Colin Waters from the Scottish Poetry Library shares news from the library.
Has it been a year since the last StAnza? It seems like yesterday…and a decade, the temporal equivalent of the famous shot in Hitchcock’s Vertigo where the camera zooms in while tracking out. As I recall it, news of the oncoming pandemic was bearing down hard on StAnza last year as it took place, which led to the Library reluctantly cancelling its trip up to St Andrews and an interview we planned to record for our podcast.
Since then, many of us have discovered the joys of video-conferencing and online readings. The show will go on! The return of StAnza as we leave the season of Covid hell is like a dove reappearing with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. We at the SPL are looking forward to tuning into an irresistible line-up of fresh talent and mature voices.
It’s been a heck of a year for the SPL too, as you can imagine. In common with every arts organisation in Scotland, we faced the dilemma of how to continue our services when the heart of our business – our building, where our collection is housed and our events are staged – was out of bounds. So, we evolved.
In terms of borrowing, we now offer a ‘click and collect service’, where borrowers, after consulting our catalogue, which can be accessed by our website, call or email us to say which titles they’d like. After that, they can come down to the Library in person, where a member of staff will safely hand them their books at the entrance. We also offer free postal loans.
We recently invested in a new website to better present digital content. As a result we were able to adapt more agilely to lockdown through the commissioning of films and online activity that can be accessed at home and in the classroom. With live events not possible, we looked into how we could share poetry with our audience, particularly on significant dates on the poetry calendar. For National Poetry Day, we filmed John Hegley in the Library reading his work and speaking with fellow poet Michael Pedersen. As the year ended, we filmed a 30-minute introduction to the Library, its work and history, featuring poets Louise Peterkin and R.J. Arkhipov, and hosted by Saltire Prize-winner Janette Ayachi, who turned out to be a natural (BBC Scotland, hire her now!).
For Burns Night, we commissioned three pieces featuring Dundee’s Morgan Academy, writer and presenter Alistair Heather and Scots language advocate Lennie Pennie reading Burns poems. We also commissioned a series of short films featuring James Robertson and Sheena Blackhall, two of Scotland’s leading proponents of Scots language. In conversation with Alistair Heather, the poets selected and shared favourite children’s poems that they think young people and teachers would enjoy as much as they do. Finally, our film Pass the Mic, hosted by Vic Galloway and featuring performances by Courtney Stoddart, Victoria McNulty and Kevin Gilday, was a joyous ‘virtual ceildh’. Supported by the Scottish Government, it was produced by the Scottish Poetry Library as part of the Robert Burns and Winter Festivals cultural programme.
We placed these films on our website, YouTube and all the places you would expect – and have had an astonishing response. The 30 minute film of Sheena Blackhall talking about children’s poems in Scots has been watched all the way through over by 8,000 people and ‘reached’ another 50,000 via Facebook alone. When in pre-pandemic days we held events in the building, at best we could contain an audience of 60 people. Video and social media have opened up opportunities for connecting audiences with poetry. Hell of a way to find out just how effective, sure, but once the world opens up again, we anticipate continuing to work on video, although of course we’ll also be looking forward to staging our first live events. I’m sure StAnza is also relishing the thought also of a return to safe in-person events. The world is waking up and there is no better place to be (virtually this year) than StAnza.
Gillian Dawson of St Mungo's Mirrorball looks forward to some highlights at StAnza.
Our One Drives are prompting us to ‘Relive this Day’ in years past with photos of Jannetta’s ice cream cones held against blue skies, snowdrops and snow, and always the Byre, bookshops, streets, cafés packed with poets. Although we’ll miss the frisson of St Andrews this time, we’re looking forward to immersing ourselves, virtually, in StAnza 2021 on the banks of the Clyde.
St Mungo’s Mirrorball, the Glasgow network of poets and poetry lovers, have always had strong links with the festival as partners, participants and audience members and this year’s online programme is no different with an enticing line up of poets and poetry events, many featuring Mirrorball members. Here are our hot picks of the week to come:
A highlight of StAnza is the Risk a Verse open mic. This year’s open mic is a joint StAnza–St Mungo’s Mirrorball live webcast on Friday 12th March, 9-10pm which poet, writer, editor and Mirrorball member, Sam Tongue will MC on Zoom. Dust off a poem, limber up your lips and tongue and come along for the ride. The Festival Café will be also open as a separate social room if you want to chill out.
2020 marked the beginning of Mirrorball’s partnership with the Edwin Morgan Trust. The inaugural Scots Makar, a Glasgow-based poet with an international view, Edwin Morgan is close to our hearts and we were excited to launch Clydebuilt 13, the 13th year of our innovative verse apprenticeship scheme as part of the #EdwinMorgan100 celebrations. We’re sure you’ll be delighted as we are to find these Edwin Morgan events in this year’s StAnza programme:
- Past & Present: Edwin Morgan – Tuesday 9th, 6.30-7.15pm – A StAnza/Free Vers(e) podcast on queer poetry and history discussing all things Edwin Morgan: what’s not to love?
