Tag Archives: Brian Johnstone

A Double Bill at StAnza this week …

22 Nov

Screenshot 2015-11-22 08.54.58Two lots of good news so read on, a chance for you to help StAnza with the click of a mouse – see below – and news of our November event in St Andrews.

It’s going to be a busy week ahead leading up to St Andrews Day. Book Week Scotland starts tomorrow with StAnza’s own event for this, Double Bill on Thursday 26th November at Zest, 95 South Street, St Andrews at 6.30pm. For Book Week 2015 we invited Andy Jackson, editor of the Red Squirrel Press’s Double Bill anthology, the popular sequel to Split Screen, to bring his road show to St Andrews for a StAnza special.

The live Double Bill show which he tours around the UK is a fast-moving sixty-minute mix of poetry, visuals, sounds and ideas from some of the UK’s best-loved poets with poems taking their influences from movies, television, music and popular culture. A stellar cast of over 100 writers contributed poems on a range of themes ranging from Morecambe & Wise and The Italian Job to The Archers and Van Morrison and next week a fine gathering of them, including Ruth Aylett, Tracey Herd, Brian Johnstone, Colin Will, Dawn Wood, Nikki Robson and Sally Evans, will read their own and other poems, while Zest will have some tasty surprises of their own to offer.

It’s a free event but limited by the capacity of Zest, so if you’d like to come, please email stanza@stanzapoetry.org to book a place. There are still a few left. And you can find out about other Book Week Scotland events online at http://scottishbooktrust.com/reading/book-week-scotland/book-week-scotland-2015.

And as if Book Week wasn’t enough, it’s also the St Andrews Food and Drink Festival this month, so our event falls into that as well, and additionally takes place just as a weekend of activities gets under way in the run up to St Andrews Day on Monday 30th November, when we’ll have a double launch, our new website and our core programme for StAnza 2016, 2-6 March. We’re all working flat out at present towards this and look forward to the grand online unveiling then. We’ll be announcing this with a fanfare and another newsletter to let you know once the programme is online, so be sure to check your inbox for that.

Meantime we have exciting news about funding. StAnza has been shortlisted for the Coop Membership Local Fund for the St Andrews/Tayport area. The winner is decided by public vote so if you live in that area, (it works by postcode, you can only vote for us if you live in the St Andrews/Tayport ‘constituency’) do please go online and vote for us. You have to be a Coop member but it’s easy to register online. Here are the links you’ll need. It has been a difficult year for StAnza as we cope with the impact of funding cuts and rising costs, so this is extremely welcome, and a way for our local supporters to help us, so please do if you can. Here are those links:

To vote go to: Vote!

Screenshot 2015-11-22 08.56.23

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Just StAnza in Edinburgh this month

8 Aug
StAnza photo by Jacqueline Skelton

StAnza photograph by Jacqueline Skelton

We’re delighted that the Just Festival asked us to curate three poetry events for them this month in Edinburgh. The three events will be on Tuesdays 11th, 18th and 25th August, all 4pm to 5pm.

Eighteen years ago several Scottish poets got together to create annual StAnza festival, now a major annual international event. This series of three events at the Just Festival turns the spotlight 180° to focus on StAnza itself and some of the poets behind the festival’s success, as well as featuring short tasters of some poetry projects. Full details of each of the events are below. They take place in Edinburgh Fringe Venue 127, St John’s Church Hall, Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 4BJ. Tickets are £5 and can be bought online at online here.

Tuesday 11th August, 4pm-5pm:  The current chair of StAnza’s Board of Trustees and himself a well-known and well published Scottish poet Colin Will will read with Jenny Elliott whose poetry pamphlets have been shortlisted for the Callum Macdonald Award in both 2014 and 2015, and Peter Jarvis whose first collection was published by HappenStance Press earlier this year. We’re also delighted that they’ll be joined by several poets who have contributed to StAnza’s Poetry Map of Scotland who will each read their poem from the map, including Charlotte Stirling, Elspeth Brown, Julie Hogg, Donald Adamson and Alwyn Marriage. This is an ongoing project but you can view the current version of the map at https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/poetry-map-of-scotland/.

