“the friendliest poetry festival”: day 2

17 Mar

It’s 7pm, I’m in the foyer of the Byre and there’s a pleasant surround sound buzz on all levels. We’re between acts – Brian Johnstone (right, putting the spec in spectacular… Spectacles: model’s own) and Natasha Trethewey read at the first 5 O’Clock Verses session in Parliament Hall, elegies for time past, and perfect for one of this year’s themes, ‘Timepieces’; Fiona Sampson and Yang Lian are about to share the Byre Auditorium stage, with Yang’s translator, Brian Holton, at 8pm. Thai green chicken curry has been consumed in between. I am sitting beside the Ryan Van Winkle; we are both en laptops while facing a wall with a constant pictorial loop of participants on it; imagine his surprise and my glee when this happened:

But what a day and what a lot of different poetries have come before this point! I’ve been involved with StAnza since I was a student here at St Andrews, latterly as former director Brian Johnstone’s PA, when my job was to man the phone, put out fires or rush to Leuchars train station to retrieve a mislaid poet: in short, this is the first year I’ve been able to pull up a pew and drink down some words! Today I dived right in with a Past and Present session in the Town Hall – my first! – with Kevin Young speaking about the late, great Lucille Clifton and Stuart Kelly on the poetry of the late, once-considered-great Sir Walter Scott. An illuminating session in which Kevin revealed his great respect for ‘Miss Lucille’s’ work and warmth – “I can’t think of very many poets I’d want to hear 73 poems by”, he said, of a recent event in which 73 of her poems occurred – and Stuart explained how Sir Walter’s poetry was once held in such repute that advertisers of the day aped the final lines of ‘Marmion’, notably to aid sales of moustache wax…

From the past to pies, glorious pies!, and a ridiculously lovely session with Jo Bell, who read poetry of friendships, ship ships, the boating life, and a few naughty ones for good measure. She also declared that she found StAnza to be the friendliest poetry festival, which is of course a lovely thing to hear. Did we seduce her with the pies? Or was it the bank of chocolates and strawberry tarts left out for everyone after her event? Either way, we acknowledge that traversing St Andrews during StAnza without bumping into someone keen to discuss poetry isn’t easy!

Then for something a little bit different… Krikri were first introduced to StAnza audiences as part of the Distant Voices Festival in November 2009, pushing the envelope with their soundscapes in Ghent while we watched from the Byre Theatre. This was the first time we’d seen them perform in the flesh, and I’m afraid their lively and engaged exploration of contemporary trends in performance, sound and visual poetry doesn’t really translate into words! Mind-wobbling, ear-bending stuff.

So it’s been a day of poetries, or multiple voices, of remembering the past and celebrating the present. We’ll be raising a glass to that – and St Patrick – tonight in the Byre Bar, where there’ll be a spot of lovely jazz too. Perhaps we’ll see you there…

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