Archive | February, 2014

A Guide to Online Events at #StAnza14

27 Feb

Photo by Iain GrayStAnza calls St Andrews its home, but it likes to get out of the house now and again – exercise keeps you young after all – so this year there will a record number of webcasts of StAnza events as well as the usual Twitter shenanigans. (Though we’re trying to avoid a repeat of the Bill Herbert banana incident.) You’ll find a run-down of the four online events below, as well as links to follow at the right time to watch the show.

As always, the social-media monkeys will be following #StAnza14 and @stanzapoetry during the event so you will be able to ask questions and make comments to the panellists. Attendees in person receive coffee and Fisher & Donaldson pastries, so we recommend online viewers stock up before logging in in case you get jealous during the show. Questions about the refreshments will not be passed on unless unusually witty. That is not a challenge.

Poetry Café for Breakfast: War & Remembrance (Friday 7th March, 10.00-11.00am GMT)

“Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, / As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.” (Wilfred Owen, ‘Dolce et decorum est’)

The war poets are among the most famous and respected writers in history, but what role does poetry play in modern warfare? Panellists David Constantine, Richie McCaffery, Dan O’Brien and SMSteele will discuss this and other questions about war poetry for Friday’s breakfast panel.

Poetry Café for Breakfast: Home Thoughts (Saturday 8th March, 10.00-11.00am GMT)

Tishani Doshi, Gabeba Baderoon, Martin Bates, Sophia Walker and Rob A. Mackenzie are all poets who, in one way or another, have had they feeling they’re not in Kansas any more. Join them as they talk about how moving home has affected their writing and what, after their experiences, home means to them now.

Poetry Café for Breakfast: Means & Ends in Poetry Translation (Sunday 9th March, 10.00-11.00am GMT)

“Tu proverai sì come sa di sale / lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle / lo scendere e ‘l salir per l’altrui scale.” (Dante Alighieri. “You’ll prove how bitter another man’s bread tastes, and how hard it is to climb up and down another man’s stairs.”)

Poetry translation is a notoriously difficult activity, but a rather interesting one to discuss. Panellists Menna Elfyn, Tomica Bajsić, Arjen Duinker and Marco Fazzini explore aspects of moving poems between languages, drawing on their knowledge of translation into and out of Dutch, Croatian, Italian and Welsh.

A Poetry Tour of Scotland (Sunday 9th March, 3.30-4.30pm GMT)

This event kickstarts StAnza’s poetry map of Scotland project, part of the year of Homecoming Scotland. Poems about a specific location in Scotland will be read and then pinned onto the map – which will be available online as well as in person. The map will continue to be updated throughout spring and summer, eventually forming (we hope!) a comprehensive description of Scotland through poetry.

The Bill Herbert bananas

Poetry Loops

26 Feb

Poetry LoopsEach year at StAnza we show a range of short poetry films. This year they will be showing in the Conference Room at the Byre Theatre from 10.00am-8.00pm from Thursday 6th March to Sunday 9th March. This installation is free and unticketed, so whenever you have a spare few minutes at the festival, you can take in a short burst of filmpoem. As ever this year’s selection offers a diverse range of what’s currently being produced. Here is what will be on offer.

Lifted is a poem about the intriguing nature of travelling uphill in a canal boat, written and read by canal laureate Jo Bell and realised as a filmpoem by the filmmaker and photographer Alastair Cook. It was commissioned as one of four canal-themed filmpoems by the Poetry Society in partnership with the Canal & River Trust as part of the Canal Laureate 2013 Project. Filmed in Stone, Staffordshire. Length: 3:42.

‘All water wants, all water ever wants, / is to fall. So, we use the fall to lift us, // make of water its own tool, as simple / as a crowbar or a well-tied knot’

The Black Delph Bride by Liz Berry is a dark and mysterious poem inspired by an original Victorian canal map of Dudley and the feeling of ghostliness that lingers across the canal network. The atmospheric film was made by Alastair Cook, a filmmaker and photographer commissioned by the Poetry Society in partnership with the Canal & River Trust as part of the Canal Laureate 2013 Project. The poem is read by the author, and was filmed in Dudley. Length: 3:13.

