Tag Archives: Carol Ann Duffy

Meet Stephen Watt, our 2014 Digital Slam Winner

19 Aug

We are handing this blog space over to the winner of this year’s Digital Slam, Stephen Watt from Dumbarton. Check out his winning StAnza Digital Slam performance at https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/2014-stanza-digital-slam-results/.

In this post, Stephen tells us a little about his background, his favourite poets and what he’s doing performance wise in the lively poetry and spoken work scene.

GigsSocial realism, punk, story-telling, romance, and nostalgia; in a way, these are the things which drive me. If I could write something as masterly as (Carol Ann) Duffy’s “Queen Kong” or as spirited as (John) Cooper-Clarke’s “Beasley Street”, then I would plant a flag in it and begin my own niche.

I am from Dumbarton, on the outskirts of Glasgow. At the age of 19, I began writing poetry into a little notebook after listening to a bin lorry roll down my parent’s street. Within six months, I had been assaulted by drug addicts on two occasions – once with a needle held to my face, the other with a knife pressed into my neck. My counsellor advised that the writing was an excellent form of therapy, and so I continued to write a number of poems around this time. As a very shy and quiet child, it was an easy thing for me to spend time alone with my own thoughts, writing, dreaming, thinking….. Quite often using music to influence my mood, whilst listening to the wistful lyrics of Ian Dury, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mark E Smith and Seething Wells to list a few.

My grandfather had been a poet, writing a book of personal love poems to my grandmother in 1937. I never knew this until my mum alerted me to the fact this book existed – and was written when he was 19 – the same age that I had began writing. It was then I slowly began to come out of my shell. I would watch people around Dumbarton and Glasgow, exaggerating their characters to fill taboo subjects such as brothels, rent boys, domestic violence, etc. Small press magazines across the UK published a number of my poems about these subjects. Having gained confidence during my twenties from this relative success, and with an exceptional circle of friends supporting my writing, I ventured into the literary / spoken word scene in Glasgow in 2010 – nearly a full decade after I had first began scribbling down my thoughts. Since then, things really lifted off. I travelled to Peterborough in 2011 to beat 8,000 entrants by winning the Poetry Rivals Slam, earning a one book publishing contract with Bonacia Ltd, and releasing my debut collection “Spit” one year later. Further awards both on page and stage have been achieved over the last two years but perhaps the greatest satisfaction of all is the number of inspiring, exciting, and inventive poets emerging from Scotland, encompassing all ages and creeds, seemingly all at the same time. It is something I enjoy being part of enormously, and challenges the old caveat that poetry is a one person game.

I have just finished performing at a number of magazine launches and festivals across the country, but should anyone wish to follow me or keep an eye on what happens next, then they can find my ‘Spit’ poetry pages on Facebook and Twitter at:

https://www.facebook.com/StephenWattSpit
https://twitter.com/StephenWattSpit

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Four point three seconds.

20 May

Square Peg Contemporary Circus, photograph by Alistair Kerr

Square Peg Contemporary Circus, photograph by Alistair Kerr

We are pleased to introduce another guest post, this time from Alistair Kerr, one of this year’s photographers.

Four point three seconds. It seems incredible that the essence of such a vibrant and varied event as StAnza can be condensed into such a short space of time; but that’s the sum total of the exposure times used when I covered StAnza 2014’s launch night on 5th March and the Poetry Centre Stage event a few days later. You may have seen me – I was the guy at the back of the auditorium, watching proceedings through a rather large lens. If I did my job well, hopefully you didn’t notice me at all, at least not during the stage performances.

This was my first time providing official photography coverage at StAnza, or any poetry event for that matter, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. As I expected, it had its challenges and its rewards. The rewards are obvious – a privileged view of proceedings at an internationally-acclaimed event; and a chance to experience the poets, speakers, and performers, the buzz of the crowds of delegates, Square Peg’s unforgettable performance of Rime, the chilled post-event atmosphere and music from local musicians; in fact everything that contributes to making StAnza, well, StAnza.

