Tag Archives: John Neilson

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/

StAnza out and about

29 Mar

Hugh MacDiarmid's Scotland at St Andrews Bus Station during StAnza 2012

 Thanks to our Creative Scotland ‘One Step Forward’ funding, StAnza certainly stepped out this month around St Andrews and beyond. As well as the poem panel at Leuchars Railway Stations, two poems, ‘Scotland’ by Hugh MacDiarmid and ‘St Andrews’ by Robert Crawford (thanks to permission from Carcanet Press and the Random House Group respectively) have been on show in window panels at the St Andrews Bus Station, our annual Poetry Walk followed a path suggested by the Book of St Andrews, the Poem Pedlar engaged with people all round town and the sun shone wonderfully on our stone carver working in the garden outside the Byre over the glorious festival weekend (which seemed to turn StAnza into a summer festival) where the whispers of this year’s specially commissioned audio  installations added their own soundscape. StAnza is keen to see photographs of people encountering words and text around town during the festival, so do send your own to us at info@stanzapoetry.org and we’ll be happy to publish some of them on this Blog.

Stone carver John Neilson at StAnza 2012 (photo credit Al Buntin)

Stephanie Green on Day 5: Was it all a dream?

20 Mar

Sunday 18 March

As always during  StAnza , listening to a waterfall of poetry each day, I’ve entered a virtual reality of poetic images and this festival literally – blogging daily.  It’s been fun, though busy, busy.

Also, rushing around taking snaps for this blog and StAnza’s website gallery archives, seeing the world through a camera lens has added a dimension to the festival’s exploration of the Image,  musing on the themes of perception, framing, point of view, focus, the cold eye, the moving eye  and so on,  both in art and in poetry.  Not only the artist/poet’s p.o.v.   but the observer/reader/listener’s and so on. Not just the image but the experience it evokes….

Much to ponder on.  Notes to read through and digest.  Who knows perhaps my own poems will benefit?

The poets, poetry and art installations were the main thing, without whom etc. But being at the festival as a volunteer, has also let me experience first hand,  just how much behind the scenes and front of house hard work goes on. A hundred times’ more work than my little mite.  A daily miracle in fact: a small army of people, many of them volunteers,  pulling together.  But like a good trooper, I must not dispel the magic for the audience. Continue to believe it all happened with the wave of a magic wand, wielded by Fairy Godmother, Eleanor Livingstone.

But thanks to Eleanor and thanks to Annie, for letting me come to the ball.

And since the Image was the theme, I  leave you readers with a series of images from the festival.

More stone carvings by Line Cutter John Neilson (on show in the gardens of  the Preservation Trust Museum, St. A) and  inside the museum, part of the Poem Pedlar’s Pearls’ collection, a last image – a shirt with the perennial subject of most poetry.

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’.


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