Archive | March, 2014

Festivals in Fife Survey about StAnza 2014

31 Mar

If you were in the audience at any events at StAnza this year and haven’t already completed the Festivals in Fife survey, please take a few minutes to do so. It is important to us. This survey is NOT the same as StAnza’s questionnaire (even if some questions seem similar). This survey is organised by Festivals in Fife, the umbrella organisation which advocates for all the main cultural festivals in Fife. You may have heard that Fife Council recently decided to make substantial cuts to their funding of Fife’s cultural festivals. If Festivals in Fife can put together data from all the festivals this year to show what an impact we have, this might influence decisions in the future. Here is the link and it should only take five minutes to complete. Thanks!

Weaving a poem

27 Mar

Canadian Birch Basket This year at StAnza we collaborated with MUSA (the Museum of the University of St Andrews) on an installation featuring artefacts from Commonwealth countries held by the museum and poems about them commissioned by StAnza specially for the festival. The poems and images of artefacts in ‘A Common Wealth of Artefacts’ were projected in the Byre foyers during the festival and at the same time MUSA posted them on their blog. We are pleased now to be re-posting these articles on the StAnza Blog, and here’s the first of them by Chris Gilpin from Canada and Gale Burns from London (but Canada originally). You can also hear Chris reading his poem online at

Museum Collections Blog

Somehow it’s already the start of March, and in St Andrews that means one thing: StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival is here, bringing with it the creative buzz of literary folks in town. This year, the festival has two overriding themes, ‘A Common Wealth of Poetry’ and ‘Words under Fire’ (or to you and me, the commonwealth games and war, which some may argue are not unrelated… think All Blacks and the Haka!).

As in previous years, MUSA is hosting a number of events, including Wednesday’s creative writing workshop, with Jenny Lewis, ‘Voicing the Past: Their Wars, Your Words’ and short ‘Musings’ sessions at 1pm each day, which will hopefully inspire personal and original responses to selected artefacts on display at the museum. Last but not least, MUSA has been working with StAnza to ‘connect’ some of our so-called ‘ethnographic’ artefacts from Commonwealth countries with contemporary poets representing those same…

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Stanza 2014: “a noise like the sea, displacing the day’s pale knowledge” (John Burnside)

13 Mar

Ellen McAteer

Shoes full of sand, pockets full of shells, head full of words – it’s been an amazing StAnza! Scotland’s Poetry Festival at St Andrews has beckoned me from afar for many years, but I have not made it up until this year. Can I just say to anyone who has not made it yet: it is the best thing you will do, book your leave for next year as soon as the announcement comes! A week of readings by the best poets in Scotland, and from round the world, with workshops, masterclasses, open mics and virtual events, it is, as fellow poet Sheila Templeton says “an international festival, yet has this friendly, inclusive family feel to it.” I would urge all poets and lovers of poetry to come along – and bring the kids! My two (7 years old) were delivered up at the weekend, giving a nice combination…

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Five Festival Highlights (James’s Witterings #3)

11 Mar

What a cracker of a StAnza was pulled this week in St Andrews! The good people of Twitter are chatting about their festival highlights, so I have taken it upon myself to force my own upon you here.

The Byre Reopening

After last year’s last-minute relocation, it was lovely to be back in the gorgeous Byre Theatre with its magisterial auditorium, comfortable studio (I think those armchairs are new?), and bustling restaurant. Patrons, patrons and StAnza volunteers alike were prone to spontaneous cheers whenever a Byre staff member walked past, which lent an most pleasant atmosphere of celebration to proceedings. We wish Stephen and all the team the best in securing the venue’s future for years to come .

Spoken Word

This year there was a more diverse spoken-word strand than ever before in the One O’Clock and Poetry in Performance slots, ranging from the resonant word-sharing of Rachel Amey and Ross Sutherland to the fabulously fully staged extravaganzas of Robin Cairns and Alex Gwyther.

I particularly enjoyed the joint reading given by Sophia Walker and David Lee Morgan. Both took their 45-minute shows from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and boiled them down to 27-minute slots. The effect was intense, memorable, and highly enjoyable.

Scotch Pies

And did I mention that Stuart’s of Buckhavens, who provide macaroni and scotch pies for attendees, are world Scotch Pie champions? Anyone who attended a Café this year probably suspected as much.

The StAnza Slam

Sometimes at StAnza we’re so busy being happy and nice to each other that we forget that poetry is actually the most competitive sport there is. It was great to reminded of that on the Saturday night by the most vicious and violent StAnza Slam to date! (I’m told it took three hours to wash the blood out of the seats.)

It was a close call, but a winner was declared and reigning champion Carly Brown graciously handed her crown to Edinburgh-based Agnes Török, along with a ticket to compete in this year’s Scottish Slam Final on Saturday. Break a few legs, Agnes!

