As StAnza kicks off this evening with an evening of poetry and jazz, our guest blogger, poet Stephanie Green previews some events she is particularly keen to see at StAnza. As she says herself, she has been coming to the festival for years and has been blogging about us on her own blog. So it was about time, we reckoned that she did some posts for us. She will be posting here through the festival, exploring the theme of the image in words and pictures. Here are her tips for events featuring some of the rising stars of poetry.
What am I looking forward to? What am I not? This will be my 7th visit to StAnza and I still get a buzz from the sharp, clear light of St Andrews, glorying in the crow-stepped architecture of the university and old town, and imbibing the smell of the sea and diesel in the harbour and the sounds of sea-gulls along with the poetry. Also hearing Big Names I've not heard before, and meeting up with poet friends I know from all over Scotland and other poet friends I've made at workshops all over Britain or even those I've met at StAnza itself. A gathering of poet clans.
The social side of StAnza is one of its best aspects. Having a central meeting place: the Byre, with bar and cosy sofas, it's easy to bump into the Big Names and chat informally -if that's what you'd like to do. There are events all over town too but it's so small and the streets so narrow, that one keeps bumping into the same people. And if you're a solitary soul, or just a need a break to recover from too much poetry (Heaven forfend) then there are the wide skies and lonely sands of the West Sands to escape to...but enough of escaping, before even arriving.
Gill Andrews is a rising star in the Scottish poetry world - shortlisted for the Picador publishing prize last year and the Edwin Morgan prize, she is an alumna of St Andrew's university too - tutored by Don Paterson and Kathleen Jamie. As she has a background in the law, you can expect dramatic poems of incisive brilliance, a razor-sharp logic with a visceral punch, so don't miss her reading at all costs on Sunday 18th March, 11.30am with Simon Barraclough who comes trailing clouds of glory from England.Oh, yes, I must declare partiality here. Gill is friend of mine but don't let that prejudice you.
Another rising star, and also friend, is Jane McKie (Janie to friends) who pipped Gill in the Edwin Morgan prize by winning it with her exquisite poem 'The Leper Window, St. Mary the Virgin). St Mary's is incidentally a church in Sussex where Janie comes from - but she has been settled in Scotland for some time. Her pamphlet 'Garden of Bedsteads' (Mariscat Press) was promoted by the Poetry Book Society as their recent Pamphlet Choice. But Janie is a stalwart with two previous full collections to her name, the most recent 'When the Sun Turns Green' (Polygon, 2009).
Don't miss Jane's reading either - you'll experience an extraordinarily inventive and unusual imagination which draws its inspiration from folklore and history- the darker strands, and like a magpie, she is drawn to strange, curious things of the natural world: beetles, the archaeopteryx, ostrich eggs, deep-sea creatures, but also writes poems shot through with the anxiety and fears of being a mother of small children. She's reading with the well-known John Siddique on Friday 16th March at 2.15.
Another friend (Is there no end to them?) I must flag up is Claudia Daventry, star of Poetry Slams, winning a prize at the Irish Satirical Verse competition (the Percy French) in Strokestown, County Roscommon a few years ago. She has since licked the Ozzies in an online slam and is well known on the Scottish Slam scene. However, she is no mean literary poet too, scooping prizes at the literary Heavyweight competitions, the Arvon and Bridport. See her poem 'Amsterdam' you can find on the StAnza Participants' web-page. Witty, hilarious, naughty...but also moving, with a flair for drama. And if we're lucky, she make break into song. You may end up with a stitch, from laughing, or weeping into your sandwich, while you enjoy her 'Poetry Cafe' event at the Byre Theatre on Friday 16th March, 1pm.
If you want a poetry workshop, then I highly recommend the witty, laid-back barge poet (she lives on one) Jo Bell, whose workshop will be on using the negative for positive effects. I had the never-forgotten delight of attending this workshop during the Word Play Festival in Edinburgh earlier this year. No, there will not be a dry eye in the house, and never will you enjoy a workshop more, nor deny the not inconsiderable reams of poem notes you will emerge with. I'll not flag up the headline poets - because of course you're probably going to hear them anyway.But check out Tusiata Avia from Samoa, Alan Buckley (past winner of the Wigtown prize), Pippa Little (winner of the Norman MacCaig prize, 2011)
To start off, I am going along to hear Don Paterson, not as poet this time but as jazz guitarist with the Dave Batchelor Quintet celebrating Larkin's love of jazz on the opening night, 8pm, 14th March.
Our thanks to Stephanie, who blogs at http://stephaniegreensblog.blogspot.com/
Keep on reading!