Tuesday 18th August, 4pm-5pm: The Co-Founder of StAnza and our first Festival Director, Brian Johnstone heads the list of poets reading at this event, where he’ll be joined by two StAnza colleagues, Julia Prescott and Robin MacKenzie. We’re also delighted that they’ll be joined by several poets who have contributed to StAnza’s Poetry Map of Scotland who will each read their poem from the map, including Adam V. Cheshire, Colin Bartie, Peter Kerr, Keith Parker and  Elizabeth Rimmer. This is an ongoing project but you can view the current version of the map at https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/poetry-map-of-scotland/.

Tuesday 25th August, 4pm-5pm: Anna Crowe, one of the StAnza founders and now an Honorary President, is an internationally renowned poet and translator. She reads with the prize winning poet Claudia Daventry and Andy Jackson, poet and editor of the successful anthologies of poems about popular culture, Split Screen and Double Bill. And joining them, Carolyn Richardson, Matthew Macdonald, Nancy Somerville, Morgan Downie, Ruth Aylett and Michael Scott, contributors to the Double Bill anthology to read a selection of poems from it.

So if you are in Edinburgh this month, do come along to one of our events, we’ll be delighted to see you.

StAnza appoints two Honorary Presidents

26 Apr

At our 2015 AGM which took place on Saturday 25th April, it was announced that StAnza has decided to bestow the honorary title of Honorary President on two of StAnza’s founders, Anna Crowe and Brian Johnstone in recognition of all they have done for StAnza over the past eighteen years and their many and varied contributions over the years. The announcement was warmly welcomed by the StAnza membership as a very well-deserved and timely tribute.

Anna Crowe, reading the English versions of poems by Kim Simonsen at StAnza 2015: photo by Helena Fornells

Anna Crowe, reading the English versions of poems by Kim Simonsen at StAnza 2015: photo by Helena Fornells

Anna Crowe is a poet and translator of Catalan and Mexican poetry, as well as co-founder and former Artistic Director of StAnza. Her Mariscat collection, Figure in a Landscape, won the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award and was a Poetry Book Society Choice. Her latest book of translations, Peatlands (Arc, 2014), features the work of the Mexican poet Pedro Serrano. In 2005 the Society of Authors awarded her a Travelling Scholarship. Her poetry has been translated into Catalan, Spanish, Italian and German.

Brian Johnstone introducing event at StAnza 2014: photo by Jacqueline Skelton

Brian Johnstone introducing event at StAnza 2014: photo by Jacqueline Skelton

Brian Johnstone is a Scottish poet, writer and performer. He has published six collections, most recently Dry Stone Work (Arc, 2014). In 2015 his work appeared on the UK’s Poetry Archive website. His poems have been translated into over a dozen languages; in 2009 Terra Incognita, a chapbook in Italian translation, was published by L’Officina (Vicenza). A founder and former Director of StAnza, he has appeared at various poetry festivals, from Macedonia to Nicaragua, and at numerous venues across the UK.

 

 

 

June is bursting out ….

4 Jun

Tanya Shirley

Tanya Shirley

While June is now here, March is still a fond memory. We are sorting through all the photographs and reviews of this year’s festival and a selection of these will appear in an Afterword page on our website soon, together with this year’s lecture by David Constantine. But meantime if you’d like to recapture the flavour of StAnza 2014, three podcasts are now available on our website at http://www.stanzapoetry.org/podcast/ all recorded by our good friend Jennifer Williams from the Scottish Poetry Library, and featuring Tanya Shirley, Brian Turner and US poet Ilyse Kusnetz, recent winner of the US T.S. Eliot Prize, who was in St Andrews for the festival.

Elsewhere, it’s good to see that the Byre Theatre has a busy programme for this month. Full details on their website at http://www.byretheatre.com, but here is a quick summary:

Friday 6th & Saturday 7th: Byre Youth Theatre: Haud yer Wheesht at 7pm. This is a piece that has been devised by the Youth Theatre and includes all members from the nursery group through to the young adults.

Tuesday 10th at 7pm, StAnza’s own Brian Johnstone launches his latest collection, Dry Stone Work. People planning to attend this should rsvp Brian on brian@brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk.

Friday 13th; Flat Caps: Live music by local performers.

