Blog

Push the Boat Out: guest blog post

Thursday 14 October 2021, 13:36

On the eve of Edinburgh's inaugural international poetry festival, we're thrilled to share a guest blog post by Julia Sorensen, communications manager at Push the Boat Out.

There is a Sylvia Plath poem called “The Couriers” – one of the first in Ariel – that starts:

The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf?
It is not mine. Do not accept it.

Acetic acid in a sealed tin?
Do not accept it. It is not genuine.

 

When I first read the poem I didn’t really know what to do with it. For years it’s been a bit beyond me, really. Sometimes poems speak to me on a visceral level. I don’t need interpret them literally because I can parse them through feeling. Sometimes I just get poems, or they get me. I think when that happens, I’ve found the poetry that works for me, because certainly not all of it does. But sometimes poetry works for me even if I don’t get it. Sometimes with poetry that I love, like Plath’s “The Couriers”, I need to hear what someone else gleans from it before I can form any thoughts of my own.

I’m making two points which vouch for the existence of poetry festivals, especially when they’re varied in content, genre, form, presentation, space, visualisation. The first is that poetry is a particularly subjective thing. I am a poet, but I’m quite picky about the kind of poetry I like. That’s not to say that poetry I’m impartial to isn’t excellent. It’s just to say that because poetry is so distilled, so particular, what makes for good poetry doesn’t make for poetry preferred by everyone. In a group of a thousand people, there’d only be a few at most you could fall in love with.

The second point is that poetry – and literature in general – benefits from being collectively attended to. Independent reading can be personally meditative and transformative, but we also learn things when we read and discuss with other people. We can play with new ideas and this is particularly true with poetry because of its particularity, it’s peculiarity. Countless times I’ve told someone what I like about my favourite lines and they’ve responded “yes, and”—they’ve added something.

You already know that StAnza does an excellent job of finding poetry that speaks to you and making room for you to speak to other people about poetry. Push the Boat Out: Edinburgh’s International Poetry Festival is going to do that too this upcoming weekend (15-17 October) at Summerhall.

We’ve got reading and discussions from Caroline Bird, Raymond Antrobus, Malika Booker, Arusa Qureshi, and Nadine Aisha Jassat; we’ve got headliners from Nova Scotia the Truth, Dave Hook, Billy Letford, and Harry Josephine Giles; we’ve got Double Bills from Alycia Pirmohamed and Anthony Anaxagorou, Andrew McMillan and Fiona Benson, and Cynthia Miller and Seán Hewitt. You can also come to our takeover events, our open mic, our film fest within a poetry fest, see art installations, hip hop shows, and get a pub lunch at Sheep Heid and (try) to beat Michael Pedersen, Janette Ayachi and Peter Mackay/Pàdraig MacAoidh at skittles.

While I love the first two couplets of “The Couriers”, the last line in its singularity speaks to me the most. The poem as a whole is arguably pessimistic, but I think it’s sometimes alright to take a beautiful thing out of context and lend it our own feelings, lend it to them, make meaning differently. So, to autumn, and to Push the Boat Out happening in Edinburgh outside of August:  

Love, love, my season.

Categories: News

Choose Poetry. Choose StAnza.

Thursday 7 October 2021, 14:46

Text as image: Choose poetry. Choose words. Choose reading. Choose writing. Choose to attend in-person or online. Choose to support young poets (and older poets too). Choose coffee v tea – choose cake v pie. Choose to participate. Choose StAnza.

First of all, a very happy National Poetry Day from all at StAnza! We hope that you will all find five minutes in your busy schedules to read or write a poem or two. I’m going to do so the minute I’ve stopped writing this, and I hope you’ll follow my lead! This year’s NPD theme is ‘choice’, and we would also like to take this moment to invite you to ‘choose’ to support us, during a new crowdfunding campaign running between now and mid-November.

The last two years have been challenging times at StAnza, as they have for so many arts organisations. But they have also provided a chance to dream – to imagine what might be possible as we look ahead, through and beyond the pandemic. As I’ve outlined in previous posts, there are lots of exciting plans in the pipeline which we aim to realise this year. Not only do we hope to return to an in-person festival in March 2022 (festival title: Stories like starting points), we also plan to deliver this in hybrid form with at least 25 events livestreamed both in and out, further extending our international reach. December 2021 will see the launch of Well-versed, supporting the establishment of poetry reading groups across Scotland (and beyond), while in January 2022 we will launch a pilot for a new, online young people’s poetry writing programme called Scotland’s Young Makars!