‘Black Delph, Black Delph, my girl she floats,/ her bridesmaids: eels and voles and stoats. // Snuff your lantern / Hear her sing’

Ian Duhig’s poem Grand Union Bridge returns to Paddington Basin, and the ‘old black canal’ of the poet’s adolescence. Full of transgressive glamour and a sense of a dark kind of magic, Alastair Cook’s filmpoem was commissioned by the Poetry Society in partnership with the Canal & River Trust as part of the Canal Laureate 2013 Project. The poem is read by the author. Length: 4:50.

‘Some winters, the Cut grew a glass skin: / you could see through it now, a window / on the film-maker’s alchemical darkroom.’

The Water Doesn’t Move, the Past Does is Ian McMillan’s canal poem, commissioned as one of four filmpoems by the Poetry Society in partnership with the Canal & River Trust as part of the Canal Laureate 2013 Project. Rooted in place and history, his poem explores the voice of a canal and aqueduct in Stanley Ferry, Wakefield. It was read by the author and filmed by Alastair Cook. Length: 2:31.

‘The aqueduct speaks / In the voice of round here: vowels / Flattened by hammers, words / Shortened like collier’s breath’

Lifted, The Black Delph Bride, Grand Union Bridge and The Water Doesn’t Move the Past Does were made for the Poetry Society by filmmaker and photographer Alastair Cook

Commissioned by the Poetry Society, Evaporations is a new filmpoem by Alice Oswald and Chana Dubinski exploring water’s different states. The theme of National Poetry Day 2013 was ‘Water, Water Everywhere’ – this new work was commissioned to celebrate. Director of Photography Andrew Brown, Editor Richard Couzins. Filmed on location in Devon, with thanks to Riverford Organic Farms. Length: 5:56.

‘Yes Yes there is Ice but I notice / The Water doesn’t like it so orderly / What Water admires / Is the slapstick rush of things melting’

small lines on the great earth by filmmaker artist and filmmaker Edward O’Donnelly with poet and writer Malcolm Ritchie who lives and works on the island of Arran was filmed there in one day in short, condensed one-take sequences, echoing the brevity and spontaneity of each poem. Edward O’Donnelly’s previous work includes editing a series of short films documenting cultural links between Kolkata, India and Scotland with artist Kenny Munro. Titles: ‘Language of Rivers and Leaves”, linking Sir Patrick Geddes with Rabindranath Tagore. Malcolm Ritchie’s Poetry includes some small lines on the great earth and in these lines is my reclusion, both published by Longhouse Publishing, Vermont.

Two films by Alessandro Tedde, filmmaker and co-founder of the first open school of cinema in Italy of readings by two Italian poets, Giuseppe Bellosi and Nevio Spadoni. The first was filmed in the library of Sala d’Attorre, Ravenna before a public lecture, and the second was shot on the stage of Rasi Theater in Ravenna, the apse of a former church built in 1250. Both films were made exclusively to be screened at StAnza 2014. Alessandro Tedde’s first official short, Paths of Memory, was screened at various Italian festivals, and 2011 with his brother Francesco he created a project on seven DVDs about the Italian region of Romagna, its poets and its past.

A Poet’s Life is about Dutch poet Arnold Jansen op de Haar. In 1994, before the fall of the Srebrenica enclave he was on active service in the former Yugoslavia as the commanding officer of a UN unit. He left the Dutch Grenadier Guards in 1995 to become a full-time poet and columnist. He has been a columnist for more than ten years and writes a weekly column for Holland Park Press. His new poetry collection Loving Mercilessly (Meedogenloos Liefhebben) will be published in the autumn of 2014. The film was made by Holland Park Press which publishes literary fiction and poetry with emphasis on promoting Dutch authors to the English language world

Tasting Notes: Poet Matthew Stewart lives in Extremadura, Spain, where he works as the export manager and blender for a local winery, VinaOliva. In the film the poet reads poems amongst the vineyards. His collection Tasting Notes from HappenStance Press was launched in London at the Poetry Book Fair. It was a unique launch, in that the poetry about wine was delivered as the audience tasted the wine itself.

Ours thanks to The Poetry Society, Alastair Cook, Edward O’Donnelly, Malcolm Ritchie, Alessandro Tedde, Silvana Siviero, Matthew Stewart and Holland Park Press.