Sunday 15th to Tuesday 17th: St Andrews Opera presents Benjamin Britten¹s sparkling comedy, Albert Herring.

Saturday 21st: Elaine C Smith at 7.30pm, Still Standing…..Just

Still in Fife, but over in Freuchie for the next Fife Writes event, Helena Nelson of HappenStance Press will be giving a reading at the Lomond Hills Hotel at 7.30pm on Thursday 26th June with StAnza’s Eleanor Livingstone and Lindsay Macgregor, co-host of Ladybank’s Platform Poetry. It’s a free email but space is limited so if you plan to attend, you should email george@george-sinclair.com.

Moving a bit further away still, Brian Johnstone will have a second launch event in Edinburgh at 7pm on Monday 9th June at St Columba’s by the Castle Church Hall, 14 Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh EH1 2PW.

Later in the month Germaine Greer is coming to Edinburgh on 21st June to mark unveiling of paving stone in Makars Court for Elizabeth Melville, Scotland’s first woman poet in print, as part of a day of events about Scottish women writers. Following the unveiling, which is a free public event, there will be a lunch reception followed by an afternoon session with James Robertson and Meg Bateman, and the day will conclude with a concert in St Giles. Full details are online at http://www.historyfest.co.uk/pages/elizabeth-melville-day.

So whether the sun shines or not, June has plenty to offer.

Seamus Heaney at StAnza

9 Sep

A personal reminiscence by Brian Johnstone, former Festival Director 

In his funeral tribute to Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon talked about how everyone in the poetry community has been devastated by our sudden loss. Muldoon went on to describe Seamus’s “signal ability to make each of us feel connected not only to him but to one another.” So in this small remembrance of his connections to StAnza, and to me through my work for the festival, I can only call him Seamus. To address him as Heaney seems too impersonal for such a generous and gregarious man. Although I only met him a few times, and attended no more than half a dozen of his appearances, my feelings tell me that I have lost a friend – a friend whose poetry has inspired me in my own writing, but also a man who made me feel he was a friend and supporter of all I tried to do with StAnza – someone who encouraged me in both of these endeavours whenever we met.

1999Seamus’s first appearance at StAnza was in 1999 – only the second festival, so we were aiming high even in those days. Through the support of the University School of English we were able, despite being a very young festival, to feature him on the bill. Seamus appeared on the Thursday night in the Buchanan Theatre – our subsequent main venue The Byre not having been built by then – taking the stage for a two part reading. In the first half he read from his various collections and in the second from his recently published translation of Beowulf. Needless to say, the event was wonderful and very well received by a capacity audience.

I had actually first come across Seamus in performance at an event held as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe some years before. Watching the funeral online brought back powerful memories of this first experience. Playing at various points during the service was the uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn, with whom Seamus had performed at that Fringe event years back. Sitting side by side on the Assembly Rooms stage in front of a large audience doesn’t sound like the best way to achieve a close rapport with those listening, but so focused were the two that the experience was one of extreme intimacy. I felt as if I had been sitting at their fireside in rapt attention as the poet and piper swapped verses and tunes. It was my first encounter with Seamus Heaney and it is one I will never forget.

It is this very sense of intimacy that Seamus was so adept at putting over to his audience, and which was characteristic of his subsequent appearances at StAnza. At that first one in the Buchanan Theatre, however, I only got to meet him very briefly because of his other commitments. I managed to shake him by the hand and thank him for his reading, and that was it. But this was enough for him to remember me when next we met, despite the hundreds of people he must have met in all his travels. This was in London at the British Library when I was representing StAnza at the 2005 launch of The Poetry Archive website. Seamus was the guest reader at this event and I was astonished to discover that he not only remembered me but was even happy to have a chat for ten minutes or so. We had bit of craic about the great Scottish poet – and mutual favourite – Norman MacCaig and I was able to personally invite Seamus back to St Andrews for a future festival. He was glad to accept, and we subsequently agreed on him topping the bill for the 10th festival in 2007. But I would be in his company again before then.

In the summer of 2006, Seamus gave a superb reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I was fortunate to be invited to the reception held in his honour at the Irish Consulate. As always, Seamus was feted by a large crowd, but the reception gave me another chance to have a friendly chat with Seamus&Brianthe poet and an opportunity to meet his wife Marie. I remember him reiterating his real fondness for St Andrews and for Scotland in general and my saying how much we were looking forward to welcoming him to StAnza the following March. Sadly, that was not to be.