TJ Dema, Photograph by Alistair Kerr

TJ Dema, Photograph by Alistair Kerr

To the non-photographers among you, the challenges may be slightly less obvious: lighting levels and contrast fluctuating continually, tricking the camera’s metering (needless to say, flash is out of the question); and in that pin-drop atmosphere in which the poets are speaking, shooting at the wrong moment risks turning all eyes to you rather than them –until you have used your camera in this kind of environment, you just can’t appreciate how loud it is when shooting. At the Centre Stage event there was only the briefest of opportunities to capture images of speakers and performers, usually between poems when audience applause masked camera noise. Agonisingly often, the speaker would look down or sip from a glass of water during these fleeting moments!

That said, I loved the whole experience, and was very pleased with the images I managed to capture of those on stage that evening, including Carol Ann Duffy, TJ Dema, and John Sampson – check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/alistairkerrphotographer and scroll back to March to see some of these, if you haven’t already (and I’d really appreciate it if you would “Like” the page while you’re there!).

I must say it was great to see the Byre swing back into action, and it was almost as if it had never closed its doors – a testament to the hard work and dedication of Stephen Sinclair and his colleagues who have been battling to keep it open. It doesn’t seem like 6 years since I held my first major exhibition there in 2008, “Seeing the Wood for the Trees”, which appropriately enough was a collaboration with Fife poet Jenny Elliott.

I’ll end with a light-hearted plea to poets and performers at StAnza 2015: please spare a thought for this hard-pressed photographer. Next time you’re speaking, as many times as you can manage, take a split second (around 1/200th of a second should be enough, depending on lighting conditions) to look up to the audience, keeping nice and still, adopting a pleasant but satisfyingly poetic expression, and making sure your head is tilted up into the light just enough to avoid panda-eye shadows from the stage lights above, and if you strike any dramatic poses, please hold them for a second or two…I think that should just about cover it, thanks! If you can’t, well, I guess I’ll just have to deal with it…

I hope to be providing official photography coverage at various events during StAnza 2015. I’ll also be running a promotion again exclusively for StAnza delegates, with a heavily discounted rate for headshots (for you to use in your publications or publicity material), so please look out for my flyer in your delegate pack. I look forward to seeing you then! In the meantime, I wish you all a great year…and I’d love to hear from you, either through Facebook or my website. I’d be more than happy to discuss any photography requirements you may have and will of course offer you a special post-StAnza discounted rate!

Square Peg Contemporary Circus, photograph by Alistair Kerr

Square Peg Contemporary Circus, photograph by Alistair Kerr

The Shepherd’s Farewell: John Greening on Edmund Blunden

12 Feb

In January the Carcanet Blog (http://carcanetblog.blogspot.co.uk/) 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.

Tickets now on sale for StAnza 2014

17 Jan

banner 14 Tickets are now on sale for StAnza 2014, in person, by phone and online. Full box office details are online at our, or telephone VisitScotland on 01334 474609. The printed brochure will be available from late January and you can request a brochure by emailing brochure@stanzapoetry.org or phoning 01334 474610, if you’re not already on our mailing list.

The festival, which takes place in St Andrews, lasts for five days from 5th to 9th March 2014 and features almost 100 events, many of them free – a diverse range of performances, readings, music, drama, talks, workshops and a masterclass, open mic events, films, exhibitions and installations. This is the place to hear your favourite poet, discover new voices, meet other poets, writers and publishers and enjoy the energetic buzz of the beautiful and historic town of St Andrews. More than 65 poets from a dozen countries worldwide will take part along with a wide range of visual artists, musicians and film-makers. Once again the festival’s lively and friendly hub will be in the Byre Theatre, which has two theatre spaces, a café/bistro and gallery areas, but events will also take place in venues in and around the town centre of St Andrews.