StAnza’s aim is to become a key intervention in poetry: a forum for discussion about the form and its relationship with the wider world, with a commitment to enabling ever greater numbers to participate in poetry. In other words, while maintaining continuity with all that has come before, our inclination is to think big!

StAnza has chosen this moment to reach out, through our first ever crowdfunding appeal, for support. Over the years, we have achieved a vast amount on limited funds, but money this year is particularly tight due to cutbacks from many quarters. So we could now do with a one-off boost. No matter how small or large your contribution, it will help provide:

  • a solid foundation: for StAnza in the years ahead;
  • a step-up: to help us realise our ambitions for poetry in Scotland and beyond;
  • a helping hand: which we might reach out to those in areas of less artistic opportunity, and for Scotland’s poets of tomorrow;
  • an open door: and all while keeping our ticket prices at a level that is accessible for all.

 

This crowdfunding appeal is being launched in partnership with many of the UK and Scotland’s leading publishing houses, who have generously agreed to donate bundles of 4-5 books which will be offered as rewards for your donations. Donate £10 and you will be awarded 1 raffle ticket to go into the draw for a book bundle, £20 for 2 tickets, all the way up to 10 for £100! If you donate £50 you will also receive the option of sending me a poem for critique, and for £100 you will receive an option of 20 minutes of 1-1 feedback. (No obligation to take these up, of course! One person suggested that a reward might involve going for dinner with me, so you have at least dodged an optional bullet there!) Publishers who have already agreed to support our appeal include Blue Diode, Red Squirrel, HappenStance, Carcanet, Faber, Bloodaxe, Nine Arches, Guillemot, Granta, Shearsman and Pavilion! So that’s at least 11 mystery bundles of books going to lucky winners in time for Christmas. Huge thanks from us to the publishers for their generosity…

 

StAnza faces some difficult choices over the coming months in terms of which of our ambitions we can achieve and which we need to place on pause – by choosing to support StAnza you will make these choices that little bit easier.

Categories: News

Work With Us!

Tuesday 5 October 2021, 08:40

StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, is looking for a proactive and engaged freelance project manager with experience of working with young people in the arts. Join us to help deliver the inaugural season of our brand new young people’s project, Scotland’s Young Makars!

StAnza is one of Scotland’s flagship cultural events and is a leading poetry festival on the international stage. The festival takes place each year in March in St Andrews, with roughly 100 events and exhibitions and 120 – 150 poets, writers and artists. After a successful digital offering in 2021, we are planning a hybrid festival for StAnza 2022 (9 – 13 March), alongside which we are developing a range of new outreach projects.

Scotland’s Young Makars will be open to secondary school pupils across Scotland, and will consist of five live Zoom webinars – taking place weekly from early January – with leading poet-tutors. Following the webinars, young people will have the opportunity to submit their writing for consideration, and the most promising writer from each year group will be invited for further group and one-on-one mentoring during February. The six young people selected for mentorship will take part in a showcase event (virtual or in-person, depending on funding) at StAnza 2022.

We are looking for a freelance project manager to promote and facilitate Scotland’s Young Makars. The successful candidate will work closely with the StAnza Festival Director & Assistant Festival Director, from the beginning of November until April. The role will largely consist of home working, but occasional travel to St Andrews or Edinburgh may be required (travel expenses will be covered). The preferred candidate will be required to join the PVG Scheme or undergo a PVG Scheme update check.

The fee is £3500, and we anticipate the work requiring a total of 25 – 30 days.

Key responsibilities will include:

  • promoting Scotland’s Young Makars to schools and other organisations who work with young people;
  • programming and booking five poets for online workshops and mentoring;
  • facilitating these workshops and subsequent mentoring sessions;
  • assisting the lead tutor in sifting submissions to select young poets for mentoring;
  • organising an event at StAnza 2022, showcasing the poets who have been mentored, and inviting local schools to attend;
  • writing a report on the completed project and/or drafting a funding bid to support the viability of the project in years to come.