I was on holiday in France later that summer when I had a call from Eleanor Livingstone, then StAnza’s Artistic Director. The news was bad. Seamus had had a stroke and was in hospital. His doctors had advised him – ordered, more like – to cancel all engagements for the next year at least. All I could do was ask Eleanor to pass on my sympathies to Seamus’s family, with whom we were in touch through a mutual friend, and start thinking about who we could book as a replacement.

Back home, meeting Eleanor to discuss this, she told me about an extraordinary phone call she had had while I was still on holiday. If proof were needed – which it’s not – of Seamus’s extraordinary character, this is it. Having been unable to get any definite information, Eleanor called the mobile number Seamus had given us. The following day Seamus, having noticed her missed calls, phoned back. He was, he told her, still in hospital but he wanted to apologise to StAnza for letting us down!

Thankfully, Seamus recovered from that bout of ill health and by the next year was ready to discuss honouring his promise to come back to StAnza. While he explained that he wouldn’t be able to be at StAnza in the immediate future, he wanted to be clear – more generosity – that he hadn’t forgotten his promise. And so he was booked to appear in 2010, the last StAnza for which I was Festival Director. For me personally, this was a wonderful coup and for our audiences it meant that my stepping down would be marked with the biggest name possible. I was – am – so grateful to Seamus for that.

Working together on festival planning, Eleanor and I managed to programme not one but three separate events featuring Seamus. A full main stage reading, of course; but Seamus was also willing to give a round table reading, one of StAnza’s signature intimate readings for only a dozen or so people; on top of that, we arranged for him to take part in an In Conversation with Dennis O’Driscoll (sadly also recently departed). A bumper appearance indeed!

Seamus book signedI have a very special personal memento of my last festival as a director – and all down to Seamus. Naturally, I asked him to sign a few of his collections for me, one of these being my long-term favourite Station Island. The original Faber publication of this features on the cover and title page what looks like an illustration from an ancient Irish manuscript. This Seamus deftly altered adding speech bubbles to mark my departure from StAnza, but my continued commitment to the stanzas of my own poetry. It’s just such a quirky and amusing bit of personal response – I will treasure it always.

Both the main stage reading and the In Conversation were sold out in record time and in the end we had to relay both events to the Byre studio and conference room for overspill audiences whom Seamus surprised by dropping in on them unexpectedly during the interval. Again, generous to a fault. Other visiting poets were crammed into every available corner of the theatre, just to ensure they caught the events. In the end, the audiences for both main events were at full capacity in the main theatre, and overflowing to not one but two additional venues. The audiences for both main events were well in excess of the actual capacity of their original venues!

But for me, the true highlight of Seamus’s last StAnza appearance was his round table reading. At that he surprised all present by producing photocopies of a series of new, unpublished poems and passing them round the table. These he proceeded to read and then – more astonishing yet – to more or less ask the audience for a crit. We could scarcely believe that we were sitting round a table with someone of Seamus Heaney’s stature and he was asking us what we though of his new work. Generous again, and inclusive in a way that, as Paul Muldoon said, made us all feel so connected to him and, through him, to each other.

There is little more I can say except that, while I owe StAnza so much, and through it have met numerous poets whose work I love and admire, being able to meet and share some small bits of time with Seamus Heaney is one of the things I feel absolutely the most grateful for. As the poet Jo Bell said so eloquently in her tribute to Seamus, “Poetry stands for love. Those whom we remember are the ones who said most clearly, that which we are trying every day to say.”

Brian Johnstone

9th September 2013

 

StAnza ’99 programme:

http://issuu.com/stanza/docs/1999?e=1457317/3190480

StAnza 2010 programme:

http://issuu.com/stanza/docs/stanza10-final?e=1457317/3187815

2010 photo gallery:

http://stanzapoetry.org/2010/photo-gallery10.php

Stephanie Green: Stereoscopes, and Dual Perspectives

18 Mar

Saturday 17th March, 2012, Day 4

A Poetry Breakfast, complete with coffee and pastries, is a great way to wake up at StAnza.  The Breakfast topic today was ‘Iconic’ with Robert Crawford, Michael Symmons Roberts, Lavinia Greenlaw – all poets and professors as Norman McBeath, the only photographer, commented. They all brilliantly highlighted the various perspectives and aspects of issues surrounding  the image- even straying into the different perspectives of poetry and science, poetry and the religious icon.  In fact, the conversations were so complex and detailed I cannot do more than recommend you try to hear audio clips of it online – when it eventually appears on the StAnza website.