Headline poets include Carol Ann Duffy, Paul Muldoon, John Burnside, Menna Elfyn, Tishani Doshi, Sujata Bhatt, Ron Silliman and, as Poet in Residence for 2014, Brian Turner. For Scotland’s year of Homecoming in 2014, an in anticipation of the Commonwealth Games hosted by Glasgow this year, the first theme is A Common Wealth of Poetry. The second theme Words Under Fire responds to the legacy of the poetry of the First World War.

David Constantine will give this year’s lecture on the Great War in poetry at Home and abroad, our Past & Present series of talks will include past war poets David Jones, Isaac Rosenberg, Charles Hamilton Sorley, Vera Brittain and George Campbell Hay. There will also be a presentation on poetry and propaganda featuring JOOT Theatre Company, and exhibitions include Stephen Raw’s response to the poetry of Wilfred Owen, War is for this the clay grew tall.

The festival gets off to a spectacular start on the opening night with Rime a retelling through acrobatics and modern dance of the Coleridge classic, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Before the acrobatics start, the celebrated novelist, Louis de Bernières, will launch this 17th annual festival. In 2004 he came to St Andrews to talk about his love of poetry, and now a decade later he returns with his own debut collection of poetry.

For creative inspiration, sign up for one of six workshops this year which tickets last, our Masterclass with Paul Muldoon, or an individual session with Poetry Coach in Residence, Philippa Johnston. From Poetry Café breakfast panel discussions to evening open mics and the famous StAnza Slam, this year hosted by Rally & Broad, there’s something for all tastes, including lots of interactive events.

Carol Ann Duffy (photo copyright  Michael J Woods 2010)

Carol Ann Duffy (photo copyright Michael J Woods 2010)

StAnza 2014 Headliners Announced

3 Oct

Paul Muldoon compressed (1) Multi-award winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon is to make his first ever appearance at StAnza as part of an exciting line up of world class poets confirmed today.

Our festival next year, which forms part of the Homecoming Scotland 2014 celebrations, takes place from 5th to 9th March 2014 and will feature poets from across the commonwealth.  These include a welcome return of the UK’s first Scottish-born and first female poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, Indian poet and dancer, Forward Prize winner Tishani Doshi and St Andrews’ own John Burnside, one of only two poets to have won both the T S Eliot prize and the Forward poetry prize for the same book.

Among Paul Muldoon’s accolades are the TS Eliot prize, the Pulitzer prize, the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and the Aspen prize.  He is poetry editor of the New Yorker magazine, and was described by the Times Literary Supplement as ‘the most significant English-language poet born since the second world war.’

Our themes for StAnza 2014 will be ‘A Common Wealth of Poetry’, celebrating poetry from across the Commonwealth in Scotland’s Year of Homecoming, and ‘Words Under Fire’, which looks at the poetic legacy of war in the centenary year of WW1.

Announcing the headlining poets, our Festival Director Eleanor Livingstone said:

“I am delighted to be able to confirm such an impressive line up of headlining poets for 2014. StAnza continues to attract some of the world’s leading poets who perform alongside emerging talent and those new to the poetry scene, giving the festival its dynamic and unique atmosphere.  We look forward to confirming more exciting performers and events over the coming months and to unveiling our full programme in late November.”

Caroline Packman, Homecoming Scotland 2014 Director said:  “In 2014, the year that Scotland welcomes the world, it is fitting that we support StAnza as it ties in perfectly with the Homecoming theme of celebrating creativity as well as our rich history and culture.  The charming town of St Andrews always provides a stunning backdrop for this vibrant and popular poetry festival, and I hope the exciting line-up announced today will encourage even more people to experience the festival next year.”

For a full list of headlining poets announced today, go to our website at www.stanzapoetry.org.