Person specification:

  • An active interest in and knowledge of contemporary poetry
  • Significant experience of arts project management
  • The ability to work on your own initiative and as part of a team
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Experience of managing budgets
  • Strong and demonstrable IT, administrative and organisational skills
  • Experience organising and facilitating events
  • Experience of working with young people

To apply, please submit a CV and a short covering letter (no more than 2 sides of A4) by midnight on Wednesday 20th October 2021. Applications should be sent via email to lucy.burnett@stanzapoetry.org. Interviews will be held via Zoom the following week. If you have any questions – or if we can assist in meeting any accessibility requirements you may have – please do get in touch.

Scotland's Young Makars is funded by Creative Scotland, Old Possum's Practical Trust and the Edwin Morgan Trust.

Categories: News

Kickstarting the StAnza festival planning season!

Monday 27 September 2021, 12:45

In order to both extend our own capacity, and also to provide opportunities for young people interested in working in the arts, StAnza has this year decided to take on two trainees through the government’s Kickstart programme! This programme covers the wages and expenses of candidates for a period of 6 months, and in return the candidate will gain work experience and skills, and mentoring and training from the StAnza team and beyond. StAnza has an excellent track record at developing volunteers who have used this experience as the foundation for careers in the arts. By becoming involved in the Kickstart scheme, StAnza aims to continue and extend this good work into 2022 and beyond.

Please do spread the word: see below for more details!

A group of roughly 15 people of different ages, smiling at the camera

Join our team!

Looking for a career in the arts, or know anyone who might be? StAnza currently has two trainee positions open for applications. These are run through the Kickstart programme, so are open to young people aged between 16 and 24 and on Universal Credit. We’ll be offering a range of internal and external training, offering a great leg-up into working in the arts!

 

Both contracts are for 25 hours a week for six months, starting as soon as possible. Trainees will largely be working from home, with some trips to St Andrews (travel expenses are covered).

 

If you know anyone eligible who you think might be interested, please pass the info and our website details (www.stanzapoetry.org) onto them – and if you’re keen yourself, then speak to your work coach to apply! StAnza can’t accept direct applications without a job centre referral.

StAnza – Scotland's International Poetry Festival, takes place each year in March in St Andrews, with roughly 100 events and exhibitions and 120 – 150 poets, writers and artists. After going digital in 2021, we are planning for StAnza 2022 (9 – 13 March) to be a live festival with an enhanced digital offering. Trainees will be a part of this exciting new phase in StAnza’s development.

As a trainee, you will gain insight into and experience of all aspects of arts administration and events management, from early planning in October through to the delivery of the festival in March. You’ll be part of a small, friendly team running one of Scotland’s flagmark cultural festivals!

Programming Assistant

Key activities will include:

  • Liaising with poets and artists about publicity material, contracts, travel and other festival arrangements
  • Assisting with keeping the StAnza database of festival participants up to date
  • Writing event blurbs for the festival programme
  • Proofreading event blurbs and author biographies
  • Drawing up event schedules
  • Events facilitation and introductions during the festival
  • Writing blog posts
  • Project managing an individual event
  • Social media

Candidates should have:

  • Strong organisational and administrative skills
  • Very good written and oral communication skills
  • Experience and working knowledge of Word and Excel
  • Working knowledge of digital comms platforms such as Zoom / Teams
  • Internet research skills
  • Enthusiasm for reading/literature or the arts
  • Able both to work within a small team and independently (working from home)
  • Good attention to detail
  • Friendly approach to working with a wide range of people
  • Time-management skills, and the ability to self-motivate
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Experience of working in a customer-facing environment
  • Desirable: Experience of organising (or assisting with organising) an event. (This could be in a personal capacity.)

