Archive | February, 2013

‘Wordsworth is, arguably, the first eco-poet’: Andrew Forster on nature, poetry and history

28 Feb

Forster,A_credit Henry IddonAndrew Forster has lived and worked in two inspirational places: Dumfries and Galloway and the Lake District, where he is now based. Here he describes the influences these places have had on his poetry. He will be taking part in StAnza’s Poetry Breakfast  on poetry and nature, 9 March  and will be reading at StAnza’s Border Crossings on 10 March. 

Rather than deliberate attempts to explore a subject, some themes slowly emerge as the poems accumulate. In 2001 I moved from the East Coast of Scotland to Leadhills, a small, former mining village on the border between South Lanarkshire and Dumfries & Galloway. It’s a marginal place in lots of ways. It’s 1500 feet above sea level and there are only 400 houses, only a third of which were occupied when I went to live there, and many of which were derelict. Most of the houses owned packages of land, allocated to them when the Leadmines closed, but very few were fenced and most cottages just gave out onto open hillside.

It’s a place of extremes, not least of extreme weather, and felt like living on the edge of wilderness. The experience of making a home there found its way into the poetry I was writing, and this kickstarted a more systematic poetic exploration of the area: its history, natural history, sense of community and its landscape. Living so close to nature raised questions about our relationship with it, and as the collection ‘Territory’ took shape, these questions became an important element.

Animal encounters were a recurring theme and, amongst the whole resurgence of nature and ‘eco-poetry’ that emerged around this time, I started to think about the role poetry had in relation to animals. It struck me that as people, we respond to animals in ways that can’t always be explained away in scientific terms, and I tried to articulate these responses through poetry.

In 2008 I moved again, to Cumbria this time, taking up a job with the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere. I live in Grange-over-Sands, an Edwardian merchant town on the northern bank of Morecambe Bay, and go to work along the shores of Lake Windermere into the tourist hotspot of the Central Lakes, to an office that overlooks Dove Cottage, former home of William Wordsworth. All of this is finding its way into the poems that will make up my next book, a project that had it’s genesis in a collaboration I did with the artist Hugh Bryden, ‘Digging.’ Once again the central question is what does it mean to live and work in a place like this, what responsibilities does it place on us? The poems are delving more deeply into history and myth in order to capture that elusive sense of the place.

I’ve been asked how we can write about the Lake District with such a literary heritage behind us. I’ve faced that question head on, and a number of poems in the new collection explore living and working in Wordsworth’s considerable shadow. I see this as a modern context. Discussions around modern nature poetry often begin by placing it in opposition to the Romantics, who have been portrayed as appropriating the natural world as a vehicle for their own thoughts and feelings. I see this as an over-simplification. Of course ideas and knowledge have developed since the early nineteenth century, but I see it as a continuum rather than a shift. Elements of Wordsworth’s nature poetry still strike me as very modern, and in his passion for nature and his concern for rural communities he is arguably the first eco-poet.

I first came to Stanza when I was invited to read there in 2006, and I’ve been back every year since. It’s a really vibrant festival in a special place, and an opportunity to catch up with friends I no longer see that often. I’m delighted to see the twin themes of ‘Legacy and Place’ on the Stanza programme, and look forward to some of these questions coming to life over the course of the Festival.

Read more about Andrew and his poetry at:

Countdown – one week to go!

27 Feb


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The setback of the Byre’s closure has triggered such an outpouring of goodwill and support for StAnza. We’re riding high on the crest of that, heading straight towards what we’re sure will be our best festival ever, and pleased to announce the final line-up of replacement venues now in place. Check out the updated programme online here for full details, or view our flyer/poster listing the new venues for all the events which had to be moved. Some of them are old favourites and others wonderful new discoveries.

There’s still just time to request a copy of this year’s brochure free by post. Email or telephone 01334 474610. The brochure is also available via the usual outlets, such as the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh or Visit Scotland at 70 Market Street, St Andrews.