Carol Ann Duffy was appointed Britain’s poet laureate in May 2009.  She is the first woman, first Scot, and first openly LGBT person to hold the position.  She is currently professor of Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Her collections include Standing Female Nude (1985), winner of a Scottish Arts Council Award; Selling Manhattan (1987), which won a Somerset Maugham Award; Mean Time (1993), which won the Whitbread Poetry Award; and Rapture (2005), winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize.

Paul Muldoon was born in County Armagh, Northern Ireland.  He has worked as a radio and television producer for the BBC in Belfast, as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and is currently poetry editor of the New Yorker.  Since 1987 he has lived in the United States and is now Professor at Princeton University.

He has published several poetry collections and has been awarded the T S Eliot Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Griffin Prize, amongst others.

John Burnside was born in Fife and is one only two poets to have won both the T.S. Eliot prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for the same book (Black Cat Bone).  He is Professor in Creative Writing at St Andrews University.

His first collection of poetry, The Hoop, was published in 1988 and won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award. Other poetry collections include Common Knowledge(1991), Feast Days (1992), winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and The Asylum Dance (2000), winner of the Whitbread Poetry Award and shortlisted for both the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) and the T. S. Eliot Prize. The Light Trap (2001) was also shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. His poetry collection, The Good Neighbour (2005), was shortlisted for the 2005 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection). In 2008, he received a Cholmondeley Award.

Sujata Bhatt was born in Ahmedabad and brought up in Pune until 1968, when she emigrated to the United States with her family. She received the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia) and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for her first collection Brunizem.  She has translated Gujarati poetry into English for the Penguin Anthology of Contemporary Indian Women Poets. Combining both Gujarati and English, Her poems have appeared in various journals in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, and Canada, and have been widely anthologised, as well as being broadcast on British, German, and Dutch radio. She now lives in Germany.

David Constantine was born in Lancashire.  He was until recently the co-editor of the literary journal Modern Poetry in Translation.  As well as poetry, short stories, and a novel, he has translated Hölderlin, Brecht, Goethe, Kleist, Michaux and Jaccottet.  He has been shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award and recently won the Frank O’Conner International Short Story Award, the first English writer to do so. His new collection, Elder, out from Bloodaxe in March 2014 will be launched at StAnza.

Tishani Doshi is an Indian poet, journalist and dancer.  She was born in Madras, India, to a Welsh mother and Gujarati father. Her first poetry collection, Countries of the Body, won the 2006 Forward Poetry Prize for best first collection.  She is also the recipient of an Eric Gregory award, the All-India Prize for her poem The Day We Went to the Sea.  Her most recent book of poetry, Everything Begins Elsewhere was published by Bloodaxe in 2012.

Brian Turner is an American poet, essayist, and professor. He won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley for his debut collection, Here, Bullet, the first of many awards and honours received for this collection of poems about his experience as a soldier in the Iraq War. Since then he has won a Lannan Literary Fellowship and NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry, and the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship. His second collection, Phantom Noise, was shortlisted for the 2010 T.S. Eliot Prize.

Born in Visalia, California, Turner taught English in South Korea for a year, and traveled to Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan.  He was an infantry team leader for a year in the Iraq War beginning November 2003, with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. In 1999 and 2000 he was with the 10th Mountain Division, deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Menna Elfyn is a Welsh language poet, playwright, columnist, and editor. She has published ten volumes of poetry and a dozen more of children’s books and anthologies. She has also written eight plays for stage, six radio plays for BBC, two plays for television as well as writing documentaries for television. In 2002 she was poet Laureate for the Children of Wales, and she also co-edited the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Welsh Poetry.

Ron Silliman is an American Poet.  He has written over 30 books and has had his poetry and criticism translated into 12 languages. He has worked as a political organizer, a lobbyist, an ethnographer, a newspaper editor, a director of development, and as the executive editor of the Socialist Review (US).  He has taught in the Graduate Creative Writing Programme at San Francisco State University, at the University of California at San Diego, and the New College of California.