Digital and Administrative Assistant (no longer open)

Key activities will include:

  • Liaising with and supporting our digital events consultant in the run-up to the festival
  • Updating our website, and supporting our web designer with development and archiving tasks
  • Data management and inputting
  • Drawing up event schedules for digital events, and liaising with participants
  • Providing support to poets who are filming themselves for events
  • Facilitating digital events during the festival, alongside our digital events consultant and theatre tech team
  • Project managing an individual digital event
  • Social media management
  • General digital / tech support

You may also assist colleagues with the following:

  • Liaising with poets and artists about publicity material, contracts, travel and other festival arrangements
  • Writing / proofreading event blurbs for the festival programme
  • Drawing up event schedules
  • Events introductions during the festival
  • Writing blog posts

Candidates should have (skills can have been acquired in a personal capacity):

  • Enthusiasm for digital media
  • Good all-round IT skills / conversant in IT issues
  • Basic knowledge of video and/or sound editing and production
  • Experience of managing/editing websites, ideally using WordPress
  • Working knowledge of digital platforms such as Zoom, Vimeo and Youtube
  • Confidence in learning to use new digital and IT platforms
  • Good written and oral communication skills
  • Experience and working knowledge of Word and Excel
  • Enthusiasm for reading/literature or the arts
  • Ability to both work within a small team and independently (working from home)
  • Friendly approach to working with a wide range of people
  • Time-management skills, and the ability to self-motivate
  • Experience of working in a customer-facing environment

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Categories: News

Brian Johnstone memorial event

Tuesday 21 September 2021, 14:59

Photo of a couple dancing

Photo: Polly Atkin

We are delighted to announce a celebration concert in honour of the late Brian Johnstone, renowned poet and former director of the StAnza, organised by Jean Johnstone.

The concert will feature readings from poets Rachael Boast and John Glenday. and will also showcase Brian’s love of jazz, classical and spiritual music from many places and times, featuring performances from Steve Gellatly, Louise Major and Richard Ingham, Alasdair Coles and Sarah Moerman.

The event will take place on Saturday 23 October from 5.30pm and will be accessible on the Music from St Andrews YouTube channel.

We hope you can join us online for what will be a joyous celebration of music and poetry in honour of Brian’s unique contribution to Scottish culture and the written word.

Categories: News

Stories like starting points!

Wednesday 1 September 2021, 14:41

Perhaps later than hoped (it’s been, ermmm, a busy summer), StAnza is delighted to announce our festival title for 2022: Stories like starting points – a line from a poem in Holly Pester’s Forward-shortlisted collection Comic Timing. The festival will explore the possibilities and pitfalls of narrative in poetry, and will feature poets who take a wide-ranging approach to the question of ‘stories’. Traditional narrative poems. Re-writings of old stories. New ways of telling previously unheard (or unlistened to) stories. And indeed those who contest the power of narrative and the stories we currently tell. To mark the launch of our theme, Don Paterson took the chance to catch up with new StAnza Festival Director Lucy Burnett to ask about her plans for the festival in the years ahead.

You can also hear more from Don and Lucy at a special StAnza preview event at Wigtown Book Festival on 1st October, talking all things poetry and narrative. Tickets available here.

Don Paterson

Photo: Murdo McLeod

DP – Hi Lucy! Stanza has obviously grown considerably in size and reputation over the years under Eleanor Livingstone’s expert stewardship (and that, of course, of the great ‘tache himself, our dearly missed friend Brian Johnstone). I’d be very keen to hear about your own vision – what direction do you see the festival taking now? Will the rather different world we’re waking up to post-pandemic offer some unexpected opportunities?

 

LB – Hi Don! Well, I've certainly got big shoes to fill... I wonder whether Brian ever imagined that StAnza would endure this long, and successfully, when he organised the first festival with Anna Crowe and Gavin Bowd 25 years ago? What a fabulous legacy he has left us. And Eleanor? What can I say? She has achieved a vast amount in the last 16 years with StAnza, not least in developing the festival’s international profile. As great as it was to see the Scottish football team perform at the Euros this summer, Scottish poetry – through StAnza –  regularly features at the European poetry top table.