This year’s festival hub will be in The Supper Room at the Town Hall on Queens Gardens. Here you’ll find our festival café and bar, and also the StAnza Box Office and our Festival Desk, where poets from as far away as Canada in one direction and Singapore in the other will be checking in. Be sure to drop in for lunch, dinner or for a coffee between events. The festival hub is always a great place to catch up with old friends and to make new ones, and will be this year’s venue for several late night Poetry Café events.

If you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to book your tickets. You can do this through Visit Scotland in St Andrews (see below), or online at A number of smaller events are already sold out, but with 101 events, exhibitions, installations and much more – almost half of them free, mostly unticketed – there’s still plenty on offer, so make sure you don’t miss out. Highlights in store include our US headliner, Mark Doty, leading poets from Canada, Scotland’s own Robin Robertson, a focus on Welsh poetry led by the National Poetry of Wales, Gillian Clarke, and our biggest ever spoken word/performance poetry line-up featuring John Hegley centre stage on the Saturday night and the young and talented Luke Wright.

Online ticket sales for StAnza 2013 events via Dundee Rep will stop at the end of this week. However it will still be possible to buy tickets by credit or debit card either in person or by phone or email from Visit Scotland in St Andrews. Contact them on 01334 474609 or, or drop in to see them at 70 Market Street, St Andrews. They will continue to sell some tickets for each event for which tickets are still available up until 4.45pm on the day before an event takes place, but main ticket sales during the festival will be at the festival Box Office in the Town Hall from Thursday 7th to Sunday 10th March. There will also be a temporary Box Office at our venue for the Wednesday evening events, at the MBSB. We regret that the StAnza Box Office will only be able to accept payments by cash or cheque supported by bank card, but there are several cash machines/ATMs very close to the Town Hall.

The guest bloggers appearing this week here on the StAnza Blog will lead us up to the festival launch which takes place next Wednesday at the MBSB Theatre on the North Haugh. This is a free event so do come along to see this year’s special guest, Lesley Riddoch, cut the ribbon. It’s just 15 minutes walk from the town and car parking is easy near the MBSB.

And finally, if you haven’t yet booked your accommodation for next week, check out the accommodation page on our website and get yourself a room – before they’re all snapped up!

‘I’m more interested in the edges of a place than the heart’: Harry Giles maps out a Scottish identity

25 Feb
Harry Giles at StAnza's Edinburgh Preview, January 2013/Chris Scott

Harry Giles at StAnza’s Edinburgh Preview, January 2013/Chris Scott

Harry Giles is a poet and performer, founder of the Edinburgh spoken word collective, Inky Fingers. Brought up in Orkney, he now is based in Edinburgh, but his mind is on many other places, as his guest blog reveals. He will be performing at StAnza’s lunchtime Poetry Cafe on 8 March.  One of StAnza’s themes this year is Legacy and Place

I’m thinking about what Scotland is more or less every day. There’s a referendum coming, after all. I’m trying to work out what the lines on the map mean, or might how we might be choosing to redefine them. I’m trying to work out if it matters more to me to be on this side of the line or that side of the line. For me, place (and the legacy of place) is all about borders.

I grew up in Orkney to English parents – the family moved when I was two years old – so I’ll always be an incomer to my own home. I’ve known no other home but Orkney, but the playground spent a decade reminding me that it still wasn’t really mine, and my voice continues to speak the same reminder. I grew up trying to work out which side of the border I stood on, or whether I could just ignore it. And Orkney, of course, is a strange part of Scotland to start with – sort of Scottish, sort of not, and definitely and justifiably sceptical of them down in Holyrood.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that when I came to put together my first book of poetry – a wee pamphlet called Visa Wedding from Stewed Rhubarb Press – that the poems started to congregate around the borders. I was trying to write my way through my identities, as many poets are. My tongue has grown more Scottish over the years, and my heart has too, though I’ve given a lot of both to America as well. Sometimes writing poetry is less about answering the question,“What do I want to say?” as it is about just asking “How do I speak?”