We'll be blogging about the launch and the festival regularly over the next few days. watch this space!
Guest blogger, David Morley, poet and co-founder of the creative writing programme at the University of Warwick, will be reading on Saturday 17 March, and leading the StAnza Masterclass on Sunday 18th. Here he reveals the inspiration behind his own writing.
At best, my own poems surprise me. But sometimes the process of writing takes me so completely by surprise it annihilates me.
I come to St Andrews on a wave of new poems. I have written nearly fifty sonnets since the start of the year. Each has been inevitable. Almost as easily as leaves to a tree. But that is because they are not my poems.
I was writing “a book” last year. I thought it was very good, something of a step sideways and up from the previous three Carcanet collections that made up a trilogy. Shortly before Christmas I was reading John Clare’s notebooks. A Gypsy called Wisdom Smith makes a brief appearance in Clare’s account of a day: ‘Finished planting my ariculas—went a botanising after ferns and orchises and caught a cold in the wet grass which has made me as bad as ever—got the tune of “highland Mary” from Wisdom Smith a gipsey and pricked another sweet tune without name as he fiddled it’. This character, this Gypsy, leapt from the notebooks and into myself and started writing a sonnet. It worked well. I put it aside. I wrote it partly in Romani and forgot about it.
In the New Year, I returned to my writing shed and found Wisdom Smith waiting there like an impatient Daemon. I sat down to work, as did he; and he wrote two sonnets. The next day he wrote three. Since then he has kept me busy on every writing day. The truth is he is good at sonnets, and strong at dialogue; and his work is crisp, fresh and funny. After letting him take me over for two weeks I looked at his work, then I looked at my own book – the book I had thought was working. The truth: Wisdom Smith was a better poet than me. His work was more alive than the poems I had spent the previous year writing. It was not ‘literature’ as such - it was life. This was no ‘sideways and up’ movement in voice, but a forward advance. And he was leading me by the nose. And so I gave in and let him. After all, he is writing my book, not me; and I hope I can read you some of his poems on the 17th March. Maybe Wisdom Smith will turn up in St Andrews instead of me. Maybe I should just send him and have the weekend off.
All this sounds mad.
The idea of The Other is only a metaphor for a state of mind while writing. One of the troubles is that notion of The Other has been as theorised to death as the notion of The Author, leaving not only the author dead, but their famous Others stalking the earth like zombies. It is best to keep it simple, and say that many creative writers experience the sensation that somebody other than themselves is at work while writing. And characters, especially a character with the charisma and confidence of Wisdom Smith, will take over a book entirely. A character can write you out of the picture while making the picture. It is, after all, his work. And it always the work of the reader too. Who I hope to meet in person soon in St Andrews. Although who is going to turn up is going to be another big surprise.
Photograph by Jemimah Kuhfeld
Guest blogger Andy Jackson explains how his new anthology, inspired by cult film and TV, came about. It's being launched at StAnza and promises to be an entertaining event. Where else would Callan meet The Clangers in verse?
Poetry habitually takes its inspiration from the great themes – love, loss, beauty, the human condition. All noble concepts, but sometimes you just want to write about the silly fripperies of life that please and excite you. Dancing. Chocolate. Uma Thurman. Yet, somehow, unless your poem reaches for some deeper ideas that address the spirituality of chocolate or the universal language of dancing, you sometimes feel you’ve written about…well, nothing of much importance.
I was born in the 1960s, and I therefore grew up knowing the presenters of Blue Peter (in order), the names of the crew of the Trumpton Fire Engine and all the words to all the songs in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I should have been out playing in the dubious Manchester sunshine, but I was usually glued to the box or fidgeting in the darkness of my local single-screen cinema.
About eighteen months ago I observed a conversation on Facebook between Salt Publishing’s Chris Hamilton-Emery and Yorkshire’s suavest poet Tim Turnbull, who challenged each other to write a short poem about a cult TV programme of the 60s or 70s. Chris chose US series Mission Impossible while Tim went for Lew Grade’s espionage thriller The Champions. This was the kind of poetry I’d been writing in my own head since childhood, but here were two fearless and savvy writers who weren’t afraid to publish their poetry on these most populist of topics. And I mean proper poetry!
I felt there must be more poets out there who longed to write about the TV or the movies they loved, so after discussion with Red Squirrel’s Kevin Cadwallender, the idea for Split Screen was born.
I drew up a list of sixty themes, pairing up the likes of Camberwick Green with the Clangers, Ealing Comedy with Bollywood and Walmington-on-Sea with Weatherfield. I invited poets I knew and respected to pick a theme on which to write a poem of up to 30 lines. Word travelled around and I found poets contacting me asking, and occasionally pleading, to have a go, even suggesting their own themes in some cases. The resulting poems from the likes of Ian McMillan, George Szirtes, W N Herbert and Annie Freud were as diverse they were entertaining.
