Morag Smith from the Glasgow Women's Library looks forwrad to her highlights at StAnza.
I’m national development worker for Glasgow Women’s Library and a big fan of Stanza so it’s a pleasure to be asked to contribute to the festival blog. GWL champions the work and lives of women poets and writers past and present, so I’m excited to see so many great events focusing on women.
I’ve recently been reading the selected poems of Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye (Words Under the Words, selected poems). GWL staff frequently read from Naomi’s work in workshops and Story Cafe events so I’ll be making sure to catch her and Tim Liardet on Tuesday 9th March.
I’m also looking forward to hearing Tishani Doshi, the Welsh-Gujurati poet, reading live on Friday 12th March. Tishani’s poem 'Girls are Coming Out of the Woods' blew me away when I first read it and her collection of the same name was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes award.
Another little box of treats I’m signing up for are Stanza’s Poets at Home series of short 15 minute films which run throughout the festival. They are perfect for my lockdown attention span and I can easily fit them into my day – I’m especially looking forward to Ella Frears on Monday 8th March (1730 to 1745). I saw Ella read just a few weeks ago at the T.S. Elliot awards – her energetically present poetry is dark, humorous, beautifully written and touches on many things including sexual politics, womanhood and girlhood.
We work with many volunteers at GWL, so I asked Jo one of our volunteers who is also a keen poet and writer, for her Stanza recommendations and she picked out these two sessions:
I love the idea of listening to meditation and readings in the morning, especially at its later start of 10.30 and gently be eased into feeling you’ve been active while extending your relaxing Sunday morning.
I love this idea of becoming inspired in 10 mins, that you can then take creatively into your own poetic practise, or inject excitement into your conversations through the week!
If you start getting withdrawal symptoms when Stanza is over, have a look at some of GWL’s exciting online literary events coming up in the near future. Our online Story Cafes are a chance to draw up your chair, sit back and relax while listening to readings of poetry, fiction and non-fiction by GWL staff and volunteers from a wide range of women writers. You can take part in the zoom chat and ask questions or just listen in and (re)discover the pleasure of being read to at these lovely informal events. Story Cafes coming up soon include:
Brave Your Day on Thursday 18th March at 1pm with Charley Gavigan (https://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/story-cafe-special-brave-your-day-with-charley-gavigan-2/) Charley looks at how the power of stories can unite us in these uncertain times.
Story Café special with Kirsten MacQuarrie on 22nd April at 1pm (https://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/story-cafe-special-kirsten-macquarrie/) Kirsten will be reading from her debut novel, Ellen and Arbor.
Talking of festivals, May 2021 also sees the return of GWL’s innovative Open the Door festival, which will run online from 20th to 22nd May. Open the Door is a unique festival that aims to break down the barriers between writers and readers and generate new discussions. The title of the festival comes from Catherine Carswell’s classic work of fiction and we want to create open doors into the worlds of reading and writing through every event and conversation. Each year the festival focuses on the life and work of three women writers from the past whose work deserves more attention. Past writers have included Sandy Craigie, Wangaari Mathai, Jessie Kesson and Maud Sulter. This year we will be looking at writers who are artists and artists who are writers and have a really exciting line–up of live chats between women authors/artists, conversations on social media, informal workshops and much more. We will also be looking for entries for our Calm Slam - the GWL Open the Door Calm Slam is for every woman* who loves poetry but likes the quiet life and is aimed at women who haven’t taken part in poetry slams before. We’ll looking for your words and your videos, with you in front or behind the camera. Details of how to enter the Calm Slam and of all Open the Door events will be announced very soon, so keep an eye on the events programme on our website: https://womenslibrary.org.uk/events/
Thanks for reading the blog, have an amazing time at Stanza and hope to see some of you at Glasgow Women’s Library events in the future!
Topplin’ the Mannie /on Ben Bhraggie
Paddit benorth o' Inverness, Eastle seaboard bound
Spy the Duke on Bhaggie Ben askew o'er steenie grund
Gazing athourt to aither sea as far as teary e’e can see
Blaudit the day, bane on the brae
Nae dint o shame he'll e'er dree
The vaunty Laird a clan chief ance wud fend ilka ane o crofters
But deil he dic'd at Westminster begowk'd his sons an dochters
A Judas kiss to hielan clan, Macbeth is ev'ry noble man
knife-stickit Scots the back o' Scots, sauld the flock an left the shotts
Man owerthraw'd his countryman
Hag burns on shame-reek'd sypit land, bronze crottal haltit growin
Ling pit-past a waving hand, gurgle-burnie stoppit flowin
Daeless mist blurs o'er the moor, tears blear o'er wretch'd poor
Tae fleet or burn tae crulge or turn
Foul fa' wha sent the fog tae smoor
Twa centuries on, the sheep lang-gane replaced wi’ moor-groosed leisure
The ghillie's world itsel replaced wi’ gowfin Preppers pleisur
The real Hielands squat in repose o’ dreichit fachie bungalows
Drachie morn, dark'nin dawn
Scots wha hae wealth as their foes
The Laird cannae affard to bide when billionaires come leukin
An juist as those afore him died the Laird gets his ain hidin
Naebody drank the merrie foy o' the Chieftain's treason'd boy
Like a curling stane creepit, sloomit an sleekit
The malafousterin o' the hoi polloi
An sae the tattie howkers howk aboot the Mannie’s rimie feet
An Mannie shoutit ‘Keep the heid! I wud cantily lie and sleep
But what good is to topple me, caw canny fae ye plan's ajee
Fae efter me, there's a queue tae feed the baggity beastie's mou
Wi pow'r, pow'r wrestl'd aff a ye’
As dries the scart by outstretched wing the Duke still casts a shaidae
but whither land or o' that ilk prescribit tha' they awe ye
They awe by awning a' ye ken, they awe ye women an ye men
It gars ye grue tae see it true
Tha’ Clearances will ne'er en'
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The petals gleam the utter blue
of the welder’s flame[.] ‘The Dockyard’
Oh, the succinct and perfect use of ‘utter’ here to convey the blueness of that flame! What better word to use? Lines such as this continue to resonate long after reading John Glenday’s fourth collection of poetry, The Golden Mean.
