DURA @StAnza21: Making it New

Sunday 14 March 2021, 12:06

StAnza’s Saturday events started off with an energetic discussion on the Breakfast at the Poetry Café live webcast. Before attending any of the events, I had hoped to have a fully immersive experience, and I was in no way let down. Panellists Lisa Kelly, Kate Tough, and Greg Thomas started a conversation with the host Eleanor Livingstone about the meaning of ‘Make it New’. With the chance to hear individual poetry readings, and the panellists’ opinions on the current age and consumerism – it was a conversation I felt lucky to be involved in. The ‘Make it New’ topic is extremely relevant to life in lockdown, and gave a whole new perception to the way life has changed since the pandemic. It’s not every day that you get to hear poets read their own work, comment on society, and bring a new insight to the somewhat stale subject of the pandemic.

Next up in the Poetry Café, was Courtney Conrad’s recorded poetry readings. Her focus was on poetry including black, queer, Christian, migrant, womxn identities. Conrad would introduce us to her work ‘What is fi Mama a fi Everybody’ and ‘Girlish’ – the gift of hearing these intimate poems read aloud by their creator was not unnoticed. After each reading, Conrad would give further context to the piece: where she wrote it, what she was thinking, how her mindset has changed now, and what she wishes we take away from it. She urged her readers to live their lives for themselves, no one else, because she believes that to be a disservice. To hear Conrad’s wisdom and reassuring affirmations throughout her poetry reading was an unforgettable moment for me.

The importance of affirmations, and having a safe, creative space was later touched on at Poets at Home with Malika Booker. Booker, through a pre-recorded video, shared her living space and where she writes. She shared where she sits, where she naps, and where she gets inspired. I think everyone in lockdown at the moment is having particular difficulty being inspired, maybe struggling to sleep, or even to sit still! Seeing a member of the writing community in her workspace, giving her tips and tricks to feeling calm and improving her health in order to excel in her writing was tremendously comforting.

Reaching out to others is important now more than ever, and so when I called up the ‘Dial-a-poem’ phone numbers to hear a pre-recorded poem, followed by a live call and poetry reading, I was moved. StAnza’s ‘hotline for poetry’ felt like a warm hand reaching out in a time of challenging isolation. I got through to Katie Hale, who after pleasant conversation, told me a poem about her first kiss; she read ‘In the yellow library where in 2004 I had my first kiss’.

Later that night, I joined Rachel Long, for ‘Poetry at Bedtime: Between the Covers’. Through a voice recording, Long read her poetry aloud from her bed, to me in mine. While Rachel Long’s poetry was pre-recorded it felt very present – a perfect end to the day.

Conversation is an art which we have all managed to keep alive over lockdown, despite the many struggles. The art of flourishing community spirit, and healthy conversation is something I felt in abundance at StAnza’s Festival this Saturday.  

Mhari Aitchison

Categories: News

Poetry, Cake, Wine and Old Friends

Saturday 13 March 2021, 23:29

Before this, back then when we knew of only one normal and knew little, yet feared a lot we gathered in St Andrews. It was early Spring. We always gathered then in St Andrews. It was StAnza.

Poetry pilgrims drawn there willingly to be inspired, converted, confirmed and have our perceptions challenged, our ideas assured and our hearts set alight by our common bond – a love of poetry, our cherished craft which would and will endure.

I had my normal wonderful few days. I did all the normal StAnza things. I immersed myself in familiar poets, I dipped a toe into new voices and without thought enjoyed my normal StAnza, drank too much coffee, ate too much cake, maybe just enough wine and didn’t buy enough books. I never buy enough books. Sorry.

And then it was my turn to contribute. I had produced a show HamishMatters to mark the end of a year of celebrating the centenary of Hamish Henderson’s birth and filled the main stage of The Byre with poets and musicians backed by audio visuals. The adventure had started the previous year at StAnza with slivers of new poems still being nurtured and then projected on to the Byre café walls. HamishMatters had woven its message through 2019 by way of books, Festivals, portraits on mountainsides, poems on Kirk roofs, impromptu gigs and the Scottish Parliament to return to St Andrews for a last curtain call. And it was to be – a last curtain call. 