Rachel McCrum, Rachel Amey and Jenny Lindsay

Poetry Centre Stage

And of course, Poetry Centre Stage! Where else but StAnza can you hear Paul Muldoon, Carol Ann Duffy, John Burnside and Menna Elfyn all on the same stage in the space of less than a week?

Poetry Centre Stage Audience

I think a highlight for many will be Paul Muldoon’s reading on Sunday. Reading a mixture of familiar and new poems, he reminded us all that “The best poems, meanwhile, give the answers to questions that only they have raised.”

And also that dung beetles navigate by the stars.

Boozing and Schmoozing

One of the best things about StAnza every year is its friendly atmosphere and the exchange and interchange of ideas that happens between everyone who comes here. Poetry is an increasingly international community, and festivals like StAnza bring together voices from all over the world—this year from no less than three continents. (No penguins were in attendance, sadly. I’ll put it in the suggestions’ box.)

David Constantine's StAnza Lecture

As David Constantine said in his poignant StAnza Lecture about the poetry of the Great War, poetry finds the universal in the specific. The more voices we listen to, the wider our consciousness of the world, the more we will enjoy our time in it.

All photos taken by @empowermint.

See you next year!

What is The Collective Noun for Poets? Vote to help us decide. (James’s Witterings #2)

8 Mar

It all started quite innocently, as the closing joke for Craig Millar’s segment on StAnza for Thursday’s STV Six O’Clock News. “What,” he asked, “is the collective noun for poets? Perhaps it’s a stanza.”

Well. I know a challenge when I see it. On Friday morning I posed the question online to see what the good folks of Twitter would make of it. I was rather overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response! It’s apparent that this is a pressing issue which poetry fans have been worrying about for some time now.

I’ve now received over thirty suggestions for what it should be, from poets, readers, editors, journalists, theatre technicians, toddlers and a drunk student. The problem is, they’re all really good. I can’t decide which one I prefer.

A _ of poets at #StAnza14

In a sense, it’s rather lovely there is such a range of eclectic, eccentric expressions available for grouping poets together—if anyone deserves a kaleidoscopic collective noun, it’s poets.

But obviously we need an official winner.

So to help decide what the semiofficial collective noun for poets at #StAnza14 should be, I invite you all to vote by commenting below for your favourite suggestion, or nominating your own ideas. Voting will close at 5pm on Sunday the 9th of March, and I will announce the winner on Twitter from the Festival Finale at 10pm. (One vote per person. The winner will be determined by simple majority.)

Here is the full list of suggestions so far, with duplicates removed:

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How to Clap and Drink Wine at the Same Time: James at the #StAnza14 launch

6 Mar

There are three integral ingredients to a launch party: celebs, wine, and applause. All well and good, but there is a fundamental problem with this formula—how on Earth are you supposed to clap and carry wine glasses at the same time?

If you balance the glass on one arm while you clap, it will surely spill. If you put the glass down, 8/10 times you will lose it. And if, worst of all, you attempt to clap with one hand, you risk looking like you are being victimised by your own personal mosquito. Well hold on to your hats wine glasses, for I am proud to be able to present to you a cast-iron solution to this centuries-old quandary.

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The Poetry Circus Comes to Town

1 Mar

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Square Peg: photo credit Anna Batchelor

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Square Peg: photo credit Anna Batchelor

In past years StAnza has staged some unlikely collaborations between poetry and diverse art forms, artists and designers. Earlier programmes have included visual artists, photographers, musicians, dancers, actors and film makers. For 2013 the festival included fashion models wearing Dutch poetry dresses. This year we’re pushing the boundaries even further with our opening night show to include acrobats. Rime is a modern retelling of Samual Taylor Coleridge’s classic poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ retold via contemporary circus and modern dance. Intrigued? So were we, so we asked Tomos James, one of the performers and an associate director of the show to explain how this came about, and this is what he said:

“I love reading the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s a nightmare, a dream, a ghost ship, a riddle, a nautical time machine, a guilt trip, and a thrill!

“I love Rime because of the rhyming, the rocking motion, the momentum of the words. This energy makes it a great poem to turn into circus. The phrases roll off the page, we rhyme and repeat with our bodies, throw out glimpses of inner life, we play with the metaphors, and embrace the fantastical.

“In our show, we are all invited to board the Mariner’s ship. We’ll share his joy, guilt, thirst, we’ll touch death’s veil, we’ll sail with the spirits, and perhaps, like the bewildered wedding guest in the poem, be left wondering WHY he shot that albatross?”

Come along on Wednesday 5th March at 7.30pm to see his vision brought to the StAnza stage. Ticket are £7.50/5.50 and there’s information on the show and on how to book at

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