after looking forward to it for so long, stanza finally arrived! in case you’re not familiar with it, stanza is scotland’s poetry festival and is held in st andrew’s every march. this is the third year that we’ve enjoyed the festival and huge thanks need to go to everyone who is involved as this year really was the best yet. the theme for this year was myth and legend so, as i’m quite obsessed with myths, was really looking forward to enjoying what was on offer.
60 poets took part, coming from canada, usa, germany, italy, spain, cuba, croatia, australia, ireland and from all over scotland and the uk. they were joined by other writers, artists, musicians, actors, comedians and film makers to offer a really diverse range of events including: intimate round table readings; ‘inspire’ sessions; showcases of up and coming poets; poetry breakfasts, poetry theatre, slam night; open mic nights; stanza lecture; readings; poets past & present events; exhibitions; workshops; poetry masterclass; collaborations with musicians; poetry film; children's events; various public participation events – how on earth did they pack it all into five days?!
we were also really spoiled this year as we’d booked accommodation rather than travelling back and forward every day and it was such a treat to be able to spend so much more time in st andrews and meant we could really relax and enjoy ourselves. i didn’t even think i was that stressed but felt very refreshed and relaxed after a few days away, despite the busy schedule we gave ourselves!
we started on thursday with a lecture from matthew sweeney on georg trakl and colin will on gregory corso. i’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t heard of either of these two poets (austrian expressionism and american beat respectively) so it was really interesting to hear a little about their lives and listen to their poetry as well as how the two poets reading related to them.
next for me was grevel lindop's lecture on ‘myth, magic and the future of poetry’ – what can i say? i was totally blown away! grevel was interesting, thought provoking and entertaining, just wish it could have lasted longer. m was one of the lucky twelve to have a round table reading with seamus heaney,who he spoke highly of afterwards.
thursday night saw us head to the open mic night which was a bit of a disappointment this year i’m afraid to say. given the venue, i know you can’t expect total hush from the entire bar area but to have folk standing near the performance area chatting away (loudly) while poets are performing is down-right ignorant. even a few fierce glares from me didn’t do the trick and m dragged me away before i resorted to ranting in their direction!
after a breakfast on friday morning which would have shamed any top class hotel, with groaning tummies we headed off to the younger poet’s showcase where we heard: monika rinck who read in german and was then translated by alistair noon; sam riviere; swithun cooper; catriona lexy campbell who read firstly in gaelic and then read the english language version and andreas unterweger who also read in german and then read his translated version. it was wonderful to hear such a diverse range of poetry from the younger folk and also to hear poetry in german and gaelic, even though we don’t speak much german and even less gaelic it’s lovely to be able to focus on the sounds of the words, letting the sounds wash over you, rather than the meaning initially.
that evening we optimistically headed back to the open mic night but didn’t even stay ten minutes after not being able to hear a word from the mc or the first poet!
saturday morning saw us getting up early for ‘poetry breakfast: myth and legend’, which was a discussion panel of stephen halliwell (who read a short extract of the iliad in ancient greek – bless you dear learned scholar!); moniza alvi; rebecca seiferle and tiffany atkinson who were discussing the attraction and challenge of ancient myths and legends and how poetry and mythology interact. this was probably my least favourite event (sorry guys) but still provoked an interesting debate for us as we headed back to perth for m to give his reading at the writer’s day, a sort of mini launch for his new book!
we then dashed back in time to catch the last half hour of the poet’s market which is always a good chance to catch up with folk you’ve not had time to chat with and also a good excuse to spend, spend, spend on delightful new poetry pamphlets, this year it was also another opportunity for m to have heaps of praise lavished upon him for his lovely new book (did i mention that already?!).
after a quick detour to the delightful patisserie we discovered (hand made cakes in boxes, with ribbon - why do so few bakers do this any more?) we just made it to the five o’clock verses event where we heard karen solie and emma jones. i have flicked through both of their latest books but hearing them read really helped to breathe new life into their work for me.
despite being almost totally exhausted we managed to get out in time to see ‘poetry centre stage’ which was a fantastic evening event with john akpata and then linton kwesi johnson. i really loved john’s performance (even if i disagreed with some of his arguments/points), in fact when he first came on to the stage i got goose-bumps and couldn’t stop grinning – i had never seen poetry performed this way – a combination of heartfelt message, song, dance, rythym, my dear man you are a genius! linton kwesi johnson’s performance was fantastic also but in a totally different way. m had seen him perform many years ago and was glad to see he’d lost none of his presence. i found it a really sobering, thought provoking reading, hearing commentary and poetry surrounding some of the horrific racial attacks he had witnessed in london. speaking about it afterwards i said to m that some part of me really wanted to disbelieve what he was saying, certainly no disrespect intended to lkj because i know these are real events that did happen and sadly continue to do so around the world, but because i don’t want to believe i live in a world where people can behave in such a horrific way to their fellow man.
on sunday we went to the first of our ‘border crossings’ events where we heard poetry from will stone who we had heard read his translation of georg trakl at an earlier event, but this time had the chance to read his own poetry. and also victor rodriquez nunez who was just wonderful – although he spoke perfect english, he read his work in spanish and then a lovely lady from his publishers read the translated version. again, it was a delight to let the spanish words just wash over you but hearing his poetry in translation let you understand the beauty of his words, he seemed a genuinely lovely bloke.
grabbing a quick bite on the run we just made it in time for our second ‘border crossings’ and our last event of the festival.
lewis mackinnon read his poetry first in the gaelic he had written it and then in his quirkily lovely canadian accent read us the translation. he was great to listen to and told a story of how his latest book had three ‘swear’ words in it, when his book came out his dad asked his aunt what she thought of the book and her only comment was that ‘she didn’t much care for the salty language’!
mario susko followed with what was a great way to round off this year’s festival for us. he is a genuinely funny man and very talented poet with a great skill of expression.
then we rounded off our weekend with a trip to hear andy jackson read for the dundee launch of his new book the assassination museum.
now my head is a buzz of poetic, mythic inspiration!