Poetry at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 11-24 August

8 Aug

The marquees are almost complete in Charlotte Square which means that the Edinburgh International Book Festival is about to kick off – it opens this Saturday 11th August. And there is a poetry strand this year that has many pleasures to offer including readings by three Makars, some startling new voices and a chance to see some favourite names from StAnzas past.

There’s a rare appearance by the wonderful Alice Oswald, (pictured left), a chance to catch up with StAnza 2012 Poet-in-Residence, Lavinia Greenlaw (here reading with American poet Marie Howe), and readings by Paul Durcan, Don Paterson, Ruth Padel, and Aonghas MacNeacail. Not to be missed are Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead, and Edinburgh’s Makar, Ron Butlin.

Sample the talents of the rising stars: William Letford, (left, below)the outstanding new poet who delighted us at StAnza in 2011, will be appearing with Sean Borodale. And the winner of the Edwin Morgan Prize, which is aimed at encouraging new poets, will be announced at a gala reading by all those shortlisted.

There’s also the unpredictable and fast moving Impro-Slam, featuring top performance poets. Alan Gillis heads up a lively discussion panel on Poetry & Ideas, exploring the experimental aspects of contemporary poetry. On a more celebratory note, Bashabi Fraser unites the the Ganga and the Tay in a celebration of Scottish and Indian poetry and music.

And, contrary to the myth that everything at EIBF is irrevocably sold out within minutes, there are tickets available for these events.  Don’t hesitate too long though.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place in Charlotte Square Gardens from the 11 – 27 August. To view the full programme of Book Festival events please visit www.edbookfest.co.uk.

Tickets for all events can be booked:

Online: www.edbookfest.co.uk

By phone: 0845 373 5888

In person – until the 10 Aug: at The Hub on Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE

In person – once the Festival has opened on the 11 Aug: on site in Charlotte Square Gardens in the Entrance Tent

Photograph of William Letford by Seppi Preston

Jubilee Lines

17 Jun

There’s much to enjoy in Faber and Faber’s new anthology, Jubilee Lines – 60 Poets for 60 Years, edited by Carol Ann Duffy.  Each of the last 60 years is represented by one poem and one poet, many of them very familiar names. Just four poems in, for 1956 there’s Class Photograph from Douglas Dunn, looking back at “pensioners in disguise”. And the roll call from StAnza 2012 just past includes Grace Nichols (1965), Christopher Reid offering “The Clearing for 1969, followed by John Burnside (1981), Robert Crawford (1984), Lachlan Mackinnon (1988), Michael Symmons Roberts (1996), Don Paterson (1997), Jackie Kay (1999) and Lavinia Greenlaw (2001).  

To accompany the book, Faber and Faber have collaborated with  Somethin’ Else and The Space to produce a groundbreaking interactive digital platform, which brings together actors’ readings, sound-based generative design and archive footage to create an exciting new way to experience poetry. At its heart are audio readings of the poems in Jubilee Lines, read evocatively by distinguished actors Dan Stevens, Samantha Bond, Lyndsey Marshal and Alex Lanipekun. Graphic designer Stefanie Posavec has produced visualisations of the audio readings using generative design techniques. Derived from characteristics such as the length of the recording and its decibel level, she has created unique artworks for each of the 60 poems.

The twenty poems that most vividly evoke our collective memory are enhanced with rich archive material, including film footage and audio uncovered in the BBC and British Movietone archives, as well as newspapers, adverts and photographs. It includes many items transferred from telecine for the first time, with material that ranges from the iconic (Michael Fish’s weather report in 1987), to the unseen (Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova preparing for her first space flight in 1963), and from the jubilant (children eagerly awaiting the end of sweet rationing in 1953) to the turbulent (miners clashing with police during the strike in 1984).

We are invited to navigate the poems by year, by poet, through archive or by theme (eg. remembrance, identity, vigilance), plotting your own path through 60 years of history, by going to their website at  www.jubileelines.com

(NB  at the time of posting this the link doesn’t seem to be working, we have let them know.)

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