 

Joking aside, my own vision for the festival involves framing it as an ‘intervention’ in poetry. StAnza has become known for both its Scottishness and internationalism. I plan to build on this, by directing the festival towards exploring cutting edge issues relating both to the form of poetry itself, and also its relationship with the wider world. I’d like StAnza to become a festival which anyone interested in reading or writing poetry believes they can’t miss, or indeed anyone who might be interested in poetry – I've long believed that ambition and inclusivity can go hand-in-hand with the right approach (participation is key). In terms of the pandemic, one thing we’ve all learnt is the potential of digital and virtual events. We can't wait (please join us in crossing everything) to welcome people back to St Andrews for a real, live festival next year, but we also plan to livestream about 25 events (in and out) through a hybrid format, and to export a StAnza Stravaiging showreel to overseas events and diaspora communities. Last year we had our first ever audience member from Ghana, and there are obvious possibilities for programming international poets who wouldn’t previously have been able to attend in person. In other words, StAnza has the potential to become even more international than previously.

 

DP – Can you say a little more about the specific kind of thing this idea of ‘intervention’ might accommodate, Lucy? I’m sensing that it’ll afford you the opportunity to showcase certain artists, take certain collaborative approaches, stage types of event that Stanza hasn’t previously tried? Do you see this as an opportunity to recruit new audiences to poetry? What sort of continuity will the new approach have with the longer Stanza tradition?

 

Lucy Burnett in a grey v-neck jumper and jeans, standing against a black background

Photo: Rob Crampton

LB – I guess it’s more the angle I plan to take on things, rather than different things, necessarily. More of an exploratory turn. Viewing poetry as dynamic, and shifting. StAnza’s title for 2022 is Stories like starting points (a line from a poem in Holly Pester's Forward shortlisted Comic Timing). Until now, StAnza’s tended to describe itself as celebrating its themes, but I’m more interested in a more open-ended approach. This year the festival will explore the role of narrative in contemporary poetry. Our programming will take a wide-reaching approach to this, to include narrative poetry for sure, but also seeking out new ways of telling unheard stories, of re-writing existing stories, and also of contesting the dominance of the stories we traditionally tell and how we tell them. The current raft of StAnza strands already provides a really good platform for this approach, but I’ve also got new ideas, including a 'debate' strand (I’m really excited about the two writers I’m hoping to programme for 2022) and the use of a cutting-edge new venue alongside the Byre for events traversing artistic boundaries between performance, music and poetry (I’ve always loved genre-bending work).

 

For 2023 I’ve got an idea for a project called The Poetry Gallery, and I’m planning for the 2023 programme to focus upon poetic interventions on the environment. Our hybrid turn, meanwhile, provides an opportunity for these ‘interventions’ and discussions to occur on an even more international stage.

 

New audiences? Absolutely. Both within Scotland and further afield. Poetry has had a bit of a resurgence in popularity as of late, and I’d like to help sustain that. When I worked as a University Creative Writing lecturer I became accustomed to first year students’ annual complaint: 'but I just don't get poetry!' I’m sure you can imagine how much it became my mission to convert them (in my experience, the leap between getting and not-getting poetry isn’t huge, and relates to how we expect to read and experience it). In terms of enabling new audiences, I’ve got two programmes planned for 2021 / 22 (funding permitting). Scotland’s Young Makars will provide for budding poets of secondary school age across Scotland through a series of online webinars, as well as further group and 1-1 mentoring for the most promising writers. Well-versed will offer a monthly zoom conversation between me and a festival poet plus further reading resources to encourage the development of poetry reading groups across the country. By reframing the festival, I also hope to better capture its dynamism: to let people know that this is something exciting of which they'd like to be a part (in fact, they mustn’t miss…) We’re hoping to work with a wide range of partners to promote these projects, particularly in areas of lower existing artistic opportunity.

 

So yes, there are definitely changes afoot, but I've no intention of abandoning the StAnza tradition. In fact, StAnza is already one of the more exploratory festivals; what I'm doing is simply communicating this more overtly. And the festival will certainly feel very familiar to those attending: in St Andrews, with the Byre as our key hub, retaining the popular event strands... And many of my ‘new’ programmes are actually extensions of work which we’ve already undertaken already for many years, albeit on a more local level. I’m also very attentive to maintaining StAnza’s sense of community and playfulness. I might have ‘big ideas’, but underpinning this is a commitment to being friendly, inclusive and welcoming. Only yesterday me and my colleague were discussing a festival 'cake pass', entitling attendees to a slice of cake every day of the festival, which has been rather trending on twitter. Apparently the StAnza community approves!

