DURA @StAnza21: Chuckles & Poetry

Saturday 13 March 2021

When I was asked to blog about a day at StAnza, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. Would it be a day of excitement and fun, or a day stuffed to the brim with boring lectures?

Well, it certainly didn’t start out with any of the latter. The first event, Poets at Home, was hosted by Caroline Bird, who shared the faces she makes when writing. As someone who can positively devour YouTube videos, I was delighted by the video recorded in Bird’s home office. The poet was funny and relatable, and I found myself chuckling more than once. Afterwards, I spent thirty automatic seconds looking for the like button, so reminiscent had the video been of a lazy afternoon spent with my favourite YouTubers.

Bird was followed by Mhairi Owens in something called an Inspire Session. It only lasted ten minutes, and while I appreciated the concept – we can all use a bit of inspiration every once in a while – I found myself disappointed by the impersonality of it. Every day StAnza releases a different poet’s top tips for writing, provided as either a short video or a sound clip. I got the latter, and the voice on a computer was a reminder for me of our current world of social distancing.

Thankfully, this feeling only lasted until the next event: Poetry Café with Ink Asher Hemp, whose video offered a more personal relationship with the poet. Hemp’s poem, dealing with our current environmental crisis, was as uncomfortable as it was lovely – a reminder of the responsibility we’d all prefer to forget about. 

This was followed by a Round Table with Indian poet Tishani Doshi along with the realisation that I shouldn’t have waited until the last moment to buy the ticket. Oops.

Thankfully, I didn’t need a ticket to call in during Dial-a-Poem, which turned out to be exactly what it sounds like. I called a number, and a very pleasant lady asked me if I wanted an option of themes to pick between. Amused, I said yes, and soon I was listening to the poem ‘Job of Paradise’ by Roger Robertson, read to me on a one-on-one basis. Talk about making poetry personable despite the distance. Dial-a-Poem might’ve been my favourite part of StAnza so far (competing with the delightful Caroline Bird).

The event took less than five minutes (though I could, of course, have asked for a second poem), which meant that I was only a few minutes late for my next event of the day: Poetry Centre Stage with Michael Grieve and Mona Kareem. There was something incredibly meditative about being read poem after poem, and I quickly stopped worrying about analysing them – instead I simply lay back, closed my eyes, and allowed the words to flow over me – a rejuvenating experience during that dreaded exam period.

Another read-out-loud poetry experience was given during the Past & Present event, a crossover between StAnza and the New Caribbean Voices podcast. Both the poems and discussions they produced were interesting and thought-provoking. However, I found the audio clip again ruined the illusion that I was part of the discussion and not merely eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation.

Past & Present was followed by the Poetry Centre Stage with Jericho Brown and Jonathan Edwards. I was looking forward to Edwards (whose poetry I knew), but if I’d known what I was in for, I would’ve been less indifferent to Brown. Not only were his poems fantastic, but he also knew how to read them – how to use his voice to make them even more potent than on paper.

Finally, I came to my first and only Zoom session of the day – a spoken word live webcast named Risk a Verse. This was far from my first spoken word experience (though my first online one), but I admit that I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I would’ve liked. Not because of the poems, which were lovely, but because I’d spent an entire day being filled to the brim with poetry – there was simply no room left.

This also caused me to fail to appreciate the goodnight poems in Between the Covers by Sheila Templeton, and I suppose that one good thing about doing StAnza online is that I can simply listen to them again tomorrow – with a fresh mind and a newfound appreciation.

Overall, I was impressed with this year’s StAnza. It couldn’t have been easy to make such a social event take place entirely online, but they did a remarkable job.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but today was a day of relaxation, chuckles, and poetry.

Maria Sjöstrand