To keep with the TV & movie theme, I decided that we could punctuate the book with short poems inspired by adverts included as ‘commercial breaks’. This part of the book was an open section, and I selected 10 advert poems from the 50 or so which I received. Add to this a couple of poems at the end about the Closedown and the White Dot, and you have Split Screen – poems inspired by film and television.
Split Screen will be launched with a multimedia reading on the Sunday afternoon of this year’s StAnza festival, with a stellar cast of poets (and some reading in public for the first time). Compiling and editing it has been the most fun I’ve had in poetry. Why not come along on Sunday 18th March at 2.15pm and listen to poetry that unashamedly wears its cultural influences on its sleeve.
Our thanks to Andy Jackson: www.soutarwriters.co.uk/andyjackson/
When you're wandering around StAnza's weekend events, keep an eye out for Poetry Digest - an edible poetry magazine printed in "small cake" format, or small biscuit format as need arises. We'll be handing out empire biscuits produced by Stuart's of Buckhaven bearing poems by Isobel Dixon, Lavinia Greenlaw, Matthew Hollis, Christopher Reid and Jackie Kay. (As one contributor pointed out to us, this will really be a Jackie Cake.)
Poetry Digest was set up by Chrissy Williams and Swithun Cooper. If you visit the website you'll see that we created it while working as revolutionary bakers as a way to fight Communism in an unnamed Eastern European country. That's a lie, unfortunately. Really we work at the Poetry Library in London, and we thought it up as something to do on National Poetry Day: putting an e.e. cummings poem on cakes for our colleagues, so they could carry it in their stomachs.
After this photograph of it got round Twitter, we were asked to produce a few for other poetry events - including 'Feast on Words' by Poet in the City, a workshop group at the Southbank Centre, and a "reading and eating" for young members of The Poetry Society . Since then, it's turned into a cake-based events series, which we've subsequently developed into a magazine. Our aim is to give people an entertaining (and tasty) alternative to the sometimes gruelling business of submitting poems to magazines – sending them off, waiting for months, and finally having a poem printed somewhere. Putting a poem on a cake seems a more light-hearted way of getting your work appreciated, and the large amounts of sugar and frosting in every poem keeps our readings sociable and high-spirited.
We've now made three issues of Poetry Digest - 'Raisin D'Etre', 'The Big Apple' and 'Berried Alive' - and poems by the likes of Tom Chivers, Tim Wells, Claire Trévien, Jacqueline Saphra and Simon Barraclough have all appeared on foodstuffs we've produced. We've done readings with Liz Berry and Victoria Bean, and we ran a competition ('The Limelight') for the Young Poets Network .
During StAnza you'll mostly find us at the Poets Market, where we'll also have some fruit available for those who prefer their sugar unrefined, but we can also be found at a few other events, including the Saturday and Sunday Poetry Breakfasts and the Festival Finale.
We invite you to join us in eating the poets' words.
Our thanks to Swithun and Chrissy. Chrissy's own blog is at chrissywilliams.blogspot.com
Here’s a sneak preview of the poetry installation at Leuchars station, which will greet visitors as they pass through the waiting room/booking office area. To celebrate StAnza’s theme, the Image, we got together with ScotRail to create this tribute to that great Scottish icon, the Forth Bridge. Though placed at floor level, the poetry panel, with its wonderful image of the bridge, takes the imagination upwards, and the poem itself, by Edinburgh based poet Gill Andrews, who will be reading at StAnza, praises the task, once never-ending, of painting the bridge. Clever, eh? There are more panels to be unveiled at St Andrews bus station, thanks to our friends at Stagecoach East Scotland, in time for the festival next week. This “Poetry on the Move” project been made possible thanks to a One Step Further grant from Creative Scotland.
StAnza’s programme of poetry related visual arts exhibitions and installations is more varied and exciting than ever before. There’s a word map of Scotland in whisky miniatures, surprising sound installations by Holly Pester, the chance to watch poems being carved in stone…for the full list, click here.
It’s a week to go before StAnza takes off! This year we start early with a special prequel reading at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway.
It’s an historic occasion. The Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes, one of StAnza’s guest poets, has long been interested in Robert Burns and in the Bard’s own connections with Jamaica. The reading is at 7pm, 13th March. Kwame will also be reading the following evening at the festival launch at the Byre Theatre St Andrews on 14th.
Photograph by Rachel Eliza Griffiths