 

DP – Definitely put me down for a cake pass. Two cake passes ... Have you considered just twanging the poetry and making it a festival of cake? There’s a lot to get excited about there – I hope you can pull it all off … A practical question – how can folk get involved, both in the run-up to the festival and during StAnza itself? Do you have any plans to involve St Andrews students and staff? I always felt this was a slightly underutilised resource, and that Stanza was very well positioned as a town-and-gown intersection. I certainly wished we could have done more on the University side.

 

LB – Fantastic. Who knew that my new post was actually a cypher for a bakery franchise?!

 

How to get involved? If you’re a poet, and you think your writing offers something interesting to our festival focus, then we’d love to hear from you! (Apologies about not releasing the theme earlier. It had been my intention, but I’ve had *ahem* a rather busy summer learning the ropes!) If you love poetry – well, you simply have to come to the festival for fear of missing out! If you hate poetry – come to the festival, and be open to us convincing you!

 

StAnza is also hugely reliant on volunteers – I can’t overstate their value to the festival (and indeed how much I value them personally). A key moment in my own development as a poet was meeting Ali Smith while volunteering as a bus conductor at a literary festival in York. She was subsequently really supportive, and I know that many StAnza volunteers have equally found the festival a crucial stepping-stone in their work as a poet, or in the arts industry. To date, our key voluntary roles have involved our board of trustees, a committee of long-term volunteers who assist with programming and festival development, and a team of volunteers who help out during the festival itself. I’m particularly keen to extend our year-round volunteering opportunities – and yes, this offers particular potential to those at St Andrews University. We’ve had lots of amazing student volunteers over the years, and we’ve recently recruited another one (Lauren) who is already doing amazing work in spreading the word. StAnza as the hyphens between town-and-gown? I’d like that. I’m also planning on organising our first ever volunteer day next summer, to both recognise voluntary efforts, and offer training and support.

 

If you’d like to volunteer – please do get in touch and let us know what interests you, and we’ll try and find a role to suit. We’re as keen to support our volunteer’s own development as we are in extending our own capacity.

 

DP – Of course there’s probably a higher ratio of practitioners to punters at poetry festivals than at any other kind of festival, so there’s always great interest in the workshop / meet the author / masterclass side of things. Is this something you’re keen to develop?

 

LB – That’s an interesting point – you’ve got me thinking of examples to prove you wrong, but I’m struggling! Of course, it’s well-known that more people write poetry than read it, so the above follows. Again, rather than introducing more such events (there are already a significant number), I’m keen to look at what opportunities there are for people to participate right across the festival. The notion of the festival being dynamic, and an intervention, requires that people feel like they have a voice in things, no matter whether they are Simon Armitage or a first-time poetry festival attendee. Yet I don’t want every event to become a discussion panel either…

 

I’m planning to look at every event strand in turn and to ask what stake the audience has in it, and how they can engage in a more-than-passive manner. To provide one small example, I intend to encourage those poets reading at the festival to engage with the festival focus in their between-poem chat – to speak of their own poetics, and their own take on narrative and storytelling (in this year’s case). My aim is that by encouraging discussion and debate about poetics in this way, those audience members who are practitioners will be encouraged to ask similar questions about their own work, and to discuss these ideas in the informal but equally important sessions over a bowl of soup at lunch!

 

I should add here that there’s going to be nothing about the festival which enforces or makes you feel obliged to take part. If you want to sit quietly and watch some poetry, and then slink off to think about it on your own on the harbour walls, then that’s fine too – I’ve just had shivers go down my spine in memory of enforced group activities at Guide camp!

 

DP – Are there any international festivals you particularly admire, Lucy – and if so, what new ideas or approaches might you want to import? Are there certain festivals with whom you’d like to deepen ties or share events?

 

LB – Ooooo, great question. And one where I need to answer humbly, and respond that my knowledge of overseas poetry festivals, at this point in time, is actually fairly limited. The opportunity to find out more about them, and to actively participate in the network of European Poetry Festival organisers is one of the things I’m particularly excited about. I know that I have lots to learn!

 

DP – It’s clearly going to be a while before everything is fully in-person, but maybe the age of the simultaneous online event is here to stay – how do you feel about this? One senses the likes of the Edinburgh International Book Festival will incorporate this permanently into its programming – might StAnza go down the same route? If you do, are there any new opportunities for poetry there?