- Poetry Centre Stage: Mona Kareem, Michael Grieve – Friday 12th, 5-6pm – Edwin Morgan Poetry Award 2020 shortlisted poet, Michael Grieve reads.
- Concrete Scotland – Saturday 6th–Wednesday 10th – A feast your eyes and synapses, this Digital Installation including examples of Edwin Morgan’s first concrete poetry.
If you’re looking for some top tips from some great poets, look no further than the Inspire Sessions, 12.00–12.10pm each day. We’ll have our notebooks at the ready for writing hints from these Mirrorballers:
- John Glenday – Monday 8th – Unmissable, encouragement and advice from an award-winning poet and mentor.
- Gerry Cambridge – Wednesday 10th – Poet and editor of The Dark Horse shares how favourite poets have influenced his writing.
- Mhairi Owens – Friday 12th – The first poet writing in Scots to win the main prize in the Wigtown Poetry Competition shares how making mayonnaise might help writing poetry… we’re intrigued!
- Shehzar Doja – Saturday 13th – Find your creative spark with prompts from poet and editor of The Luxembourg Review.
Between the Covers audio readings: if there’s a more relaxing way to untether from the stresses of the day and float away than listening to poetry, we can’t think of one. Two more Mirrorball members to help round off your day, thanks to StAnza:
- Larry Butler – Thursday 11th, 10-10.15pm – Unwind with playful poetry, hopeful poetry, contemplative poetry from teacher of tai chi, trainer of wellbeing practitioners and poet.
- Sheila Templeton – Friday 12th, 10-10.15pm – Four times winner of the James McCash Scots Language Competion, Sheila promises to read in her best bed-time-story voice: prepare to be soothed by her melodic poems in Scots and English.
One of the pleasures of StAnza is the Poetry Market, so many tempting books and pamphlets to take home to add to that teetering pile on your bedside table. It’s such a relief to see there will be a virtual Poetry Market on Sunday 14th, 2.30-3.15pm, a Breakout Room Zoom to browse and speak to publishers and stall holders, the chance of a serendipitous purchase which becomes a life-long favourite.
Like StAnza, St Mungo’s Mirrorball has gone digital. We continue to run monthly poetry Showcase events on Zoom which allows us to connect with poets and poetry lovers much further afield than was otherwise possible.
To consider Clive Birnie as a poet or an artist might be unnecessarily limiting. Both his artistic and written talent are on show in Palimpsest, the eighth of an experimental sequence of writing, whose vibrant aesthetics are indicative of his sincere love for visual art forms. Birnie’s previous endeavours include Cutting Up the Economist and Hashtagpoetry#: The Hidden Poetry of Twitter, Cut up, Painted and Posted to Instagram. In this poetry pamphlet palimpsest appears in two guises, as an innovative creative technique, and the name of a mystifying protagonist; Birnie borrows words from other works, and uses a sequence of poems to tell the story of Palimpsest – a revenge murderer.
Welcome to the world.
cut the problem small
take shortcuts wherever possible.
The story unfolds unwillingly in a matter of thirty poems. Each untitled poem is created from scraps of other texts, and builds to a commentary on the spontaneous yet restrictive contemporary world, following a perplexing and bewildering story that often leaves any true sense of plot to the reader’s own calculations. Matching the distorted style, is the narrative perspective, shifting as it does between first and third person.
A protagonist who touches on dark topics with the lightest of hands, turns a story of murder into a lively social commentary – this is the pronounced matrix at the heart of Palimpsest....
Morag Smith from the Glasgow Women's Library looks forwrad to her highlights at StAnza.
I’m national development worker for Glasgow Women’s Library and a big fan of Stanza so it’s a pleasure to be asked to contribute to the festival blog. GWL champions the work and lives of women poets and writers past and present, so I’m excited to see so many great events focusing on women.
I’ve recently been reading the selected poems of Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye (Words Under the Words, selected poems). GWL staff frequently read from Naomi’s work in workshops and Story Cafe events so I’ll be making sure to catch her and Tim Liardet on Tuesday 9th March.
I’m also looking forward to hearing Tishani Doshi, the Welsh-Gujurati poet, reading live on Friday 12th March. Tishani’s poem 'Girls are Coming Out of the Woods' blew me away when I first read it and her collection of the same name was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes award.
Another little box of treats I’m signing up for are Stanza’s Poets at Home series of short 15 minute films which run throughout the festival. They are perfect for my lockdown attention span and I can easily fit them into my day – I’m especially looking forward to Ella Frears on Monday 8th March (1730 to 1745). I saw Ella read just a few weeks ago at the T.S. Elliot awards – her energetically present poetry is dark, humorous, beautifully written and touches on many things including sexual politics, womanhood and girlhood.
We work with many volunteers at GWL, so I asked Jo one of our volunteers who is also a keen poet and writer, for her Stanza recommendations and she picked out these two sessions:
I love the idea of listening to meditation and readings in the morning, especially at its later start of 10.30 and gently be eased into feeling you’ve been active while extending your relaxing Sunday morning.
