Rare, powerful and exciting: Saturday at StAnza 2019

Monday 11 March 2019

I start my StAnza experience browsing the poetry market which turns out to be a treasure trove of presses publishing poets writing all kinds poetry. I am thrilled to flick through anthologies that feature Scottish poets and poetry written in Scots dialects and Galic. Many of these pamphlets and books are illustrated with paintings and drawings showcasing as much talent as the words they accompany. The poets and publishers behind the presses are there to talk and share interesting industry insight as well as a laugh! Their friendlessness and passion make me feel right at home. I buy A.C. Clarke’s latest book ‘War Baby’, a stunning collection prose mixed with poetry, and just feel sorry I can’t buy more! In particular, the collections published by Roncadora Press which are as much works of art as books.

At the Undercroft, I watch poets Laura Accerboni and Kathrine Sowerby read a selection of their poems in a room that seems to transport us all centuries back. With its arched roof and exposed ancient bricks, lit by warm yellow light, we wait for Accerboni to begin in a hushed, expectant silence. She does not read translations, she reads her poems in her native Italian. This is perfect for the medieval room, and even though I can’t speak Italian, I find beauty in listening to the power in her voice. Sowerby follows, and while her poems are in English and focus on the contemporary, many set in the domesticity of home, her performance is a natural continuation on from Accerboni. Sowerby’s reading balances strength with vulnerability. As she reads each line with a humble rawness, you can hear the fierce connection she has to her poems.

Leaving the Undercroft, I find myself back in 2019! On South Street surrounded by people enjoying the sun, I feel like I must have time travelled. I decide to visit the Byre Theatre again, the buzzing center of the festival, and while I am sat enjoying a delicious coffee, a St. Andrews student asks me if I would like to hear a poem. Of course I do, so he sits down across from me and reads Flann O’Brien’s ‘A Pint of Plain is Your Only Man’.  Afterwards he tells me that it is one of his favorites, one he loves to come home and read after he’s had a few drinks. It is a lovely moment of passing warmth and connection. Over my weekend at StAnza, I have experienced many.

A stranger sitting beside me, in the back row of the Byre Auditorium, soon becomes my friend. Over the interval of the Centre Stage performance, we are both still happily stunned by the exceptionalism and power of Ishion Hutchinson’s reading, and so the stranger is not surprised to see that after nipping out for a drink, I have returned having also bought a copy of Hutchinson’s latest collection ‘House of Lords and Commons’.  My new friend tells me that they are Canadian and wish there was something in Canada like StAnza. The festival celebrates poets who write in languages and dialects other than English and its refreshing to see the focus expand to include some outstanding poetry written in other tongues. Caroline Bird performs in the second half and coming on stage she meets a crowd still fizzing with excitement after witnessing Hutchinson’s set. Her performance follows with grace, she reads some of her work, both new and old, brilliantly and unapologetically. She reads one poem that she wrote at was just seventeen years old, a poem about her divorce, another about a questionnaire she filled out years ago, upon her admittance to rehab. She ends her set with a poem celebrating her mother. Between all of these poems Bird has us laughing our heads off with anecdotes from her life. Both Hutchinson and Bird create a remarkable sense of closeness between us and them, a sense of connection that feels rare, powerful and exciting. I feel so lucky to have been able to attend StAnza 2019, and I can’t wait to for what’s in store next year!