Photography featured  in this discussion and  has throughout the festival.  So I was intrigued to learn that the University also holds one of the largest and most important collections of historic Scottish photography.  St Andrew’s is the hub of Scottish photography.

Apart from the other major photo exhibitions I’ve already blogged about, wavering on the walls of the Byre today were a selection of poems  alongside photos which inspired them : one from the University’s Special Collections archive and others from contemporary student photographers , chosen by ‘Stereoscope,’ the university’s student-produced photography magazine.

A Stereoscope is not something I had encountered before. If you’re into Photography, you may know that it was invented by Sir David Brewster (based at St Andrew’s) to provide the viewer with a dual perspective, creating a 3-D effect, (though wikipedia disputes this- oops do we believe wikip?– conceding he did invent a certain type of stereoscope with prisms  instead of mirrors. Not sure I want to get into this controversy and irritate the powers that be at St A. )  In his day he was more famous for inventing the kaleidescope (though he never made a penny from it as others copied it before he got his patent granted.) No wonder he was noted for his bad temper,  but  Brewster’s correspondence with Wm. Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the calotype established St Andrew’s as ‘the epicentre of early photography.’

Carson Wos from ‘Stereoscope’ told me the two intriguing photos that got the most responses were Roman Koblov’s  and Jeremy Waterfield’s .  You can see all 5 photos on their magazine blog.

Outside in the grassy courtyard,  chiselling away, was line cutter, John Neilson, working away at a plaque depicting a few lines of verse by Brian Johnstone (former StAnza Director). What had poetry, calligraphy and line cutting on stone in common I wondered?  Beauty of line?  John’s response was that he felt both poet and line cutter valued paring down.  For him, if he was going to spend hours, days, chiselling away, thinking about the poem, it must not be banal or trivial.  Each word must count.  And literally too, he said grinning. The more words, the more it cost!  Hmm, I thought, perhaps many of us wordy, rambling poets should take that to heart.

John has much experience carving lines of poetry. In particular I loved the serpentine words carved on stone slabs on the floor of a church in Bath and also his carving of Carol Ann Duffy’s words at the Much Wenlock Festival, 2010:

‘How your sweetness pervades

My shadowed, busy heart.’

You can see photos of his work on the Letter Exchange website. He is also Editor of their journal ‘Forum’.

 

Shooting ten portraits of poets in a day inspired me!

11 Mar

StAnza’s Artist-in-Residence this year is the photographer Dan Philips. Here he explains how how his project came about and why the photographer’s interaction with the sitter is so important.

It was about this time last year that I first became aware of StAnza. Having photographed the previous Director Brian Johnstone, in his home, I became intrigued and so spent a day in the company of the poets last year.

And it inspired me. Shooting ten portraits in a day it struck me how this kind of photography – more than any other – is about developing relationships. Your sitter can either collaborate with you, co-operate, enjoy the process and suggest ideas, or they can resist against it, be uncommunicative, or simply feel pushed for time. And the irony is that the latter can be as productive for pictures as the former. One of my best images from last year was of Linton Kwesi Johnson in his dressing room before his performance. He’d agreed earlier in the day, but the shoot being mere minutes before him going on stage, he was obviously pushed for time. I think the tension shows in his face and I love the picture.

So my residency is about bringing this relationship to the fore. After shooting each portrait I’ll ask each sitter to perform an ‘intervention’ on the printed image. I’ll give them some pens and what they do is up to them. They can ‘respect’ the image, or they can mock it.

And with StAnza being so clued up online those that can only visit for a day or two will be able to see the continued works on the StAnza Flickr stream, on Twitter, and on this blog.

You can see some of Dan’s previous work, including the portrait of Linton Kwesi Johnson, here.

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