I love this idea of becoming inspired in 10 mins, that you can then take creatively into your own poetic practise, or inject excitement into your conversations through the week!
If you start getting withdrawal symptoms when Stanza is over, have a look at some of GWL’s exciting online literary events coming up in the near future. Our online Story Cafes are a chance to draw up your chair, sit back and relax while listening to readings of poetry, fiction and non-fiction by GWL staff and volunteers from a wide range of women writers. You can take part in the zoom chat and ask questions or just listen in and (re)discover the pleasure of being read to at these lovely informal events. Story Cafes coming up soon include:
Brave Your Day on Thursday 18th March at 1pm with Charley Gavigan (https://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/story-cafe-special-brave-your-day-with-charley-gavigan-2/) Charley looks at how the power of stories can unite us in these uncertain times.
Story Café special with Kirsten MacQuarrie on 22nd April at 1pm (https://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/story-cafe-special-kirsten-macquarrie/) Kirsten will be reading from her debut novel, Ellen and Arbor.
Talking of festivals, May 2021 also sees the return of GWL’s innovative Open the Door festival, which will run online from 20th to 22nd May. Open the Door is a unique festival that aims to break down the barriers between writers and readers and generate new discussions. The title of the festival comes from Catherine Carswell’s classic work of fiction and we want to create open doors into the worlds of reading and writing through every event and conversation. Each year the festival focuses on the life and work of three women writers from the past whose work deserves more attention. Past writers have included Sandy Craigie, Wangaari Mathai, Jessie Kesson and Maud Sulter. This year we will be looking at writers who are artists and artists who are writers and have a really exciting line–up of live chats between women authors/artists, conversations on social media, informal workshops and much more. We will also be looking for entries for our Calm Slam - the GWL Open the Door Calm Slam is for every woman* who loves poetry but likes the quiet life and is aimed at women who haven’t taken part in poetry slams before. We’ll looking for your words and your videos, with you in front or behind the camera. Details of how to enter the Calm Slam and of all Open the Door events will be announced very soon, so keep an eye on the events programme on our website: https://womenslibrary.org.uk/events/
Thanks for reading the blog, have an amazing time at Stanza and hope to see some of you at Glasgow Women’s Library events in the future!
The petals gleam the utter blue
of the welder’s flame[.] ‘The Dockyard’
Oh, the succinct and perfect use of ‘utter’ here to convey the blueness of that flame! What better word to use? Lines such as this continue to resonate long after reading John Glenday’s fourth collection of poetry, The Golden Mean.
‘The Dockyard’ works as an illustrative example of the whole collection. Careful attention is given to each word and their placing: the delicate form of the flower is aligned with something as anomolous as a welder’s torch; the prosaic is given the same weight as the pastoral. Butterflies head towards hills. Their journey bears equal witness to the dual carriageway and corner shops. All is described without judgement.
This is not to say that the collection is easy to pin down. Diverse in rhythm, structure and subject, these poems initially defy capture. A poem in Viking ballad-metre (‘The Lost Boy’) is sandwiched between a dense paragraph of youthful yearning (‘A Testament’), and a ballad voiced by a soldier on the eve of the battle of the Somme (‘The Big Push’). And yet, their composite parts touch on shared themes: transience; what it is to be alive; simultaneous pain and beauty in human experience. All is conveyed in the most measured of language. Perhaps this is the ‘golden mean’, that perfect balance of elements, to which the title alludes?
A stone and heart are compared in ‘The White Stone’. Both ‘weigh smooth and hard and cold’. However, the last lines,
before it was first
touched by the world[,]
force the reader to circle back and re-imagine that initial comparison. The world changes the surface of the heart but, without its touch, the heart would remain forever cold....
Red peppers and plantain, hibiscus and hummingbirds, saltfish and snapper, kaiso and calypso – all feature in Malika Booker’s debut collection, Pepper Seed, as its narrative slips between Guyana, Grenada, Trinidad and Brixton to tell intertwined personal and political stories. Booker’s writing is at once both searing and beautifully lyrical, the past slipping into the present, enabling her to evoke complexities which lie beyond the reach of conventional text books and biographies.
Given the context of colonialism, slavery, misogyny as well as present-day racism, Pepper Seed is not, by any means, an easy read, confronting the reader with acts and words of cruelty and brutality, their immediate effects and long-distant after-effects.
The collection opens with “Granny’s Love Poems”:
Imagine her different, a fairy-tale granny
cooking fudge for brown cinnamon girls like me.
Her pale sugar eyes twinkle.
This fantasy granny is not, however, the granny of Booker’s story. In the sequence poem, “Red Ants Bite” (1), granny speaks:
You will end up on your back, scunt spread out
feet sprawl out, whoring. Who tells a child that?
Yet I loved her. She was my granny,
and I wanted her to love me back,
but everyday her words
put this hard thing deep inside me.
Towards the end of the sequence, we learn just what grandmother has endured:
I was a slave baby mixed with plantation white.
This creamy skin draw buckman, blackman,
coolieman, like prize…