoppingly lovely melodies: a sample of the Gaelic riches to come.
Poet Claire Askew at the Preview (Photo Chris Scott)
If you are in Fife or Tayside area, don't miss the Preview on Tuesday 15th February at Dundee Rep with guest poets Stewart Conn and Dawn Wood. For more about the programme and to view our brochure online, check the StAnza website: http://www.stanzapoetry.org
One of the highlights among many exciting events at StAnza this year will be a concert featuring the first performances of work by three talented young composers: winners of the Sorley MacLean musical composition competition.
All three winning pieces will be performed as part of a concert at StAnza on Sunday 20 March at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews, with the St Andrews Chamber Orchestra, three Scottish Chamber Orchestra soloists and the soprano Lesley-Jane Rogers. To complement the music, StAnza’s Poet-in-Residence, Maoilios Caimbeul, will read Sorley MacLean’s poems in Gaelic. Tickets are available from the Byre Box Office, 01334 475000.
The competition winners are as follows:
Elisabeth Cowe (pictured) studied cello at Napier University and gained a Masters in Composition at the University of Edinburgh in 2010. She is currently working on a number of compositional projects and enjoying playing in a trio with two flautists. She said: ‘I was so pleased to hear that I had been selected as a winner in the StAnza competition. I am really looking forward to the concert and hearing my piece performed.’
Matthew Oglesby is a young composer based in Leeds. ‘Having come to orchestral writing after several years simply as a choral composer,’ he says, ‘I'm pretty shocked to find that I will actually have the opportunity to hear my work rehearsed and performed this year. I'm already grateful to the folks at SCO for their input and help so far, and I also look forward to working with the St. Andrews University Chamber Orchestra in the run-up to the March performance.’
Lliam Paterson (pictured) studied piano, horn and composition at Aberdeen City Music School and St. Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh, before starting studies in Music at Cambridge University (Fitzwilliam College) in 2009. He said: ‘Opportunities for young composers to have their works performed by world-class musicians are quite rare, so I'm very excited about having my song performed by the musicians and Lesley-Jane Rogers. As an admirer of Sorley MacLean's poetry, I'm proud that my work will form part of his centenary celebrations – it is a chance to honour a great Scottish creative mind.’
There’s more about the competition and the winners on the SCO website: http://www.sco.org.uk/connect
Part of this year’s centenary celebrations of the birth of the poet, the competition was held in partnership with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the University of St Andrews Music Centre; with the support of the Garrick Charitable Trust; and in association with The Sorley MacLean Trust and Carcanet Press.
Scotland must be unique in having a national celebration that centres on a poet's birth, and a poet whose reputation goes so far beyond the shores of his own land.
That Burns is still relevant and can be constantly re-invented is clear from today’s fabulous flashmob get-together on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, organised by the Scottish Poetry Library and UNESCO City of Literature, as part of the latter's Let's Get Lyrical campaign. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNJnwe_mp-0
And last night on Radio Ulster, StAnza's own Eleanor Livingstone (pictured) joined Scotland's new Makar, Liz Lochhead and Nat Edwards, head of the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, for a discussion on the influence of Robert Burns today. The trio explored many aspects of the Bard's legend and Eleanor mentions StAnza's tribute to Burns on 20 March: a performance by poet Kevin Williamson of Burns's unpublished political poems.
You can listen to the Radio Ulster programme here