On Sunday 8th March, 2020, after the show, after the wine, the laughter, the renewed kinship, the fresh friendships and my dodgy dancing and before I left the Byre boozily content, I hugged Eleanor Livingstone and Annie Rutherford and thanked them for their hospitality and generous support of my work and for StAnza. They would be the last people other than my wife that I would embrace in over a year and I’m still counting.

I know that point won’t be lost on all of you and over months of tragedy, isolation and adjusting to an uncertain future where we have watched our industry dragged to its knees with meagre support from central government, we’ve learned a new lexicon of unwelcome acronyms and become too comfortable with pandemic phrases - lockdowns, bubbles, social distance, long covidand zoom. 

I must confess zoom for me was an ice lolly of my childhood and on many occasions I wish it had remained a sugary memory but as the weeks turned into months it became a lifeline of support and our relationship with online creativity has advanced way beyond those initial cobbled together homespun events.

This has been so beautifully and powerfully demonstrated this week at StAnza. I stopped myself there when I typed ‘at StAnza’ because I’m in my jammies at home in between events and looking forward to this evening’s (Saturday) events. I’m typing this now because I can’t guarantee any sense later – there will be wine.

This week has been an emotional weave of what I expect from StAnza. I have found in translation: connections and determination to engage beyond my boundaries. I have immersed myself in the assured brilliance of Roddy Lumsden and Edwin Morgan. I have been inspired and challenged off stage, centre stage, between the covers and been welcomed into poets homes. I have been StAnza’d again and I am in awe and content in equal measures – mostly 250 ml.

Yes, I have missed the random blethers, the quiet corners of reflection and the energy of being there with like minds in the streets that speak of so many shared histories. I have missed swanning about in my Makar of the Federation of Writers Scotland regalia, feeling all self important and being able to promote all the good things they do to encourage poets old and new. I don’t actually have regalia but if I did I’d have enjoyed the swanning. I do however, encourage you to seek out the website and become a member. It’s free hugely welcoming and then come and say hello. My next event is tomorrow evening – Pushkin meets Soutar >

But most of all I miss the hugs. 

And we have all missed the chance to say thank you in person to a giant in our poetry world for whom we should all be eternally grateful. So if you wouldn’t mind pausing some time today for a moment and virtually hugging Eleanor Livingstone that would be a beautiful thing. Thank you. 

I’ll shut up now and leave you with a short poem I wrote on the way home from StAnza last year. I think it’s message remains true today. Enjoy the last day. 


Be not a distant flag

nor a song buried so deep

I can’t find you.


Spring passed


summer will be lost,

autumn remains buried

under winter’s mulch, fidgeting.


To everyone with words

in the darkness we share

I pin my hopes to the stars

for our tomorrow’s

and I pray

for the purity of our art

to find breath once more.


Jim Mackintosh


Poet, Editor, Producer
Makar of the Federation of Writers Scotland 
Poet in Chief of The Hampden Collection
Makar of the Cateran EcoMuseum
Poetry Editor of the Nutmeg Periodical
Cultural Ambassador for The Friends of Pskov

Committee Member of The Friends of William Soutar 

Committee Member of The Friends of Hugh Miller
Programme Manager of the HamishMatters Festival



Categories: News

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 386

Saturday 13 March 2021, 18:24

St. Abbs and the Wrasse

The day was fine and
there was    joy
he held it aloft for me to see—a Wrasse.
Sun shone through its webbed spikes
a crown on a glaze of reds, reflecting;

The old sandstone cliffs.
Salt corroded harbour bollards.
Roofs of red pantiles.
And a phone box perched sentinel on the path.

He knelt
bowed his head to the sea
and lowered the Wrasse back to be
a jewel beneath the surface.

The day was fine and
the joy three-fold;
his for the catch,
mine for the witness
and the fish—
for the    sea.

Ruth Gilchrist

View our full map of Scotland in Poems as it grows »

For instructions on how to submit your own poems, click here

All poems from our Poetry Map of Scotland  are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet's permission.

Categories: Poetry Map

DURA @StAnza21: Chuckles & Poetry

Saturday 13 March 2021, 09:58

When I was asked to blog about a day at StAnza, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. Would it be a day of excitement and fun, or a day stuffed to the brim with boring lectures?

