Tag Archives: Jo Bell

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 http://www.alastaircook.com

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
http://www.hollandparkpress.co.uk/

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.

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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

StAnza on film: the story behind our 2012 documentary

22 Aug

On 20 August, StAnza officially launched its new documentary film of this year’s festival. The film has recently been previewed on YouTube, Facebook and has been uploaded on StAnza’s website, but this was the first time it had been screened in front of a live audience: during the ‘St Andrews Year of Celebration’ showcase at Creative Scotland, Waverley Gate.

The project had its beginnings when Eleanor Livingstone, Director of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival commissioned the filmmaker Daniel Warren to make a short documentary of the 2012 festival. The festival is grateful for the help of EventScotland who provided funding.

‘We wanted to capture the essence of the festival on film, to give a flavour of how lively and diverse it can be, in the stunning setting of St Andrews,’ Eleanor says. ‘With our vibrant hub at the Byre Theatre, StAnza has a unique, welcoming atmosphere and the film is a visual record of that.’

Daniel came to St Andrews for the festival (which took place 14-18 March) and, with the assistance of Ishbel Beeson, filmed poets in live readings and performances, on stage and behind the scenes. He interviewed poets, artists, musicians and festival-goers, took in the sights and sounds of the town itself and the result was an intriguing insight into the festival.

The film is structured as ‘a day in the life of StAnza’, opening with the arrival of visitors at the rail station of Leuchars. The camera takes the viewer around town and through many events from art exhibitions, an open mic in a local café, to centre stage readings and performances and talks by, among others, Jackie Kay, Jo Bell,  actor Karen Dunbar, Kwame Dawes, Tony Curtis and Robin Cairns. As the sun goes down, the party atmosphere at the Byre gets – literally – into full swing with music from the Mending Hearts Trio.

Poetry turns up in unexpected guises: on Poetry Digest’s biscuits and bananas, as labels attached to whisky bottles in Ken Cockburn and Alec Finlay’s collaboration, The Road North, and slowly appearing under the chisel of patient stone carver John Neilson. Then there’s the bartender who bursts into a recitation of Tam O’ Shanter; poetic ‘Clanger speak’ from Andy Jackson during the launch of his TV and film inspired anthology, and slam champion Robin Cairns. The film shows how poetry can inspire other art forms, and become by turns humorous, experimental, crowd pleasing, celebratory and thought-provoking.

Eleanor Livingstone says of the film: ‘The title is taken from a story told by Jackie Kay during her performance. Her son, on hearing that his mother was “going out to the poetry’’, used to ask where this place called poetry was. StAnza – and St Andrews – she joked was certainly one of these places. The film successfully captures the humour, charm and the sense of community created by StAnza and by St Andrews.’

You can view the film on StAnza’s website: http://www.stanzapoetry.org/

Stephanie Green: what I am looking forward to at StAnza.

14 Mar

As StAnza kicks off this evening with an evening of poetry and jazz, our guest blogger, poet Stephanie Green previews some events she is particularly keen to see at StAnza. As she says herself, she has been coming to the festival for years and has been blogging about us on her own blog. So it was about time, we reckoned that she did some posts for us. She will be posting here through the festival, exploring the theme of the image in words and pictures. Here are her tips for events featuring some of the rising stars of poetry.

What am I looking forward to? What am I not? This will be my 7th visit to StAnza and I still get a buzz from the sharp, clear light of St Andrews, glorying in the crow-stepped architecture of the university and old town, and imbibing the smell of the sea and diesel in the harbour and the sounds of sea-gulls along with the poetry. Also hearing Big Names I’ve not heard before, and meeting up with poet friends I know from all over Scotland and other poet friends I’ve made at workshops all over Britain or even those I’ve met at StAnza itself. A gathering of poet clans.

The social side of StAnza is one of its best aspects. Having a central meeting place: the Byre, with bar and cosy sofas, it’s easy to bump into the Big Names and chat informally -if that’s what you’d like to do. There are events all over town too but it’s so small and the streets so narrow, that one keeps bumping into the same people. And if you’re a solitary soul, or just a need a break to recover from too much poetry (Heaven forfend) then there are the wide skies and lonely sands of the West Sands to escape to…but enough of escaping, before even arriving.

Gill Andrews is a rising star in the Scottish poetry world – shortlisted for the Picador publishing prize last year and the Edwin Morgan prize, she is an alumna of St Andrew’s university too – tutored by Don Paterson and Kathleen Jamie. As she has a background in the law, you can expect dramatic poems of incisive brilliance, a razor-sharp logic with a visceral punch, so don’t miss her reading at all costs on Sunday 18th March, 11.30am with Simon Barraclough who comes trailing clouds of glory from England.Oh, yes, I must declare partiality here. Gill is friend of mine but don’t let that prejudice you.

