Body of Poetry: StAnza Festival through the Senses

Sunday 6 March 2016

This year at StAnza we’re thinking about bodies, both literal and metaphorical, and how we can interact with poetry using all five senses. At our Poetry Breakfast yesterday morning, the panelists delved into the topic of bodies and how we represent them, discussing topics ranging from how we write our personal, physical experiences, as in the moving poetry of Clare Best and Andrew McMillan, to how one can ethically write the bodily experiences of others.

Clare Best. Photo: (c) Derek Adams

As I listened intently to the lively discussion, I sipped a strong coffee, bit into the flaky pastry, coating my fingers with sugar. I began to think about how StAnza has offered up a multisensory experience, from the smells of the Poet-Perfumer in Residence Rebecca Sharp, to the poetry tattoos that poets and festival goers have used to decorate their skin. There’s something for everybody (See what I did there? It’s day five of the festival so I’m allowed to delight in bad puns) and I’ve been reflecting on all I’ve seen, felt and, yes, smelled over the course of the festival. 

Let’s start with sight. The quintessential StAnza sight for me is that of people mingling in the Byre Theatre foyer or crowding around in the café bar, listening to a Friday night Open Mic led by Jim Carruth. It's the sight of the digital installations throughout the Byre Theatre, the film screenings and the children's artwork dotting the walls. But it’s also the sight of award-winning poets from across the globe spotlighted on Centre Stage, captivating us with passion, words and humor. Poets like the vibrant and vital Lemn Sissay or the lyrical and sharply witted Don Paterson. I particularly enjoyed seeing Jemima Foxtrot’s one-woman show Melody, as she enthralled the audience at Poetry Café with affecting words, movement and song.

Lemn Sissay. Photo: (c) James Ross

StAnza allows us to hear these poets reading their work and to voice their ideas about it. It’s about many languages intermingling, such as at Anna Crowe, Don Paterson, Odile Kennel and Michael Donhauser’s VERSschumuggel reading in English and in German. It’s about listening to the playful and catchy instrumentation of musicians like Phillip Scholtz who accompanied the fantastic poet Nora Gomringer. Or hearing the voices of the crowd in the Byre Foyer during the collective reading in support of refugees. As I read a poem aloud, I heard my own voice weaving together with the voices of those around me. It was a special moment at the festival.

StAnza 2016 has also engaged with our sense of smell. Poet-Perfumer in Residence Rebecca Sharp has created a fantastic installation at the Preservation Trust that matches oil perfume blends with poetry. I liked the pairing of the light, lavender smell with the poem John Damian leapt with feathers and the musky, sandalwood smell paired with Distil with a raven. I imagined that creating a perfume must be a bit like creating a poem: blending known things into an unknown combination. A bit more of this, a touch more of that. Until the balance is just right.

The festival is winding down but there’s still plenty more to come. Tonight’s Centre Stage poets are Pascale Petit and Sean O’Brien. Happy final day of the festival everyone! Hope your experiences at StAnza have looked, smelled and tasted delightful.

By Carly Brown, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2016