Poetry In Protest

25 Feb

In Protest book cover One of this year’s events at StAnza is hosted by Laila Sumpton. During her years as a student at the University of St Andrews, Laila was a key member of StAnza’s planning committee. She is now based in London where she is a member of the Keats House Poetry Forum. It is a great pleasure to invite her as co-editor of the recently published anthology, ‘In Protest- 150 poems for human rights’, to take part in this year’s festival. Here she sets her event in context:

One of this year’s festival themes is ‘Words under fire’, part of the national and international commemoration of the First World War, and I am delighted to be hosting an event which explores our explores contemporary war poetry.

This transports us to a familiar territory, even if we have little direct experience of war, where we sense the legacy of the Great War poets, and for me Tony Harrison and Brian Turner, the countless films and dramas, Blitz photos and history text books. Yet when you come to writing your own war poem, where do you start? Especially when the trauma is often researched, not experienced. You could see the same challenge in writing about any non-confessional theme, but war poetry really needs to be handled with respect, restraint and compassion, or it runs the risk of being a shock and awe masterpiece.
When judging entries for the anthology that would become ‘In Protest- 150 poems for human rights’ alongside fellow Keats House Poet Anthony Hett and Helle Abelvick-Lawson from the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium, we were not surprised that of the 640 entries from all around the world- war poetry was a dominant theme. We found ourselves honing in on poems that focussed on individuals, rather than those that made generalisations about the scale and impact of war. It was the details of the humanity caught in warfare that made us see violations more clearly, and the post-conflict poems we selected about war crimes tribunals and memorialisation added an important dimension. ‘In Protest’ presents human rights poetry across thirteen different themes, including Workers, Children, Equality and Expression, and we were keen to showcase political poetry produced with craft, clarity and sensitivity.
Join six contemporary war poets who are journeying to Stanza from four different countries as they perform and introduce poetry published in ‘In Protest’ at the Stanza Poetry Festival on 10th March 7pm in the Byre Studio Theatre. You can also see the ‘In Protest’ installation at the festival exhibition, or take part in a war poetry discussion event at the University of St Andrews School of English at 1pm on 11th March.

Esther Kamkar, Eamonn Lynskey, Samuel Tongue, Jasmine Heydari, David J Costello and David Lee Morgan have written about different conflicts from different perspectives, using different techniques. Sweden based Jasmine Heydari explores her own experiences on living with memories of the Iran-Iraq war, and managing the expectations and intrigue of people asking her to recount it. Whilst Glasgow poet Samuel Tongue takes us instead to the drone control room in the Nevada desert where soldiers are zooming in on their targets in an all too real videogame, and Irish poet Eammon Lynskey forensically examines a photo of a civilian execution in Minsk during the Second World War.

In Ruth Padel’s forward to the anthology she beautifully expresses the importance of human rights poetry and in continuing to write ‘Words under fire’ as a tool for change and a means for survival:

‘A poem is language under pressure: the charged, memorable patterning of words in the smallest possible space. Made out of need and vulnerability, by burning away the peripherals, a poem calls attention to how we think about what is human. For those who, on behalf of us all, defend the rights of being human, a poem is one of the most resonant and basic human tools.’

‘Poetry In Protest’ on Sun 09 March 7.00-7.30pm at The Byre Theatre, Abbey Street – Studio Theatre (Free) features readings from a new anthology of human rights poems with Laila Sumpton

Malcolm Ritchie on ‘small lines on the great earth’

23 Feb

In another of our pre-festival guest articles for the StAnza Blog, poet Malcolm Ritchie talks about the making of a film of his poems by filmmaker Edward O’Donnelly:

In January 2012, Ed asked me if I would be interested in making a short film with him, based on a few of my poems. I imagined he meant face-to-camera readings, perhaps in a variety of locations or settings. The weather was wild and stormy for almost the entire duration of January. However, there was one day early in the month which, while the wind persisted, was filled with brilliant laser-like burst of sunlight.

It was early on the morning of this day that we immediately made the decision to set-off and shoot the film. Ed suggested we start in the east of the island and follow the winter sun around to the west coast, filming in short, condensed one-take sequences, echoing the brevity and spontaneity of each poem. He chose to film each take with the camera lens facing nearly directly into the sun, in order to catch the effect of its dramatic, flaring intensity, and then later in the day, its softening incandescent glow.