 

LB – Yes, for sure. I fully envisage StAnza 2022 as a hybrid event. I think it would probably be daft not to go down this route, especially following StAnza doing so well in a virtual format last year (we won the Saboteur Award for Best UK Literature Festival). But I think the challenge is going to be finding the right balance, and timing it right. I sense (perhaps I’m only speaking for myself) a bit of zoom fatigue at the mo; but we are also not yet in a place where confidence to attend live events has returned. Yet I’m certain that, in time, this will settle down, and it’s great to see the Edinburgh International Book Festival really taking the lead in this regard. We’ve already learnt a lot from watching how they’ve gone about it.

 

The opportunities of a hybrid festival are numerous. It will enable us to programme poets who we would never have been able to otherwise, and in a much more environmental way! StAnza doesn’t have enough budget to pay for international travel, so in the past we have taken advantage of poets already being in the UK / on tour, or those poets who have received the support of their embassy / national institute. Now when it comes to programming? I feel like a cookie monster with a big jar of…Oh dear, I’m back to the topic of cake again, aren’t I? In terms of opportunities for poetry, the online platform provides fabulous opportunities for different national poetry traditions to cross-pollinate. Even within an English-speaking context, the US has such a different tradition to the UK, before we even begin to explore traditions in other languages, and traditions within traditions. It’s a great chance to shake things up a bit – to be both challenged by other ways of going about things, while also perhaps forging traditions across boundaries. Personally speaking, as someone who has been influenced more by American writers than British ones, I’m really excited to see what happens now.

 

Of course, there are also benefits in terms of audience numbers and range. At StAnza 2021 we had attendees from the world over, and in 2022 we plan to offer a digital ticket which will continue to enable us to attract international audiences, while we hope to export our StAnza Stravaiging showreel overseas (perhaps to Canada and New Zealand in the first instance). Yet this isn’t just about getting more people through the virtual door, and selling more tickets. It’s also about enabling more people to engage in an international community of poetry and poets, including those who might not otherwise be able to attend for reasons of geography (including Scottish geography), financial means or disability.

 

DP – If I can ask a more personal question – of course you’re also a poet and photographer, with a strong interest in landscape; what do you see the job (and maybe the notoriously seductive light of the Fife coast) bringing to your own practice? Or are you as terrified that it might stop your own writing dead in its tracks as I’d be?

 

LB – Haha, hilarious! For sure, this is something I considered at some length when offered the job. And yes, I do think that this role will slow my writing output. But, having had four books published in the last 8 years with Carcanet, Guillemot and Knives Forks & Spoons presses, I’m comfortable with that. Don’t us poetry tutors always bang on about the importance of reading? I’m honestly fascinated to see how the additional poetry reading and listening that I’ll inevitably do as part of this role will change my own practice. I’ve got my own poetry preferences, as we all do. Yet I’m committed to the fullest range of poetry programming for StAnza, to encompass the entire (increasingly kaleidoscopic) range of the form. So I’ll inevitably have my prejudices challenged – and I say, bring it on!

 

Perhaps it’s also been a good thing that, thus far, I’ve had another project on the go to which I’m committed (I received significant public funding for it) called Scree. This project has ensured that, no matter how big the StAnza workload might be, I have had to maintain my own poetry and photography practice. This said, there have been times this year where there’s been so much going on in my head with two big parallel projects that I felt like bits of it were falling off! (fear not, I’ve since built scaffolding). My own next big writing project is actually likely to be prose, interestingly enough – a book about a fateful year I spent potato farming in Spain. Perhaps that’s healthy, in order to get my head out of the poetry zone. And photography / Fife light? Funnily enough, I spent an intense three days up in St Andrews the other week doing a recce of venues, plus lots of meetings. I optimistically packed my pro camera kit in my bag on day 1, imagining that I’d get a few moments to frame some images of the sea. Suffice to say, the camera (all 15kg of it) stayed in my campervan on days 2 and 3! But I’ve already pencilled in heading back up to St Andrews on some suitably atmospheric day to take photos for our new website-in-progress, and can’t wait to be seduced by it, as of course I continue to be by StAnza, over the coming years.

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