Thursday Reflections: Friendships in Poetry

Friday 4 March 2016

The festival is in full swing and poets are meeting, mingling and sharing work all across St Andrews. As I write this from the Byre Cafe, I hear the steady murmur of overlapping voices and the clinking of teaspoons. Yesterday was full of great events and I noticed a pattern across many of them: an emphasis on friendship and on dialogue. Throughout the day, poets were responding to and influencing each other, inspiring and supporting one another’s work.

Katie Ailes

Katie Ailes. Photo: (c) Perry Jonsson

I began to notice this during Border Crossings when Perthshire poet Walter Perrie read out various poems in memoriam of people who were important to him. Later, when I went to Poetry Café featuring American poet Katie Ailes and Scottish poet Kevin McLean, their performance was an extremely collaborative one. They are both members of the poetry collective Loud Poets and instead of each poet doing their own longer set, Katie would perform one poem and then Kevin would do another. As they alternated, the poets pointed out thematic or tonal links between their individual poems, bantering with one another onstage about what it means to write a ‘love’ poem, for example. A highlight of the event was Kevin’s moving tribute to his mother, ‘Evelyn’, the poem which won the StAnza Best Poem of the Fringe 2015 award last year.

I caught up with Katie and Kevin afterwards and asked them what it was like to write a collaborative set. "It was such a great opportunity to be able to craft a set with someone whose work I know so well, and a fun challenge to consider how our poems could connect and intermesh," Katie said. 

The cross-cultural poetic dialogue continued during the Meet the Artist: Streetlyrics event, when the photographer and poets behind the Streetlyrics project explained how their gorgeous photo art/poetry book came to be. Streetlyrics features poetic responses in three languages (German, English and Gaelic) to photographs of manhole covers. It was fascinating to hear the poets describe the process of poetic translation or, as they called it, ‘transformation’ and the event culminated in the poets reading out the same poem in three different languages.

During Jo Bell’s humorous and resonant reading at 5 O’clock Verses, she invited the audience to join in a few times. We became a part of her poems. Parliament Hall swelled with our voices (‘The roof is finished, the roof is finished’) and, yes, we all became the voice of the rowdy ducks that live near her on the canal (‘What do we want? BREAD! When do we want it? Now!’). Brian Johnstone, founder of StAnza, then read beautiful verse exploring architecture, circus performers and much more. He recounted stories of StAnza’s early days, before the festival was booking taxis for poets, when he was driving them around himself. The audience laughed heartily when he informed us that a poet had once remarked to him: ‘No true poet knows how to drive.’

Thomas Lynch.

Thomas Lynch. 

Poetry Centre Stage at the Byre Theatre provided a phenomenal end to the day as US poet Thomas Lynch and Irish poet Matthew Sweeney took the stage. Both of these poets reflected with humor and heart on mortality, relationships and, importantly, on their friendship with one another. Their camaraderie and mutual respect was felt by all. It was a perfect finish to a day of intercultural dialogue and poetic exchange. I left with a renewed respect of how poets influence, inspire and support one another. 

By Carly Brown, In-House Blogger at StAnza 2016

Be on the lookout for more blogs from Carly throughout the festival. Check out StAnza on Twitter and chat with us through the hashtag: #StAnza16