Monday, 11 March 2013

How it snowed on StAnza 2013, but poetry melted us

Dry, bitter snowflakes whirled in the streets of St Andrews, where StAnza International Poetry Festival merely gained in warmth and conviviality as the thermometer fell.  I'm just back from a fab four days in the north.

Highlights for me were Gillian Clarke reading from 'Ice', and explaining the principles of cynghanedd - and Eurig Salisbury reading in Welsh.  Mark Doty read a beautiful poem about a - dog.  Rare, that, but this one was perfectly weighted, humane, moving.  Wasn't really just about the dog.
I fell big time for 'Found in the Fields', Carrie Akroyd's work on John Clare.  You felt it was a collaboration.  
Alvin Pang was great, and over my last Poetry Breakfast I heard him reading in Chinese, and then the translation.  All the Poetry Breakfast discussions were absorbing.  I especially enjoyed listening to friends Dave Borthwick and Andy Forster talking with Mandy Haggith and Carry Akroyd about how poetry engages with the environment.  I had to rush from that one though, to beat my way through Arctic winds to St. John's Undercroft for my reading with Zoe Skoulding.
Which was a sell-out, especially appreciated as it was the official launch of my first collection from Oversteps Books, 'Not Lost Since Last Time'.  (Mandy Haggith told me later how she got the last ticket).  I had a lovely audience, and since I went first I was able to enjoy listening to Zoe's work too.
John Burnside's Masterclass was fascinating, and ran to time, though I could have taken more.  Dumfries and Galloway poet Em Strang put in a tremendously strong poem, as did Fife based poet Barbara Davey.

Jean Johnstone's book (collaboration with Jane Hirshfield)
In the middle of one busy day I walked very fast (to avoid hypothermia) down to the Westport Cafe where I met with artist Jean Johnstone, who had brought her handmade artists books, created in collaboration with poets, specially to show me.  We set the coffee and soup safely away to the other side of the table, and slowly unwrapped rough silk cloths to reveal the books.  When I picked up the first book, I gasped.  It had no weight at all, yet substance, like holding a songbird, with the same sense of both frailty and life pulsing.  Jean sets words and images into beeswax, and the books retain a faint scent of wax alongside the woodiness of handmade and hand-moulded paper.  Sensational.  And she's coming to Ludlow Fringe to do a special event  in June.  Don't miss.

From 'Unmapped'

And I loved 'Unmapped' an exhibition and poetry book by poet Rebecca Sharp and artist Anna King.

Gael Turnbull's 'The Edinburgh Poem'

And I played with Gael Turnbull's famous 'Edinburgh Poem' (slot the words together in magical serendipitous ways that always work).

And met Maureen Sangster and Paula Jennings, and admired their work on the collaborative Farlin project, involving artists and poets from Fife and Shetland.  And we all missed The Byre as a venue, and hope it'll be back before long, but the spirit of StAnza certainly remained in place. And John Hegley and Jacob Sam la Rose were just great, as was Erin Moure's twinkly humour and experimental mind.  I could go on, but it's my bedtime.

Basically, if you can get to StAnza next year, go.


  1. I was lucky enough to watch a couple of webcasts and I also loved hearing Alvin and Eurig reading in Chinese and Welsh. I also found George Szirtes and Chris Emery's talk inspiring. I really appreciate your blog and all that it is done to share the StAnza experience. Certainly on my list of things I'd like to do.

  2. "I had to rush from that one though..." Yeah, we saw you splitting in a hurry on the webcast.

  3. A great commentary, thanks Jean. You were in both Saturday and Sunday webcasts sitting attentively until, at the end on Saturday, you made a mad dash for it! So pleased your book launch went well. Thanks for signing and sending me a copy, which Stan the Post delivered safely on Friday. It's grand! x