As I do, the pamphlet jumps between the English that colonised Scotland and the mongrel/magpie Scots that colonised Orkney. The poems’ places are spread between islands and cities in Scotland, England and America. The legacies of one place are written into poems about another. Most of the poems, in some way, are about a border crossing – a roadtrip, a mistranslation, sex, body piercing, the meeting of tongues.

Sometimes, when I read another poets’ nature poetry, or poetry about place, I’m astonished at how secure and assured the language can be. Poems where the writer wholly identifies with a place and gives themselves over to it. I love these poems, but I’m not sure I could ever write one – without one true home to be secure in, I’m not sure I can write unproblematically about anywhere at all.

I think I want to vote to change what the border of this country means. Anti-nationalist and anti-state, I use justifications like “regional governance” and “preserving the vestiges of welfare state socialism”, but I worry that it might be something more personal, more gut. I’d like to live somewhere more definite. I’d like to be able to place a cross in a box that says, definitively, who I am and where I stand. I feel like, to the good, I’m taking part in a huge series of national conversations about what this place is. And while I figure out where the cross goes, while I’m still hopping back and forth across borders, I’m glad that I get to write poems about it, too.

Check out Harry’s website and blog here

Photo by Chris Scott

‘Ideas that make it big start here’: Sally Evans previews StAnza’s Poets Market

22 Feb

The first of this year’s guest bloggers, Sally Evans, looks forward to the StAnza Poets Market. Sally is a poet based in Callander, where she runs a bookshop and both edits and publishes the broadsheet magazine Poetry Scotland


StAnza Poets Market in the Supper Room, StAnza 2012

Stalls at StAnza’s Poets Market


All Saints Hall, North Castle Street is the venue for the Saturday Poets Market at this year’s StAnza. That’s Saturday, 9 March and it isn’t far away!

All poet publishers are saints, as are all those who put on events at which our poets can meet and perform. At a time when recession puts pressure on public funding and mainstream bookshops, and has even closed the Byre Theatre, giving StAnza the biggest challenge of its fifteen years,  poetry is published regardless of the difficulties, by ordinary people who believe in its power for good.

From a bone folder and stapler and a computer and printer, right through to book distribution on a national and international scale, poets and their publishers meet every year at the StAnza Poets Market to show their wares, see each other’s latest productions and ideas, to talk and network, meet readers and writers from elsewhere, enjoy the fun, sell a few items and make contacts that reach into the future.

StAnza’s Poets Market is now a firm institution. For the last six years it’s been managed very effectively and reliably by Alan Gay. There were pamphlet fairs before that. This year, The Poetry Society, Templar Press and other visitors exhibit alongside Scottish publishers of all types, including writers’ groups. Any type of publication is fair game: pamphlets, magazines, postcards, zines, posters –  and books of course. A great place to suss out your markets as well as to pick up freebies and perhaps buy one or two treasures..

It is such a good idea that it is no longer the only such annual market: there ‘s a similar annual event at the National Library at Christmas and one at the Scottish Poetry Library in the autumn. I’ve exhibited at most of the StAnza Poets Markets over the years.

Poetry Scotland’s first issue was out at the very first StAnza, back in the mists of time, when we wandered round the town with Gael Turnbull giving out copies to all and sundry. Having just passed another milestone by distributing Issues 75, 76 and 77 this January, we’ll be doing a retrospective at this year’s Poet’s Market, picking out special issues of Poetry Scotland for display – for instance some single poet issues, including Rody Gorman’s Gaelic and English one, Robert Alan Jamieson’s The Cutting Down of Cutty Sark, and the English Diaspora (English poets settled in Scotland) and Caves of Gold (the Long Poem issue), and our newest Scots only issue In Oor Ain Wurds. Since we have a Welsh theme at StAnza I will also look out those with contributions in Welsh by David Annwn

