Tag Archives: George Szirtes

Relive StAnza 2013 – in words and pictures

1 Jul

Luke Wright/Chris Scott


St Leonards Folk Group/Chris Scott

Festival Director Eleanor Livingstone sums up perfectly the unique experience of StAnza ’13 in her Afterword just published on our website: ‘even the weather didn’t spoil the enjoyment.’ Add to that, she says, Gillian Clarke’s lecture on the day that Wales played Scotland, a dash of tartan noir from Robin Robertson’s ‘sepulchral’ toned reading, the pairing of Mark Doty and Erin Moure, 70 poets, plus musicians, artists and filmmakers…and you have the best festival ever.

Yes we had venues to rearrange, and it rained and it snowed, but as the photo coverage of our Afterword page shows, the festival was busier than ever, and more poetry was found out and about in St Andrews than ever before.

Stitched & Spoken ‘poetry dresses’/Anja Hertenberger

Yes, our Afterword page has just gone live with a gallery of photographs taken at the events, the venues and around town. It  is the work of our wonderful team of volunteer photographers who all gave their time, talent and boundless energy to covering the 100 plus events that made up this year’s festival.

In the festival hub

In the festival hub/Jiye Lee

Check out who was at the festival, get a sense of the atmosphere and if you weren’t there – now you know what you missed!

Reviews and Interviews section: Catch up on the reviews and interviews by clicking on the links in our page, which features interviews (courtesy of SPL and Culture Laser) with poets such as George Szirtes, Gillian Clarke, Erín Moure and Alvin Pang.

Jacob Sam-La Rose/Al Buntin

Jacob Sam-La Rose/Al Buntin

Meantime StAnza lives on around town

Some of the exhibitions and installations from StAnza 2013 in March have been extended into and over the summer. Dualism, Chris Park’s quirky photographs of poets, will be on show at Fairmont St Andrews, just outside town, until September. And in town you can see some of our poetry texts on windows at St Andrews Wine Company on Bell Street, Cherries on South Street, and at the Bus Station.

Next year’s StAnza takes place 5-9 March at St Andrews

Listen again to the best of StAnza: festival podcasts

5 Jun
Erín Moure

Listen again to Erin Moure at StAnza
/Photo Credit: Chris Scott

If you missed out on StAnza this year or want to listen again to some of our wonderful poets. You can listen on our podcast page here to interviews with (and short readings by) George Szirtes, Alvin Pang, Hannah Silva, Gillian Clarke, Erin Moure and Ken Babstock. The podcasts were made by our friends at the Scottish Poetry Library and Culture Laser who visited the festival, recorders in hand, back in March. 

Poetry, out of line and by design: Stephanie Green

10 Mar

As I entered the Town Hall a voice reciting poems seemed to come from nowhere – I looked around but saw no one – then traced it to overhead speakers.  This is just one of the weird and wonderful incarnations of poetry outwith the page that one encounters round StAnza this year, as part of one of the festival themes, Designs on Poetry.  The Breakfast event, ‘Out of Line’ was also  appropriately surrounded by digital poetic installations – slides of the Badilisha  Poetry Xchange  projected on the ceiling above us, and on the walls was Jon Stale Ritland’s ‘Body Searches’  slides of biological cells and visual poems inspired by the ‘grammar’ of DNA.  The Q & A at the end of the session was open to Twitter…phew and that’s only the half of it.  There was also the visual minuter, Ariadne Radi Cor, creating an artist’s account of proceedings .

Our panel of George Szirtes, Ken Babstock, Chris Emery (Salt Publishing) and academic Andrew Roberts (replacing Greg Thomas who had to cancel) discussed traditional form v concrete poetry, and ranged through the new poetics and the effect of the internet, creative writing at the universities, self-publishing, the multiplicity and variety of places where poetry appears but issues of diminishing sales, fragmentation of audience, new elites and the rise of artists’ books.

Metaphors to describe the design of poetic structure were banded about such as  chiselling, architecture, sculpturing, embroidery, knitting and sewing, but after the event I went along to an exhibition where this was literally realized.


Farlin  involved pairs of poets and craftmakers from Shetland and Fife. Last week at Inspace in Edinburgh, I heard and saw Jen Hadfield read via Skype from Shetland, whilst Kathleen Jamie performed in the flesh in Edinburgh and was relayed to Shetland, so I am already converted to this amazing live/virtual phenomena (actually, since sons have lost the art of pen and ink, this is how my husband and I communicated with our son whilst he was at uni).  So I was interested to learn that the Farlin  poets and craftmakers had collaborated via Skype as well as snail mail.

