Another Place: Thursday Reflections

Friday 8 March 2019

One of the themes of our festival this year is ‘Another Place.’ And because there was so much to see yesterday and I am but one blogger (who cannot be in every place at once!) I chatted with Helena Fornells who designed and led the morning poetry walk inspired by the festival theme, finding locations around the town of St Andrews that had connections with other countries. Under a gray sky (but thankfully no rain!), she took participants around the town yesterday, leading them, for example, to a site on Market Street where a Bohemian Marytr Pavel Kravar was accused of spreading heretical ideas and burned at the stake, and reading a poem by a contemporary Czech poet Tereza Riedlbauchova. Helena also informed me that apparently Borges was in St Andrews in the 1970’s, visiting Alistair Reid, and there is a myth that, when he was here, he quoted from The Seafarer, or lines from Beowolf, directly to the North Sea. In honor of this, she took her participants to the pier and read from ‘Borges on the Wall’ by Chris Jones.


Even if you weren’t able to join Helena on her walk, I would highly recommend (for those in town) for you to take a stroll down to the pier and look back at St Andrews. It is my favorite view and the one that made me first fall in love with the town. Perhaps you could even quote some lines out to the sea, if you feel so inclined!


My own day started with my Poetry Café event with Joe with the Glasses. I am not going to lie – while I was really looking forward to performing and seeing Joe perform as well, I was also quite excited about the pies. Stuarts of Buckhaven provide the most delicious pies (macaroni is my preference) for these events. A fed audience is a happy audience and yesterday was no different. Joe and I performed to a very full room and the audience was a really supportive and responsive one. Joe and I both hail from another place – the USA – and while our styles are different, both of us explored themes of growing up and our relationship with the country we left behind when we both moved to Scotland.


I have always found that leaving behind a place makes us reflect on it all the more. And then of course - when and if you return - you often see it with new eyes. Yesterday I shared a humorous poem reflecting on my experience of Abstinence Only Sex Education that I experienced in Texas public schools (I didn’t know how bizarre this sort of 'education' was until I left Texas). Joe’s poetry is lyrical and poignant, often reflecting on how to best represent and reflect the culture that he left behind, the racism and violence present in the US. I have to thank StAnza for pairing us up because not only do I hugely admire Joe’s work, but I think we were a good match. There was plenty of variety between us, but also many parallels: both of us bring a sense of theatricality and energy to our delivery and both of us reflect, in different ways, on what it is to be a poet, and a person, living in ‘another place’.


The evening’s Centre Stage readings took us to yet more places, this time mythological. While I always enjoy the Centre Stage readings, I have to say that A.E. Stallings’ reading last night was one of my favorites I’ve ever seen. Towards the start of her reading, she led us down into the dark depths of the underworld with her poem ‘Hades Welcomes His Bride’, to the land where sight is a ‘lesser sense’ and the young bride must learn ‘directions through your fingertips’ (‘Poets love the story of Hades and Persephone,’ she remarked before the poem. ‘It is our favorite’). I could go on and on about this and her other poems, but basically Stallings’ reading was brilliant. I would also particularly recommend checking out her poem ‘Like’ which, she told us, tries to reclaim the word ‘like’ - such an overused word in our everyday conversations - ‘for the poets’. And why not? It is, she reminded us, at the heart of the simile.


The final poet of the evening was John Burnside, a local favorite of international renown. Burnside’s work often deals with place (I think of his novel The Summer of Drowning and the eerie, Arctic Circle setting of perpetual brightness). He shared with us a lot of wonderful new work, but one poem that stands out to me is a sweet and tender one called ‘Studio Weather’, which explored how seeing a familiar place through his son’s eyes made him look at it in a new way.


The day ended, as so many StAnza evenings do, with jazz music, wine and conversation in one of my personal favorite places, the Byre Theatre, and we went home at closing time with the promise of more amazing poetry to come.


- Carly Brown, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2019