Another rising star, and also friend, is Jane McKie (Janie to friends) who pipped Gill in the Edwin Morgan prize by winning it with her exquisite poem ‘The Leper Window, St. Mary the Virgin). St Mary’s is incidentally a church in Sussex where Janie comes from – but she has been settled in Scotland for some time. Her pamphlet ‘Garden of Bedsteads’ (Mariscat Press) was promoted by the Poetry Book Society as their recent Pamphlet Choice. But Janie is a stalwart with two previous full collections to her name, the most recent ‘When the Sun Turns Green’ (Polygon, 2009).
Don’t miss Jane’s reading either – you’ll experience an extraordinarily inventive and unusual imagination which draws its inspiration from folklore and history- the darker strands, and like a magpie, she is drawn to strange, curious things of the natural world: beetles, the archaeopteryx, ostrich eggs, deep-sea creatures, but also writes poems shot through with the anxiety and fears of being a mother of small children. She’s reading with the well-known John Siddique on Friday 16th March at 2.15.

Another friend (Is there no end to them?) I must flag up is Claudia Daventry, star of Poetry Slams, winning a prize at the Irish Satirical Verse competition (the Percy French) in Strokestown, County Roscommon a few years ago. She has since licked the Ozzies in an online slam and is well known on the Scottish Slam scene. However, she is no mean literary poet too, scooping prizes at the literary Heavyweight competitions, the Arvon and Bridport. See her poem ‘Amsterdam’ you can find on the StAnza Participants’ web-page. Witty, hilarious, naughty…but also moving, with a flair for drama. And if we’re lucky, she make break into song. You may end up with a stitch, from laughing, or weeping into your sandwich, while you enjoy her ‘Poetry Cafe’ event at the Byre Theatre on Friday 16th March, 1pm.

If you want a poetry workshop, then I highly recommend the witty, laid-back barge poet (she lives on one) Jo Bell, whose workshop will be on using the negative for positive effects. I had the never-forgotten delight of attending this workshop during the Word Play Festival in Edinburgh earlier this year. No, there will not be a dry eye in the house, and never will you enjoy a workshop more, nor deny the not inconsiderable reams of poem notes you will emerge with. I’ll not flag up the headline poets – because of course you’re probably going to hear them anyway.But check out Tusiata Avia from Samoa, Alan Buckley (past winner of the Wigtown prize), Pippa Little (winner of the Norman MacCaig prize, 2011)

To start off, I am going along to hear Don Paterson, not as poet this time but as jazz guitarist with the Dave Batchelor Quintet celebrating Larkin’s love of jazz on the opening night, 8pm, 14th March.

Stephanie Green

Our thanks to Stephanie, who blogs at http://stephaniegreensblog.blogspot.com/

Keep on reading!

We’ll be blogging about the launch and the festival regularly over the next few days. watch this space!

Be inspired at StAnza’s festival workshops and classes

7 Jan

StAnza’s educational theme, Poetry by Degrees, has given us the chance to expand on opportunities for creative practice. The festival programme is packed with workshops, inspirational sessions and opportunities for both new and experienced poets to develop their work. The festival’s other main theme, The Image, will provide the impetus for both these practical events and for talks and discussions centred on the craft and the study of poetry. The theme is also part of the celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the University of St Andrews. Lavinia Greenlaw will be leading an all-day workshop at Balmungo House. Kwame Dawes (pictured) and John Glenday will be leading workshops respectively on poetic language and imagery. Glenday is a tutor at Moniack Mhor, the Scottish base of the Arvon Foundation, which is forming an outpost at StAnza 2012. Dawes is connected to the creative writing programme at the University of South Carolina. David Morley, founder of the University of Warwick writing programme, will be leading the StAnza Masterclass, which offers selected poets the chance to have their work discussed. Jo Bell, Director of National Poetry Day, will be heading a workshop on the power of using the negative.

To kick start the writing process, there are daily Inspire sessions at the Byre Theatre and lunchtime ‘Musings at MUSA’: a series of sessions at the Museum of the University of St Andrews, where writers are asked to respond to a treasure trove of artefacts from astrolabes to kaleidoscopes, all associated with the university. Both these events are free and participants are encouraged to submit copies of any resulting work for future display.

All this plus a range of chances to perform your work at open mics, the StAnza slam and music nights.

Find out more about these interactive events here. Tickets for StAnza go on sale next week, 11 January.

Photo of Kwame Dawes by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

StAnza is part of the Year of Creative Scotland 2012.

A warm literary welcome at the Westport

4 Oct

Edinburgh’s best kept secret is the Westport Book Festival, held
among the bookshops, pubs and trendy art spaces in the city’s answer to Soho.
Starting next Thursday, 13 October and running till Sunday 16th, the festival in its new
autumn guise offers a varied and witty programme: new and established talents
(the sort of people, such as Janice Galloway, who sell out at the summer
festivals can be seen here in smaller, more intimate venues), open mics,  plus a spot of book binding  and tea dancing.  There’s plenty of poetry to enjoy, including a smattering of folk familiar to StAnza: book a place at Jo Bell’s workshop , catch readings by Rachael Boast,  William Letford, Tracey S Rosenberg and Emily Dodd, or listen to Bruce Durie chat about what is thought to the first poem in Scots. Check the full programme  and take advantage of the generous  ticketing system: 40 per cent of tickets are available in advance, the rest on the day. All tickets are free! The festival website is a mine of information: www.westportbookfestival.org

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