‘The Dockyard’ works as an illustrative example of the whole collection. Careful attention is given to each word and their placing: the delicate form of the flower is aligned with something as anomolous as a welder’s torch; the prosaic is given the same weight as the pastoral. Butterflies head towards hills. Their journey bears equal witness to the dual carriageway and corner shops. All is described without judgement.
This is not to say that the collection is easy to pin down. Diverse in rhythm, structure and subject, these poems initially defy capture. A poem in Viking ballad-metre (‘The Lost Boy’) is sandwiched between a dense paragraph of youthful yearning (‘A Testament’), and a ballad voiced by a soldier on the eve of the battle of the Somme (‘The Big Push’). And yet, their composite parts touch on shared themes: transience; what it is to be alive; simultaneous pain and beauty in human experience. All is conveyed in the most measured of language. Perhaps this is the ‘golden mean’, that perfect balance of elements, to which the title alludes?
A stone and heart are compared in ‘The White Stone’. Both ‘weigh smooth and hard and cold’. However, the last lines,
before it was first
touched by the world[,]
force the reader to circle back and re-imagine that initial comparison. The world changes the surface of the heart but, without its touch, the heart would remain forever cold....
Red peppers and plantain, hibiscus and hummingbirds, saltfish and snapper, kaiso and calypso – all feature in Malika Booker’s debut collection, Pepper Seed, as its narrative slips between Guyana, Grenada, Trinidad and Brixton to tell intertwined personal and political stories. Booker’s writing is at once both searing and beautifully lyrical, the past slipping into the present, enabling her to evoke complexities which lie beyond the reach of conventional text books and biographies.
Given the context of colonialism, slavery, misogyny as well as present-day racism, Pepper Seed is not, by any means, an easy read, confronting the reader with acts and words of cruelty and brutality, their immediate effects and long-distant after-effects.
The collection opens with “Granny’s Love Poems”:
Imagine her different, a fairy-tale granny
cooking fudge for brown cinnamon girls like me.
Her pale sugar eyes twinkle.
This fantasy granny is not, however, the granny of Booker’s story. In the sequence poem, “Red Ants Bite” (1), granny speaks:
You will end up on your back, scunt spread out
feet sprawl out, whoring. Who tells a child that?
Yet I loved her. She was my granny,
and I wanted her to love me back,
but everyday her words
put this hard thing deep inside me.
Towards the end of the sequence, we learn just what grandmother has endured:
I was a slave baby mixed with plantation white.
This creamy skin draw buckman, blackman,
coolieman, like prize…
Tim Liardet’s The World Before Snow, his second collection to be nominated for the T. S. Eliot Prize, is described by Carcanet as “a book of passionate extremes.” Inspired by the poet's chance meeting (and subsequent love affair with) an American poet after the two were trapped in a Boston museum during a snow-storm, the collection showcases the transformation and self-exploration Liardet underwent following this encounter. This is a collection of contradictions: of loose and tight images, long and short stanzas.
Even the cover prepares the reader for these binaries. René Magritte’s The Musings of a Solitary Walker (1926) is painted in incandescent whites and matte blacks, illustrating the collection’s achromatic and opposing dualities. Completed fully eighty-seven years before Liardet’s book, the image perfectly encapsulates the notion of the self being composed of multiple personas: the cover's “solitary walker” depicts one man naked, horizontal and white, while the other clothed, dark and upright, faces away. Throughout, Liardet suggests these opposing versions of the “self”, which he explores in his numerous “Self-Portrait” poems, are themselves constructed through conflicting notions of love, which in turn he describes as “the havoc at which you cannot balk.”...
This is an excerpt of a review by Kate McAuliffe of Tim Liardet's The World Before Snow. For more information on Liardet at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.
As its title suggests, Jacqueline Saphra’s latest collection, All My Mad Mothers, is about women and family. Saphra’s poems examine the multifaceted nature of femininity, individual and universal, moving within, between and beyond the roles designated to women. This applies particularly to familial roles she inhabits – mother, daughter, stepdaughter – but also examined is the woman as guardian, friend, witch and – the other half of the title – madwoman.
The collection grabs us from the beginning with the short and intense “In the Winter of 1962 My Mother…”. This is written in free verse – a paragraph made up of a single, sparsely punctuated sentence that carries with it a sense of panic and lack of control – as the persona’s mother appears tries to run from her life:
until she found herself on Hyde Park Corner
traveling round and round in shrinking circles
not sure how to execute the move outwards
into another lane never having been
properly taught how to make an exit.
Here we have a woman trying to escape not the role of motherhood (she carries her infant daughter as she flees), but rather seeking “another lane”, another life as it were, for her and her child. All throughout the collection, the bond between parent and child is emphasised. Though the first poem is raw and gripping, other poems address this relationship more tenderly, like “When I think of you”, a mantra dedicated to Saphra’s son, reminiscing his childhood. It is a simple list poem which is nevertheless imbued with a feeling of intimacy and longing, with its references to old arguments about the practicality of shoes that no doubt recall for us similar, past discussions with our own mothers (or children)...
This is an excerpt of a review by Kai Durkin of Jacqueline Saphra’s All My Mad Mothers. Saphra will be giving the StAnza lecture; for more information on Saphra at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.