Friday at StAnza: the halfway mark & pacing yourself at the festival

Saturday 4 March 2017

StAnza 2017

Just a pretty picture of St Andrews...

After so much talk yesterday about how to pace yourself at the festival, I actually followed my own advice, and had quite a relaxed Friday at StAnza. It’s the middle point of the festival, which makes it the perfect point to take it easy, soak up conversation in the Byre, and recharge my batteries ready for a packed weekend. 

Of course, all things are relative, and my ‘relaxed Friday’ still saw me attending four events, plus tuning in to the live tweeting that was happening during Poetry Breakfast – while I was holed up in a café with an enormous latte, writing Thursday’s blog post. (The only downside to StAnza is that it’s so packed full of wonderful events, I have to be very strict on myself to wrangle a moment or two to write.)

So, fuelled by caffeine and curiosity, I headed to the Town Hall for the Society of Authors event, ‘Making a Living as a Poet’. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this event – but any event that pairs poetry with the ability to make a living is like a rare jewel, so it didn’t seem like one to miss. 

Chaired by Ken Cockburn, poets Sarah Heskith and Harry Giles talked about ways to make poetry pay – although, as Harry qualified, ‘You can make a living from poetry, but it’s a crap living.’ 

The overwhelming advice seemed to be about going out and finding your own work, rather than waiting for the work to come to you. Create your own residencies, live somewhere where the rent is cheap, turn up to things, meet interesting people, meet deadlines, be a nice person to work with, say yes to opportunities. You may not be able to get a full-time job just making art, but (as Harry Giles made clear), you can stitch together enough arts jobs to almost make a living. There’s an uncertainty to being an artist and trying to exist solely on arts-related jobs, but both writers made it clear that (for them) this was something they preferred to working in a non-arts job in order to support their writing. 

StAnza 2017

StAnza 2017

Uncertainty was a topic that seemed to keep on cropping up today (along with Gogglebox and Blind Date – but who said all conversations at poetry festivals had to be intellectual?). I had a really interesting conversation with a poet over lunch time about how uncertainty is always portrayed as a negative, and yet it’s much more useful to see it as possibility. 

In fact, I spent so much time having interesting conversations with people in the Byre bar, that the next event I made it to was the Poems Aloud University Library Recitation Competition. Twelve students from the University of St Andrews recited poems by poets who are at StAnza this year, and the thought of all the effort that had gone into the learning of the poems, and which went into their performances, was enough to leave me needing a rest by the end of it! 

Poems Aloud led almost straight into Five O’Clock Verses, today with Aurelia Lassaque and Sasha Dugdale. 

Having heard Aurelia sing at the festival launch, I was excited at the chance to hear her again. Writing in French and Occitan, Aurelia Lassaque’s lilting, travelling melodies carried over into the music of her spoken poetry. Her poetry (read in translation by StAnza’s own Annie Rutherford) became a cradle in which the audience rocked. 

The spell cast by Aurelia Lassaque continued to be cast by Sasha Dugdale. One phrase that stood out to me was ‘crow-pocked wind’, not just because of the music of its sounds, all existing like a breath exhaled at the front of the mouth, but also because it tied in with something Alice Oswald said on Thursday, about poetry that has movement, and a wind blowing through it. 
This idea of movement is something that continued into the evening, with Jacques Darras and Kathleen Jamie at Poetry Centre Stage. 

As Jacques Darras said, ‘To be a poet is to sit on an armchair to write about movement. To read a poem is like sitting on that chair that has just been left vacant by the poet.’ Sitting in the armchairs of the Byre Studio Theatre, watching the event being live screened from the auditorium, it was as though both poets were speaking directly to me, curled up in the dark box of the Studio: Jacques Darras’ rhythmic energy and Kathleen Jamie’s soft measures speaking directly into my head. As at Five O’Clock Verses, at one point I felt as though I was rocking gently in a boat, surrounded by a sea of poetry. 

Continuing my theme of a relaxing middle day at StAnza, I left before the open mic night really got underway in the Byre bar. Instead, I went back to the guest house, where I fell asleep to the sound of the rain, beating like consonants on the roof. 

By Katie Hale, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2017