Well, it certainly didn’t start out with any of the latter. The first event, Poets at Home, was hosted by Caroline Bird, who shared the faces she makes when writing. As someone who can positively devour YouTube videos, I was delighted by the video recorded in Bird’s home office. The poet was funny and relatable, and I found myself chuckling more than once. Afterwards, I spent thirty automatic seconds looking for the like button, so reminiscent had the video been of a lazy afternoon spent with my favourite YouTubers.

Bird was followed by Mhairi Owens in something called an Inspire Session. It only lasted ten minutes, and while I appreciated the concept – we can all use a bit of inspiration every once in a while – I found myself disappointed by the impersonality of it. Every day StAnza releases a different poet’s top tips for writing, provided as either a short video or a sound clip. I got the latter, and the voice on a computer was a reminder for me of our current world of social distancing.

Thankfully, this feeling only lasted until the next event: Poetry Café with Ink Asher Hemp, whose video offered a more personal relationship with the poet. Hemp’s poem, dealing with our current environmental crisis, was as uncomfortable as it was lovely – a reminder of the responsibility we’d all prefer to forget about. 

This was followed by a Round Table with Indian poet Tishani Doshi along with the realisation that I shouldn’t have waited until the last moment to buy the ticket. Oops.

Thankfully, I didn’t need a ticket to call in during Dial-a-Poem, which turned out to be exactly what it sounds like. I called a number, and a very pleasant lady asked me if I wanted an option of themes to pick between. Amused, I said yes, and soon I was listening to the poem ‘Job of Paradise’ by Roger Robertson, read to me on a one-on-one basis. Talk about making poetry personable despite the distance. Dial-a-Poem might’ve been my favourite part of StAnza so far (competing with the delightful Caroline Bird).

The event took less than five minutes (though I could, of course, have asked for a second poem), which meant that I was only a few minutes late for my next event of the day: Poetry Centre Stage with Michael Grieve and Mona Kareem. There was something incredibly meditative about being read poem after poem, and I quickly stopped worrying about analysing them – instead I simply lay back, closed my eyes, and allowed the words to flow over me – a rejuvenating experience during that dreaded exam period.

Another read-out-loud poetry experience was given during the Past & Present event, a crossover between StAnza and the New Caribbean Voices podcast. Both the poems and discussions they produced were interesting and thought-provoking. However, I found the audio clip again ruined the illusion that I was part of the discussion and not merely eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation.

Past & Present was followed by the Poetry Centre Stage with Jericho Brown and Jonathan Edwards. I was looking forward to Edwards (whose poetry I knew), but if I’d known what I was in for, I would’ve been less indifferent to Brown. Not only were his poems fantastic, but he also knew how to read them – how to use his voice to make them even more potent than on paper.

Finally, I came to my first and only Zoom session of the day – a spoken word live webcast named Risk a Verse. This was far from my first spoken word experience (though my first online one), but I admit that I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I would’ve liked. Not because of the poems, which were lovely, but because I’d spent an entire day being filled to the brim with poetry – there was simply no room left.

This also caused me to fail to appreciate the goodnight poems in Between the Covers by Sheila Templeton, and I suppose that one good thing about doing StAnza online is that I can simply listen to them again tomorrow – with a fresh mind and a newfound appreciation.

Overall, I was impressed with this year’s StAnza. It couldn’t have been easy to make such a social event take place entirely online, but they did a remarkable job.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but today was a day of relaxation, chuckles, and poetry.

Maria Sjöstrand

Categories: News

DURA@ StAnza21: A Day of Leaping into Other Worlds

Friday 12 March 2021, 08:07

Thursday at StAnza kicked off with Rob A Mackenzie discussing Miroslav Holub, a Czech poet and immunologist who came of age, Mackenzie tells, us at the start of WW2. It was a fascinating talk, giving an insight into the brilliant mind of a poet who, in his own words was ‘open-minded about all the phenomena of experience, including the irrational’.

An early highlight of my day though was the second half of the Past/Present session, Helena Nelson’s gloriously cheeky and equally insightful introduction to the work of Ruth Pitter. Nelson began with the story of Pitter’s friend and somewhat fair-weather fan, C S Lewis, who praised her ‘serious’ poetry, but turned his nose up at her light verse. Pitter’s response to his criticism in a letter to a friend had me laughing out loud: ‘I can only hope he will never discover The Rude Potato’. Nelson left us hanging until the end to hear the aforementioned poem. It was more than worth the wait. I have already recommended it to several friends and family members.  