Initially, on leaving the cottage that morning, I picked up an old anorak to wear, but suddenly decided to change it for my long, black overcoat. This it transpired was the better choice, since it evokes a time when rural life and landscape had a very different resonance compared to today. It also reflects the long history of such apparel in the lanes and tracks of the countryside; and as Ed was quick to appreciate, a long, woollen overcoat can fly with the wind, and dance with the cadence of the walker, in contrast to contemporary synthetic clothing. In addition to this, such an overcoat may conceal a multitude of sundry things – a sawn-off shotgun; contraband; a poacher’s catch; or poetry.

Malcolm Ritchie is a poet who currently lives and works on the island of Arran. He was a founding member of The Falmouth Poetry Group, started by the English poet, Peter Redgrove, and visiting poets included Ted Hughes, D.M. Thomas, and Peter Porter. He has travelled in Asia, and worked and lived in Wales, London, California, New York and for nearly ten years in Japan, where he began writing again after a 25 year hiatus.

‘small lines on the great earth’ is showing as part of the Poetry Loops free installation of short poetry films in the Byre Theatre from 6-9 March during StAnza 2014.

The SPL at StAnza 2014

21 Feb

JL WilliamsEach year StAnza collaborates in ways big and small with the Scottish Poetry Library, this year with the appearance at StAnza of Tanya Shirley. Jennifer Williams, the SPL Programme Manager, shares her thoughts about StAnza 2014.

I so enjoyed the StAnza Preview at tell it slant Poetry Bookshop in Glasgow on 6 February. (

What a pleasure to find myself at a delightful poetry bookshop, packed with people (standing room only by the time I got there) eating beautiful food from the café, drinking wine and chatting up a word storm, surrounded by shelves of poetry books and magazines. tell it slant is ‘popped-down’ for the moment but hopefully soon to return as a permanent fixture in Glasgow.

I love StAnza previews because they always seem to have the buzz about them that makes StAnza so delicious – full of poets and poetry lovers, everyone in a jolly frame of mind and talking about what they’re looking forward to and what they’re loving in the poetry world. This event was just as fabulous, with readings from SBT New Writers Award winner Kathrine Sowerby, poet Alexander Hutchison on WWI poet David Jones and Colin McGuire wringing peals of laughter from the delighted crowd.

Less than 30 minutes in total, it was a tantalising taster of what’s to come, and boy is the menu packed for the three days I’ll be in St Andrew’s in early March.

I’ll be doing podcast interviews with StAnza readers Sujata Bhatt and Brian Turner, catching as many events as I can fit in and catching up with as many folks as I can. The SPL will have a table brimming with Poetry Readers and poetry postcards for everyone to pick up and enjoy, and if it’s not quite as snowy as last year I might even make it down to the beach for an invigorating walk (though perhaps not a dip!). I can’t wait to hear our Commonwealth United Poets visitor Tanya Shirley in action ( and Ron Silliman, John Burnside, Tishani Doshi, Rob A Mackenzie, Richie McCaffery, the wonderful Tomica Bajsić who I met at the 2013 Berlin Poesiefestival… the list goes on.

When I first came to Scotland years ago I ventured to StAnza on my own, knowing no one in St Andrew’s and hardly anyone in Scotland; just for one day, just to see one poet – David Constantine. I was so awed by the reading he gave that I came home and wrote him an admiring letter, to which, to my surprise, he generously responded. I treasure that letter, his poems and his stories and it feels like a fabulous circle has swung round to connect itself, with me heading to StAnza this year to see David Constantine again – but with a few more friendly faces to say hello to this time. Hope to see you there and do come and tell me all about what it is you’re reading, writing and loving this year.