From exquisite jewellery of silver leaves  to textile embroidered bags, the craft was varied and impressive. The poets, too. My favourites were the sinister bird-creature made out of silver wire by Shetland artist Helen Robertson paired with Fife poet, Paula Jennings’  ‘Seabird, What has Death Left in your Belly?’:  and the particular line ‘Death steals life but leaves a changeling’ which evoked the bird so well.  Another favourite was the pairing of the concrete poem of a tree by Bruce Eunson, Shetland poet and Fife artist, and Molly Ginnelly’s  installation of tree fragments (twigs, stick etc).



Tipyn Bach of Welsh

Lesson Two:

Dai iawn, diolch

pron Die yown dee-olch (ch as in Scots loch)- Very well, thank you.

Which is what Gillian or one of the other Welsh poets might have answered yesterday to your Shw mae

Photos by Stephanie Green

European Poetry Special Webcast at 5pm Today

8 Mar


This afternoon’s European Poetry Special, featuring poets Robert Şerban, Ludwig Steinherr and George Szirtes will now be webcast live at 5pm.

The German, Romanian and Hungarian poets will read from their own work as well as discussing the European poetry scene.

Festival Blog: Helen Ivory on Writing the Visual

16 Mar

With Friday’s Poetry Breakfast turning into a fast moving multi-media event, as Facebook and Tweeters know, it seemed a good idea to extend the chat from this morning with one of the panellists, Helen Ivory. A poet and trained artist, Helen wrote this to accompany her appearance at StAnza and it dovetails perfectly with this morning’s discussions. It comes complete with one of Helen’s poems. Helen will be reading on Saturday 17th at 11.30am.

I began to write poetry at art school in Norwich, with George Szirtes  – also a trained artist – as my tutor.  I found I could more tangibly create images with words, and learnt to use metaphor more subtly through reading and writing poetry. I left my visual work behind – it’s more practical to make poems than artwork – you need less space and fewer materials.

My visual practice was concerned with the theatrical – I toyed with the idea of designing for theatre, but I was quite protective of the little sculptural environments I was making, and didn’t like the idea of having them scaled up for actors to act in.   I found that if I wrote poems, I could fulfill my megalomaniac urges to create the scenery, the lights, the actors and the drama.  I think of my poems as puppet theatres, and for the longest time, felt I was a visual artist who wrote poems.  Last year, fifteen years after I left art school, I began to develop my visual practice into something that might be described as a ‘voice’.  I could only have done this after having spent eighteen years pursuing my ‘voice’ through poetry.    Now I create word and image pieces, which to me are like my poems – they speak the same language, though the medium is different.  The poem happens in the dialogue between word and image. I am unable to write from my own sculptures, because for me, the poems already exist.  I do have an active interest in writing from other peoples’ artwork though.

‘Ekphrasis’ has come to mean the interpretation of one creative medium by another: a story from a photograph, a film of a book, a poem based on a painting et cetera et cetera.  It is centuries old, and one of the often most famous cited examples of ekphrasis comes from Homer’s Illiad where the description of Achilles’ shield is woven in to the narrative.  Another example is Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn.

In ancient Greece, teachers of rhetoric taught Ekphrasis, which literally means to ‘talk out of’ – to ‘explain’.  The way to score high marks in your Rhetoric exams was to bring the experience of an object so vividly to life through words, that the reader would feel they had experienced it themselves. Sometimes the objects were wholly imaginary, so the gift of the student to conjure something completely from air – such as Achilles’ shield – would have earned them very high marks indeed.

By Keats’ time, the writer was as present in the poem as the object he was engaging with, which represents one of the major changes in the way ekphrasis has developed.  Contemporary ekphrastic poetry is also no longer wedded to the notion of elaborate description and direct translation, but instead tries to make something new – to interpret and engage with subjects, to make images speak or to perhaps meditate on the moment of viewing.

Ekphrasis has undergone various interpretations through the centuries that questioned the nature of words, and the nature of images and the wealth and weakness of both mediums. For example, a series of Advice to Painters poems appeared from poets such as Andrew Marvell, who questioned the ability of painters – who were considered mere artisans – to be able to do anything terribly sophisticated with their medium. The contemporary painter Howard Hodgkin talks of the ‘tyranny of words’, and how once words have been attached to a painting, the painting doesn’t exist in its own right, which is why he is suspicious of even giving his works titles.   This is, I suppose the worst possible fear – that words either replace or cancel out the original artwork.

One of the best known contemporary extended pieces of ekphrasis is Pascale Petit’s What the Water Gave me: Poems after Frida Kahlo. Petit is perhaps unusual because she trained as an artist and has experience of what it’s like to handle materials. She has said in interview: “I still feel as if I’m making sculptures with words. I am aware of the shapes of the images in my poems, with colours, and the sensory and physical presence of the poem.” She was drawn to Kahlo through a shared love of animals, nature, clothes and colour, and also her “ability to turn pain into paint.”  She said that writing this collection was ‘like being in the studio again.”

