Firstly, a message of thanks to the folk at StAnza for continuing to grant me media accreditation; and secondly, an apology for the tardiness of this article. Instead of writing individual reviews, on this occasion I’m going to post a kind of general summary, mentioning the events and readings I went to.
It has been two years since I last came to StAnza, and in between times I have parted company with the review site for which I used to write, migrating my reviews here. Even my visit this year, cut short by my having to spend three days away at a conference for International Women’s Day, felt nothing like the immersion that StAnza offers, nor the response that this offer deserves.
Up to now, my experience/attendance at the festival has been governed by the amount of reviews I thought I could complete quickly enough to get them onto the web site while the festival was still running. This year I have a base in the School of English at the University of St Andrews, so you’d think I had less of an excuse for sticking to a meagre platter. Oh well…
As I lounged on my guest house bed, just over the River Taff from the Principality Stadium, I was able to keep up with the StAnza Twitterstorm – something was always going on, poets and events were being tagged, tweets were being retweeted. I thought back to the two or three times I had stood in queues outside the Byre Studio or Parliament Hall and heard people saying “We’ve just been to see such-and-such, and after this reading we’re off to see so-and-so…” It’s a marathon, a marathon at a gentle pace, as most of the festival-goers are retired. There’s nothing surprising in that, as the first four days of StAnza are weekdays, and anyone younger is probably working.
I do see some younger folk around – I spot a student or two from the university in an audience – and I feel young myself, as a student, although that’s a wee bit of a conceit.
I have a question: why is it that I saw so many tweets saying that StAnza “opened” on Thursday 5th? There were two events on Tuesday 3rd, and six on Wednesday 4th, and they were right there in the festival brochure. Certainly when I attended ‘Coastlines’ I was not in any doubt that this was a festival event, not a pre-festival event. The brochure advertised poetry from Anna Crowe, nature writer Jim Crumley, and Valerie Gilles, but there was much more to the event. In addition to the advertised poets, there was a presentation by PAMIS (Promoting A More Inclusive Society), giving an opportunity to wheelchair users Rachel Frame and Arianne Holmes to provide multi-media additions to the words of Maureen Phillip; after that we were treated to readings of poems about Tentsmuir – the coastline between the Tay and the Eden in Fife – from the competitors, runners up, and winner of the Scottish National Heritage / National Nature Reserves competition.
If I had to pick one of the headline poets from this event, with all due respect to Anna Crowe and Jim Crumley, it would have to be Valerie Gillies, whose poems took us on a journey from the source of the River Tay in a corrie on Ben Lui, to “Sheughie Dykes” as Tentsmuir was once known. “Sheugh… sheugh… sheughie dykes…” we joined in, and then “seugh… seugh.. seugh…” followed by a soft intake of breath to represent the sound of waves on the sand.
Perhaps the idea that StAnza “opened” on the 5th had something to do with the fact that there was a “sneak peek of some of the highlights” of the festival on the evening of the 4th, under the title ‘Festival Launch Extravaganza’, my emphasis. But then the very next item on the 4th refers to “Opening Night.” Make your minds up! If you wanted to see younger faces and hear younger voices, by the way, then the place to be was the Inklight open mic, once again in the no-man’s-land of Wednesday evening. I was in that myself, having recently started to write poems (like I said, I feel young!). I can tell you this: it was a thrill.
Let’s grant, anyway, that by the time I went to the first ‘Border Crossings’ event on Thursday, the festival had started. I’m a fan of the ‘Border Crossings’ event, and I hope they continue to be an integral part of StAnza. The eight events under this banner during the festival juxtapose two poets per event, each of whom has poetry that either crosses borders, or springs from the poet’s experience of having crossed borders. Sometimes they find things in common – for Yorkshireman Tim Turnbull and Bangladeshi Shehzar Doja it was cricket, and even I joined in the ensuing twanter (banter on Twitter). Let me do a thumbnail summary of each of the four poets I managed to catch…
Shehzar Doja: rich, rich, rich language coupled with a deliberate delivery. Often he seemed to be musing, capturing words out of the air, rather than reciting already-composed pieces.
Tim Turnbull: dry, laconic humour, coupled with the ability to use rhythm and rhyme when necessary. The simplicity of those devices never fell into doggerel, and when he cocked one side of his mouth up to mimic the louche lingo of Heckle and Jeckle, he almost sounded like – dare I say this? – a contemporary of mine, a poet from the other side of the Pennines (*ducks).
Johan Sandberg McGuinne: a large and colourful presence. Multilingual, Gaelic, Southern Sami, English, resonances between the Sami joik and puirt à beul. Each language struck its own rhythmic pattern.
Gerry Cambridge: probably enough to say that he founded Dark Horse! The fact that his latest collection was taken up by HappenStance Press says more.
I missed such a lot – not only poetry events but all the peripheral performances, exhibitions, and displays. Next year, with my feet even more comfortably under the table at the School of English, I may miss less and may be able to do more justice to the featured poets.