Jennifer Williams, Programme Manager
Scottish Poetry Library, February 2014

You can follow the SPL blog at

Mapping Scotland by Poetry

18 Feb

With just two weeks to go to the start of the festival it’s time to unveil an extra special event for 2014. In this year of Homecoming Scotland, at 3.30pm on the Sunday of the festival, 9th March, we plan to start mapping Scotland by poetry. We’re inviting you to come along to read a poem about a specific location in Scotland and to pin it on the map, and for an hour at the festival we’ll take the audience in the Byre Studio Theatre on a poetry tour of Scotland. People can sign up in advance for this unusual open mic type event, we’ll have some special guests popping up, and we’ll keep a few slots free until the last minute, so there will be multiple ways to get involved. Those who don’t get to read their poem on the day can still submit them for the map, and we’ll continue adding to it over the spring and summer, and may post some of the poems on our blog. Full details of the event are now online on our website. If you’d like to read one of your own poems about someplace in Scotland, email us on with your name and the name and location of your poem. For copyright reasons, you must read a poem you have written yourself, or which you have permission to read, or which is out of copyright, and each reading will be limited to a maximum of three minutes.

More details at

The view from the chair

16 Feb

Colin WillColin Will is a Scottish poet and publisher based in Dunbar, from where he runs Calder Wood Press. He was Chair of the StAnza Board of Trustees from 2006 to 2009, was reappointed as a trustee in 2013 then as Chair in February 2014. The most recent collection of his own poetry is ‘The Propriety of Weeding’ (Red Squirrel Press, 2012).

StAnza is a team effort. We are very fortunate to have Eleanor Livingstone as our Director, and she does an enormous amount of work to create and sustain each Festival, and to plan future ones. Those who attend the Festival regularly, as I have, will know that StAnza is also supported by a large group of volunteers who give their time and skills generously to be the public face of the Festival – on the ticket desk, at the venues and at other places in the town. They are the ones whose smiles welcome visitors, and who make the Festival such a warm and friendly one. You may also have seen the volunteers who staff the venues, and who bring visiting poets to and from venues. We could not put on the Festival without these resourceful and positive people.

Behind the scenes too there’s a large group of dedicated people who look after technical issues, finances, transport, accommodation, catering, ticketing, venues, publicity, communication and many other essential services. There are people who help with future programme planning, and others who have an overview of the governance and management of the organisation.

That’s where I come in. I first joined the Board of Trustees of StAnza back in 2004, having previously chaired the Scottish Poetry Library’s Board, and having been a senior manager in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. I was asked to chair the Board in 2006, and I served a three-year term, stepping down in 2009. Last year my successor, Angela Wrapson, had to step down for personal reasons, and I was asked to come back on the Board. As from February’s AGM, I now chair it again.

I’m looking forward to another term in office, and I hope to ensure that we are, as we have always been, strong and resilient in the face of change. Who could have foreseen last year’s closure of the Byre Theatre, for example? Director, Board and volunteers stepped up to the challenge magnificently, and last year’s Festival was delivered very successfully. It’s hard to predict what challenges we might have to face in future, but I’m confident we will rise to these challenges and overcome any difficulties that may occur in future.

And now I’m looking forward to this year’s Festival in keen anticipation. I’ve booked my accommodation and bought my tickets, thanks to our new ticketing partners, and I know I’m going to enjoy an enriching experience at the Festival. Some of poets are friends, others I haven’t met yet, but we’re alike in our love for, and commitment to, poetry. Come and join me.

Colin Will blogs as

Deadline approaching for Paul Muldoon Masterclass

15 Feb

Paul MuldoonEach year the StAnza Masterclass is a festival highlight for many, and offers a wonderful chance for poets to have a leading poet comment on their work. It is also a chance for audiences to hear developing poets at an early stage in their careers, and to hear valuable advice on writing and editing poems. Many poets whose work has featured in past StAnza Masterclasses have gone on to later success with their poetry.

This year’s Masterclass will be taken by acclaimed Irish American poet Paul Muldoon, Professor at Princeton University and Poetry Editor for The New Yorker. The Masterclass is on Sunday 9th March at 11.15am, and several poems will be selected by Paul Muldoon for discussion from those submitted. If you would like your poems to be considered, you have until tomorrow, Sunday 16 February to submit. Full details are on the event page on our website at Good luck!

A Common Wealth of Artefacts.

14 Feb

One of our collaborations this year with MUSA connects with our 2014 theme of A Common Wealth of Poetry. When we learned that MUSA (the Museum of the University of St Andrews) had a collection of fascinating artefacts from a range of Commonwealth countries, we set out to find poets willing to provide a short poem in response to each of these. The first to agree, and to provide a poem, was Chris Gilpin from Vancouver, Canada. The artefact to which is is responding is now on show at MUSA in St Andrews and he has provided a sound file of his poem to accompany this. You can listen to the poem at MUSA, while admiring the item to which it responds, or listen online at Other artefacts which feature in the collaboration come from Tonga, Zambia and India. Images of the artefacts and all the poems responding to them will be on show as part of A Common Wealth of Artefacts, a digital installation at StAnza in March.