After that, I grabbed a quick 3-minute shot of inspiration from Anthony Anaxagourou who shared a writing prompt for ‘if you ever want to create language that’s pushing against logic or convention’. Don't we all? I can’t wait to try it out myself.

Helen Boden’s session took us on a virtual walk through a ‘fictive topography’ based on the Fife Coastal Path, a route I loved to wander before lockdown. Her beautifully curated poems and accompanying images struck a deep note within me, a sort of re-grounding in a landscape that has sometimes felt consigned to memory or even myth this year. Short phrases from the poems are still with me: ‘What if the movement isn’t progress?’ (Eleanor Rees); ‘I want to change my element’ (Jay Whittaker); ‘fishwife fretting’ (Helen Boden); ‘wind-kerned grasses’ (Autumn Richardson, Richard Skelton and Corbel Stone).

Not wanting to dwell for too long on missing Roger Robinson’s Round Table, it was on to Access All Areas with Jacqueline Saphra, a fascinating lecture that warrants more than a couple of hours of late night reflection to comment fully. Saphra argued with humour and sensitivity for the democratisation of both tradition and innovation in poetic form: ‘The inventors are gone. You can choose your inheritance’.

I snuck in a call to Dial-a-Poem before the next session. The phone rang for a good few seconds, making me oddly nervous (have I called the wrong number?). This novel form of poetry performance jolted me out of the now well-worn rhythm of tuning in to a livestream. I was treated to Volya Hapeyeva’s ‘Mandatory Happiness’, a poem I heard again later from the poet herself. It was puzzling, joyful and surreal; a fitting poem for the format.

For the headline act, Volha Hapeyeva read in Belarussian from her forthcoming collection In my Garden of Mutants, each poem followed by its translation in English by Annie Rutherford. Hapeyeva’s poems are populated with the vivid minutiae of life, which is used to heartbreaking effect in ‘13th October’, a poem about the lives of a mother and daughter who died in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict. The video backdrops of poet and translator contrasted, as did the style in which they each performed the poems, which drew my attention to the delicate act of cultural as well as linguistic translation, and the privilege of being exposed to work that crosses borders and would not be accessible to me otherwise.

Raymond Antrobus spoke to us fresh from a snow tornado in Oklahoma, another reminder that this is an unusual festival year. He was chatty as he told the stories behind the poems. It was as though he was drawing us into his confidence as he described how the absence of live performance has changed his poem’s development, before he shared new work with a note of curiosity in his voice. I was enchanted. This was not only brilliant poetry, but storytelling that filled the room – a difficult enough feat when poet and audience share the same physical space, but a vital kind of magic when screens and oceans divide us.  

I finished the day lying flat on my back (I’m sure I speak for many back-of-the-class fidgeters when I say there are some advantages to digital festivals) listening to Larry Butler, whose gentle but sturdy nature poems were a perfect way to wind back into myself after a day of leaping into other worlds. If I hadn’t had a blog post to write, I could have drifted off to his closing words: ‘Sweet dreams to everyone at the StAnza Poetry Festival’.

Ellie Julings

Categories: News

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 385

Wednesday 10 March 2021, 14:58

Black Cuillin

On the ferry, Skye experts had advised that
the Black Cuillin range was best viewed
from the windy road to Tarskavaig
but the low cloud and rain today
make it impossible to see their splendour.
There are only fields, which could be anywhere
except for the woolly lava flow of sheep,
which envelops our car and slows us
almost to a stop.

We trail behind the daggy rumps for miles
the meandering routes of individuals overridden
by the determined direction of our leaders,
invisible to us, but taking the road we’d planned.
The rest of us, flock and car, mindlessly following on
with one dog rounding up the distant stragglers,
as we merge into the bleating and the mist,
shepherded along
at the gentle pace of the island.

Jane Lamb

View our full map of Scotland in Poems as it grows »

For instructions on how to submit your own poems, click here

All poems from our Poetry Map of Scotland  are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet's permission.

Categories: Poetry Map
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