We’ll have our diehard backlist (more to come later this year so nothing brand new in that line) and some examples of our poetry bookbindings. The books below were our nod to the Kindle: metallic bindings, two tone car spray straight onto the boards, and open flat sewn bindings inside. There were labour intensive and and we had to do the spraying outdoors in fine weather, but they were a huge success and sold out as fast as we could make them.

bigmetallics photo Murdo Macdonald

I’ll be demonstrating book and pamphlet sewing on this book sewing frame (see the photograph below). Edinburgh, once the city of bookbinding, used to be awash with these frames.

sewingbooks  photo Julie Johnstone

You’ll find much more as you go round the tables. Everyone is there to display and talk about their newest ideas and offerings. People you last met in London or Oxford or Aberdeen or Glasgow. The  Poets market is inclusive and up to the moment, a hotbed of poetic invention. The ideas that make it big start here.


 Read more from Sally Evans at

Oooops! Typo alert for StAnza 2013 brochure.

18 Feb

Spot the undeliberate error. As if all the venue changes weren’t enough, we’ve noticed one earlier typo. Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, per the online programme, other online listings and the tickets and box office info, starts at 2.15pm on Sunday 10th March, now in Parliament Hall, South Street. We’ve noticed that the brochure has it in the correct time order, ie before other 2.15pm events, but showing a start time of 3.30pm, which is wrong. Apologies for this and we hope no-one has been confused.

Return of the StAnza Pre-Festival Book Group.

6 Feb

Mark Doty, photograph by Starr Black

Good news for poetry lovers living in and around St Andrews.  In association with the University of St Andrews’ Open Association, StAnza is offering free places at its pre-festival Poetry Book Group sessions.  These were introduced for the first time last year in the run up to StAnza 2012 and were hugely popular, so we’re delighted that they are returning again this year, giving people the chance to read and talk about poets who will feature at StAnza 2013, including Mark Doty, Andrew Greig and Deryn Rees-Jones.

There will be three sessions this year, the first taking place today, Wednesday 6th February, and two further sessions will take place on Wednesdays 13th and 20th February.

Christian Livermore from the University’s School of English will lead the three early evening sessions from 5.30pm-7.30pm on Wednesdays in the Conference Room at St Katherine’s West at 16 The Scores, St Andrews KY16 9AX. To book a free place contact Debbie Wilbraham on 01333 462275 or open.association@st-andrews, or just turn up at one or more of the sessions.

More information can be found online here.

More good news on tickets and brochures

4 Feb

StAnza13Almost 1,000 brochures have just left the building, so those of you who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of your own copy won’t have long to wait now. And a telephone call from Visit Scotland at 70 Market Street, St Andrews has just informed us that they are all set up and ready to sell tickets, about a day ahead of target, so how good is that! Well done to them. And if you want to telephone, it’s 01334 474609. Meantime Dundee Rep are not lagging behind. They already have a whole range of StAnza events on line, with just a few to follow. You can check them out at So well done to them as well. And to make it a hat trick of good ticketing news, the StAnza booking page has been updated as well, and the new arrangements can be seen at And now we’ll get out of the way, in case there’s a stampede. But before we go, if you’d like to see the brochure online, hey presto, just like that: Stanza Brochure 2013 FINAL  Of course all things are relative. This is the Final version of the brochure as at 22nd January, just before we learned about the Byre. But info on new venues is starting to appear on the website and will be available generally very soon.

StAnza 2013 venue & ticketing update – the good news!

2 Feb

StAnza Poets Market in the Supper Room, StAnza 2012 

Following last week’s shock announcement about the Byre close, StAnza’s Festival Director, Eleanor Livingstone, provides this update about StAnza 2013:

 “The StAnza dust, about which James Harding was recently waxing so lyrical, hasn’t been allowed to settle, following the grim news about the temporary closure of the Byre theatre and the implications of this for StAnza 2013, and the good news is that alternative arrangements for ticketing and venues are almost in place.