The Shepherd’s Farewell: John Greening on Edmund Blunden

12 Feb

In January the Carcanet Blog ( posted an article on Edmund Blunden by John Greening, who will be appearing at StAnza 2014 as part of our Words Under Fire theme responding to the WW1 centenary. The article is reproduced here with their permission.

Book cover from Carcanet Press

Book cover from Carcanet Press

On 20 January it will be forty years since Edmund Blunden died in the Suffolk village of Long Melford. At the time, although Undertones of War was still popular, and the man was widely loved (a Festschrift for his 65th birthday had included a contribution from the Prime Minister), there did not seem to be much future for his poems.

Here was a war poetry that had never quite left Pound’s ‘dim land of peace’. It was comfortable with syntactical inversion, ‘poetic’ diction, literary allusion. It described nature. Blunden wrote of shepherds as others might mention bus conductors. He assumed readers knew the difference between an ash and an elm, could recognise a coppice, had heard of a hame, a garth. 1974 was the year of High Windows. Traditional pastoral was now either Larkin’s ‘I just think it will happen, soon’ or Ted Hughes’s ice-cream guzzling Crow. In fact, Hughes admired Blunden; and Larkin had just given him prominence in his Oxford anthology. But the fashion now was for an elevated colloquialism (1974 also saw Carol Ann Duffy’s début) and Blunden sounded like ‘one of the crew/That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were’, an echo from the world war before last.

Even in 1914, when the Christ’s Hospital schoolboy’s first book was privately printed, the work might have struck readers as old-fashioned. Of course, he would not be the first Edmund to have sounded quaint to his peers: for a poet’s voice to be heard beyond his or her century, there are less superficial requirements, and even as we catch notes from Edward Young or William Collins, something radically modern flickers beneath the surface of Blunden. Nor was he oblivious to Modernism; when he was given a first edition of Ulysses, he found himself impressed and influenced by it. His enthusiasm for the fractured bell-notes of Ivor Gurney (not to mention his championing of John Clare) reminds us that if he was ‘out of key with his time’, it was because he was ahead of it.

Second Lieutenant Blunden’s poetry was, however, traditional enough to please his Colonel in the Royal Sussex Regiment, who took young ‘Rabbit’ aside from the trenches in 1916 to congratulate him on a review in the Times Literary Supplement. And it is the poet’s experience of war—unspoken sometimes, perhaps even unconscious, but seldom absent—that is the preservative in his poems. There is that famous ‘parapet’ in ‘The Midnight Skaters’, or his pike (since swallowed, alas, by Ted Hughes’s), lurking in a ‘sandbank’ HQ ‘with stony gorgon eyes’. Even what appears the most innocuous piece of pastoral turns to allegory. ‘The Barn’ tells of a curse on an apparently prosperous farm, and features a hail-storm that sounds like an artillery attack. The labourer who experiences ‘the hideous flash’ in ‘The Scythe Struck by Lightning’ might well have been standing near Thiepval.

Of the familiar war poets, Owen and Sassoon did not need to be ‘concerned with poetry’, emerging as they did from nineteenth-century tradition. Rosenberg’s modernist aesthetic might be thought more challenging, yet his poems carry in their lineation clear instructions on how they should be read. Edward Thomas, too, was self-evidently ‘different’, and it did not require much readjustment to interpret his plain style as a new way of expressing an established melancholy. It has taken longer to come to terms with Ivor Gurney, but he too has found a readership. Now, a hundred years after that first publication, four decades since his old runner from Passchendaele threw a wreath of poppies on to his coffin, we need to find a better way of reading Edmund Blunden. Perhaps someone should stand up (as happened for Robert Frost) and tell us he is not a complacent pastoralist; he is terrifying.

John Greening’s recent Oxford Poets collection To the War Poets includes a verse letter to Edmund Blunden. He is currently editing a new edition of Undertones of War for OUP.