There must be some kind of connection between poet and artwork in order for the poem to really sing.  Ekphrasis is no longer just about how eloquent or clever the writer can be.  When I was given the run of an exhibition called Family Matters recently for a commission – I was magnetically drawn to a sculpture called House of Thorns by Alice Maher. http://www.alicemaher.com/house-of-thorns—1995.html

It felt like it was already under my skin, as if I myself had made the sculpture.   It taps into my fascination with fairy tale and nursery rhyme, and to the recent poems I’ve been writing about my childhood and my parents’ house. This poem really did make itself.

The House of Thorns

It takes no more than a word

for a flame to stir in its womb

for smoke to rise and push at the walls

like a trapped and injured beast.

There is no chimney, no window,

no gasps of air, so the fire that’s grown

too big for the hearth

will die before it eats up the room.

Here is a bed for the wolf,

here is a chair burst at the seams

and here’s the little pot

that will cook and cook and cook.


It’s hard to imagine a path from this house

when you can’t imagine a door.

The roof is braced against all four winds,

you’re swaddled inside a coat of thorns.

There are stories about spring mornings,

about dew-soaked grass,

the signature of your footsteps;

you, the only child on earth.

The house is blind to romance;

makes you pin down your tongue;

rocks you till you fall asleep

hush-a-bye, hush-a-bye, hush-a-bye.


When the seeds are planted

and the roses are grown

mature enough for a harvest of thorns

and all the effort of building a home

tattoos neat scratches

on your parents’ hands,

now, think of a house.

Think of another house

a house of your own,

cut from the cloth of your very own skin.

The thought rises up

like a singing clock;

its bird constructed

of feathers and springs.

Split Screen – Do Not Adjust Your Set!

12 Mar

Guest blogger Andy Jackson explains how his new anthology, inspired by cult film and TV, came about. It’s being launched at StAnza and promises to be an entertaining event. Where else would Callan meet The Clangers in verse?

Poetry habitually takes its inspiration from the great themes – love, loss, beauty, the human condition. All noble concepts, but sometimes you just want to write about the silly fripperies of life that please and excite you. Dancing. Chocolate. Uma Thurman. Yet, somehow, unless your poem reaches for some deeper ideas that address the spirituality of chocolate or the universal language of dancing, you sometimes feel you’ve written about…well, nothing of much importance.

I was born in the 1960s, and I therefore grew up knowing the presenters of Blue Peter (in order), the names of the crew of the Trumpton Fire Engine and all the words to all the songs in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I should have been out playing in the dubious Manchester sunshine, but I was usually glued to the box or fidgeting in the darkness of my local single-screen cinema.

About eighteen months ago I observed a conversation on Facebook between Salt Publishing’s Chris Hamilton-Emery and Yorkshire’s suavest poet Tim Turnbull, who challenged each other to write a short poem about a cult TV programme of the 60s or 70s. Chris chose US series Mission Impossible while Tim went for Lew Grade’s espionage thriller The Champions. This was the kind of poetry I’d been writing in my own head since childhood, but here were two fearless and savvy writers who weren’t afraid to publish their poetry on these most populist of topics. And I mean proper poetry!

I felt there must be more poets out there who longed to write about the TV or the movies they loved, so after discussion with Red Squirrel’s Kevin Cadwallender, the idea for Split Screen was born.

I drew up a list of sixty themes, pairing up the likes of Camberwick Green with the Clangers, Ealing Comedy with Bollywood and Walmington-on-Sea with Weatherfield. I invited poets I knew and respected to pick a theme on which to write a poem of up to 30 lines. Word travelled around and I found poets contacting me asking, and occasionally pleading, to have a go, even suggesting their own themes in some cases. The resulting poems from the likes of Ian McMillan, George Szirtes, W N Herbert and Annie Freud were as diverse they were entertaining.

To keep with the TV & movie theme, I decided that we could punctuate the book with short poems inspired by adverts included as ‘commercial breaks’. This part of the book was an open section, and I selected 10 advert poems from the 50 or so which I received. Add to this a couple of poems at the end about the Closedown and the White Dot, and you have Split Screen – poems inspired by film and television.

Split Screen will be launched with a multimedia reading on the Sunday afternoon of this year’s StAnza festival, with a stellar cast of poets (and some reading in public for the first time). Compiling and editing it has been the most fun I’ve had in poetry. Why not come along on Sunday 18th March at 2.15pm and listen to poetry that unashamedly wears its cultural influences on its sleeve.

Our thanks to Andy Jackson: http://www.soutarwriters.co.uk/andyjackson/

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