 “Early next week StAnza tickets will be on sale once again – and as proof that we don’t do anything by halves, up until the festival week there will be not only one but two outlets for tickets.  Our friends at the Dundee Rep will sell StAnza tickets through their regular online box office, and in town the Visit Scotland  team at 70 Market Street, St Andrews, KY16 9NU, tel. 01334 474609 will be able to sell them in person, and also by phone.  In Dundee and in St Andrews both teams are working flat out and hope to be up and ready by late Monday or sometime on Tuesday next week (4th or 5th February). Full details will be available from our online Booking Page  and those of you who haven’t bought tickets yet will still have a chance to snap some up before the end of the Early Bird discount period on 10th February.  

 “A few of the smaller events are already sold out, but there’s still a handful of tickets left for the ever popular Round Table readings and workshops, so if you were thinking you’d missed the boat on them, get in there fast next week! 

 “The Town Hall in Queens Gardens, which has always been our secondary hub in all its Victorian Gothic grandeur, has risen to the challenge and will become this year’s primary hub. The Supper Room there, a regular StAnza venue, will be so transformed into a lively, bustling festival hub from Thursday 7th through to Sunday 10th March, that the Hall Keepers who are working flat out with us on this will hardly recognise it. Lunches, dinners and a bar will be available – including for late night jazz and open mic events – and exhibitions, projections and installations will also relocate there. The Festival Desk and Bookstall too will be found in the Supper Room, as well as this year’s StAnza Box Office. So the Supper Room will be the place to meet friends and make friends, to chill out, rev up and people-watch as poets from around the world arrive to check in at the festival.

 “Upstairs, the main hall will become StAnza’s main stage. It’s not unacquainted with poetry. Though we haven’t used it recently – except for the giant knitted poem in 2011 – in StAnzas past many great poets have taken the mic there, including Roger McGough, Sharon Olds, Mark Strand and Alistair Reid. I sneaked in for a preview yesterday when the relocated Fife Jazz Festival were sound-checking.  With the sun obligingly streaming through the windows and the raked seating all set up, it looked impressive indeed – and sounded wonderful!  This weekend’s Jazz Festival is highly recommended, at least to anyone who doesn’t have a festival to re-arrange.

 “For one night only, Wednesday 6th March for our opening events – the Festival Launch and RiverRun, a voyage through Dublin in music, visuals and poetry – thanks to support from the University of St Andrews, StAnza will relocate to the state-of-the-art new theatre in the MBSB (Medical and Biological Sciences Building) on the North Haugh. Don’t be put off by the name, it’s a stunning venue. You’ll find it on the corner, facing The Gateway across the roundabout. St Andrews locals will know not only where it is but that parking is no problem there; and we’ll have detailed directions for our audience coming from out of town, plus a guide to lead people from the Town Hall to the North Haugh where pop-ups will proclaim that StAnza has arrived.

 “Just as the show is going on this weekend for the Jazz Festival, likewise the core programme for StAnza 2013 goes ahead as planned. Only one out of the 103 events planned has fallen victim to the Byre closure – the Ian Hamilton Finlay exhibition of silkscreen prints needed a special kind of gallery setting which couldn’t be found elsewhere on short notice. Of course I’m very disappointed about this but plan to bring the exhibition another year once we’re safely back in the Byre.

 “Otherwise, we are still on course with everything else on the programme, albeit with many events in alternative venues. My huge thanks to all the local organisations and bodies who have this week so generously offered to re-home some of our events, even if that involves some re-organisation of their own events, and to their obliging staff who have cheerfully responded to my copious lists of queries and questions. We’ll update our online listings with details of the new venues as and when they are firmed up over the next week or so, and once everything is in place, posters giving the full details of alternative venues will appear all around St Andrews, further afield at the SPL and other places, and be downloadable from our website. However, if in doubt, just enquire during StAnza of the good folk at the Festival Desk in the Supper Room.

