Wine, Words, and a Wonderful Beginning

Thursday 8 March 2018

The spaces in the poem are yours. 
They are the place where you
Can enter as yourself alone
And think anything in. 

W S Graham, ‘Private Poem to Norman MacLeod’

We’re back, another year has passed, and another StAnza has begun! 

And to celebrate, I’m reigniting a tradition I started at last year’s festival, and fully intend to continue throughout this year’s. Namely: StAnza Wine Tweets. The task is simple: to tweet a photo of every glass of wine you drink during the festival, but so that the photo in some way gives a flavour of the event at which the wine is drunk. 

For reasons of balance (metaphorical and perhaps also physical), I should say that this challenge can also be attempted using non-alcoholic alternatives.

Here is StAnza Wine Photo number 1: 


Admittedly, this might just look like a bunch of glasses, but really the photo is about much more than that – or so I’m maintaining. It’s about coming together. It’s about poetry uniting people, so that individuals from all across the world can sit at the same table and have interesting, in-depth discussions, or just chat about the weather. It’s about meeting up with old friends and making new ones (so thanks to poets Polly Atkin and Emma Jones for their assistance with this photo). It’s about unity and difference. It’s about synergy. It’s about intellectual relaxation, and also about just having a good time. It’s about the positive outlook that poetry can enable us to have on a deeply troubled world – because as you can see, the glasses are all at least half full. 

Alright, so maybe I’m stretching the metaphor slightly, but I think the point still stands. 

StAnza 2018 kicked off with an innovation for this year’s festival: a Festival Launch Extravaganza. Extravaganza was certainly the word, as 11 poets took to the stage (or, to adopt the term I’ve been using, the Ocean’s Eleven of poetry), alongside musicians and a selection of film poems. The evening was designed to be a sample event, showcasing the delights the festival has to offer in the days to come. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. 

First up was the wonderful Barbara Dickson, who began the evening with two wonderful folk songs that had the Byre Auditorium cheering – followed by a cavalcade of wonderful poets: Sinéad Morrissey, Will Harris, Rita Ann Higgins, John Glenday – and finally Catherine Wilson, who rounded off the first half with a great poem about Scotland and identity, tying in beautiful with this year’s two themes of Borderlines and The Self. 

Linking with this year’s language focus of ‘Going Dutch’, there are a number of poets from the Netherlands featuring at this year’s festival, and last night we heard from a few: Lies Van Gaase, Geart Tigchelaar and Thomas Möhlmann. 

After the interval (side note: the Byre Auditorium now sells ice cream! Perhaps a viable alternative to Wine Tweets…?) we were treated to a selection of film poems, and the beautiful music and rich-cup-of-silky-coffee voice of Hamish Hawk, as well as hearing from another selection of this year’s poets: David Eyre, Michael Symmons Roberts, and – well – me. It’s been a secret dream of mine to perform on a StAnza stage ever since I first volunteered for the festival back in 2013, and being invited to not only perform at the festival, but also on the main stage, as part of the so-called Ocean’s Eleven, was more than ‘2013-me’ would have even dared to dream. Something I said on stage last night, and which I absolutely hold to, is how coming to StAnza always feels like coming home. There’s always such a friendly atmosphere, and a welcoming ethos that seems to say, ‘Look, here is poetry. If you already love it, then we’re already family. If you don’t know you love it yet, come and join in and witness how wonderful it can be. Come and explore. Come and say hi.’ 

Or, as Chair of Trustees Robyn Marsack said in her closing speech, quoting poet W S Graham’s ‘Private Poem to Norman MacLeod’: 

The spaces in the poem are yours. 
They are the place where you
Can enter as yourself alone
And think anything in. 

And just like that, we’re back to that photo of three wine glasses together on a table, and all the many wonderful ways of being together as individuals.

Out into the bar following the launch, and the coming together of voices continued. As people sat together – talking, discussing the evening’s performances, meeting and making friends – Hamish Hawk continued from where his taster performance left off, followed later on by a showcase of work from the Inklight Poets: the University of St Andrews’ creative writing society. 

These sounds floated up through the many levels of the Byre, together with the occasional chink of glass and ice from the bar, from those listening attentively, to those upstairs who were simply enjoying the company of others. And as these sounds spread out to fill the theatre, they knitted together everyone throughout the building – in that special way that music, and poetry, so often do. 

Happy StAnza 2018 – and may you have a wonderful festival! 

By Katie Hale, In-House Blogger for StAnza 2018: Part 1