Surf, Saturday, Sunday

Sunday 8 March 2020

Well! It’s the last day of StAnza, and in celebration of this wonderful festival, the sun is throwing itself down in bright rays from the sky. The sign outside J & G Innes is glowing in gold, umbrellas have been tucked away, and the whole town is shining and brilliant. I have just returned from a mad tumble in the sea – but I jump ahead. Before I talk about the cold surf and watchful seagulls, it would be remiss of me not to mention the many poetic happenings of Saturday, which opened with breakfast readings, a workshop led by Carolyn Forché, and varied/various poetry performances.

One of these performances centred on ideas of the north, ‘Due North’ being one of the festival’s themes this year. Nancy Campbell and R. A. Jamieson read cold work, centred on ice and snow and beaches. Campbell opened the event, noting that after she had moved around a lot, it was good to be back home in Scotland. She reads a poem written in the voice of an ice core emerging from Antarctica, later talking about a museum which is waiting for ice to melt in order to retrieve artefacts from underneath it. She is fascinated by the Arctic’s myths, the way they explore a sense of kinship between humans and animals in the form of shapeshifting stories, and reads a poem entitled ‘Umiarissaat / The Seal People’:

I watch four shadows pass beneath the sun.

They are not men, those bearded ones

with fat, stooped heads and shining skin

aboard a boat with no beginning.

R. A. Jamieson is also preoccupied with the north, and speaks of his attempts to connect Shetland with the Scandinavian world; many of his poems are translations from Scandinavian languages. His voice when he reads is warm and easy to listen to, and his feet tap, fingers working too, in time with his vocal rhythms. His poem ‘Nort’ begins ‘here, in the north’, and uses the word ‘north’ as a kind of touchstone throughout:

                            to live here you must share the lamp and light the life

               remember to knock away the ice, plant bulbs

                                                                   to sprout and thrive


                here in the north,

                                                                 listen for the lark’s song in your self –

                                                                            sing loud harmony


                                                                a short tune in the long silence

Later, StAnza attendees must choose between the wide array of poetic offerings, including a ‘Found in Translation’ event which features very new work (‘As fresh as poetry comes’, reads the brochure) created on site at the festival’s Scottish/Norwegian translation workshop, Joelle Taylor’s spoken word event, and an intimate reading with Lachlan Mackinnon. I attend the Five O’Clock verses with Jay Bernard and Yolanda Castaño – the final event of its kind – and it is heartbreaking and filled with song and filled with laughter – and I think one of the best examples of StAnza’s excellent programming. At night, I huddle away with fish and chips.

Sunday, now, feels calmer. My own reading with Jay G. Ying has taken place, the sea has been swum in, and frothy hot chocolates have been consumed. The seagulls are still squawking, the sun is shining, and the night is young – with much more music and poetry to come.

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