Sea Winds and Stars

Saturday 7 March 2020

I’m tucked up in bed, away from the bustle of the Byre, and the sea wind is buffeting my window. It’s been a busy few days, full of workshops, round table discussions, poetry walks, and evening adventures. The weather has turned greyer, more blustery – the perfect excuse to borrow one of #StAnza20’s poetry umbrellas and huddle in an outdoor corner listening to poems against the backdrop of rain.

Friday morning, however, was bright and blue, and began with Anthony Anaxagorou’s thought-provoking workshop on the idea of home. ‘Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition’ – James Baldwin’s sense of home as (in Anaxagorou’s words) something that ‘can’t lock down to a singular place’ is in our minds as we free write on the topic. Later, Anaxagorou talks us through degrees of sense and nonsense, and how our poems might play with both, and he points to several things which we might hold in mind as we write, including mood, risk, logic, phrase, and image. We also talk about syllabics, and have time to rework our freewheeling pieces with some syllabic strictures in place, sharing aloud as we go. Throughout the session, Anaxagorou throws out names of poets whose writing has inspired him, or who might encourage us to write with wonder; hearing him speak, I’m especially keen to return to Claudia Rankine and Selima Hill.

Photo credit: Suzannah V. Evans

The rest of the day is full of events, from Past & Present talks on Robert Louis Stevenson and Hugh MacDiarmid to poetry prize showcases, poems aloud, open mics, and gentle guided walks. I take myself on my own walk around town, stopping to admire painted doorways at the top of staircases and bicycles propped against stony walls. Evening sees the return of the famed Centre Stage, with much-anticipated readings by Michael Longley and Carolyn Forché. Longley opens the event, noting how his poetry has been shaped by several ‘Scottish heroes’, Douglas Dunn, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and W. S. Graham among them. He reads both new and older poems – ‘the same obsessions have recurred over the years’, he says with a twinkle in his eye. He closes his eyes while he reads ‘Persephone’, and the last two lines, about the tread of weasels and ferrets, stoats and foxes, linger in my mind. ‘I can tell how softly their footsteps go – / Their footsteps borrow silence from the snow.’ Carolyn Forché reads next. Hers is a poetry of witness, and her international anthology Against Forgetting was praised by Nelson Mandela as ‘itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice’. Forché explains how she came to write about El Salvador and the first murmurings of civil war – while poetry might remain a ‘fringe element’ of society, its ‘language of the heart’ can achieve different results to journalistic coverage. She ends the evening with lighthouse writing, with darkness ‘crusted with stars’ - just as the sky is tonight.

- Suzannah V. Evans, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2020