 “We don’t have time to reprint this year’s brochure with the new venue listings, but for those who can’t get them online, we’ll have a handout available at the Festival Desk which you can consult in tandem with the brochure.

“My thanks also to my StAnza colleagues, our staff, trustees and committee members, who have responded magnificently to this challenge and provided invaluable support in a million ways. There’s such energy in St Andrews at present, made up of goodwill and constructive action directed at the Byre and at StAnza, so strong you could almost bottle it. Indeed, it’s not just in St Andrews but reaching across Scotland, so I have to be confident that this will prevail and the Byre won’t be dark for long. And meantime, when the whole StAnza extended family – poets, other performers, audience, volunteers – arrives in town next month to join that mix, the effect is going to be tremendous. I look forward to seeing you there.”

StAnza launches its programme at the NLS

1 Feb

StAnza launched its programme on Wednesday in Edinburgh at the National Library of Scotland. In attendance was our Festival Blogger, James Harding, who gives us his unique account below. The photographs are by Chris Scott, Edinburgh’s literary paparazzo. James and Chris will be providing more words and pictures on this blog during StAnza in March. 

Eleanor introduces...

Eleanor introduces…

‘I couldn’t describe StAnza dust with scientific precision, but it’s something to do with a room’s rumble when a StAnza event is about to start, something to do with the friendly greetings of audience members – between both old friends and new acquaintances. It’s a touch of anticipation in the air, the knowledge that something interesting is about to happen.

It surprised me that a room so far away from the festival’s home felt like a true StAnza event, but it did. Maybe it just feels that way because of the proximity of the library’s thousands of books? Maybe it was the steel woks, yoga mats and blue beards brought in by some of the audience? (True story.) Or perhaps it is simply NLS has a secret passageway to St Andrews? (Not a true story.)

Whatever the reason for the audience’s good mood, they were treated to a preview of the festival by poets Ron Butlin, Harry Giles and Rachel McCrum. Harry Giles was a student at St Andrews and a volunteer at StAnza a few moons ago, and Eleanor Livingstone, the festival’s director, commented that it was such a pleasure to have watched his career develop – and now to be able to invite him to attend StAnza as one of the readers.

By now many of you will have heard the sad news about the Byre theatre going into liquidation. The festival has been inundated with offers of support and messages of goodwill from poets, venues, partners, funders, volunteers and audience members alike. Angela Wrapson, chair of the StAnza board, singled out two parties in particular for their goodwill. The University of St Andrews for their immediate offer of help in finding new venues; and the staff of the Byre theatre, who, on hearing that the Byre was closing, came in to work specially to print off hundreds of tickets for StAnza so that all of the tickets booked so far can be honoured. (Stand by for details of the new bookings system.) It’s humbling, somewhat exciting, and not the least bit surprising that StAnza has the support of so many wonderful people.

Rachel McCrum

Rachel McCrum

And as Eleanor assured us this evening, the show will go on! “The ocean of goodwill and everyone’s determination to help us overcome this setback gives me confidence that this year’s festival is going to be sensational.” And it will be sensational, especially if Mark Doty, Robin Robertson, Liz Lochhead, George Szirtes, Paula Meehan and all the other poets attending this year have anything to do with it!

I think tonight’s launch proved that StAnza can sprinkle its magic anywhere it chooses. But tonight was just a tiny taster of the full-throttle celebration of poetry to come this March in St Andrews…

As the toaster of time prepares to trap the bagel of this blog post irretrievably in its toothy wires, so this blog post comes to and end. I am available for stalking on t’Interwebs, and look forward to seeing you all at #StAnza13 – offline or on.

P.S. Eleanor Livingstone has confirmed rumours that edible poetry will return to the festival this year, with the somewhat cryptic comment “This year we’ll make sure you can have your cake and eat it.” I’m not sure what exactly what this will entail (presumably poetic cakes of some sort) but it sounds very exciting! I will keep you informed of further developments on Twitter @empowermint.’

James Harding

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