Tag Archives: literature

Celebrate the poetry of Seamus Heaney ‘On Home Ground’

18 Jul
StAnza 2010 In Conversation event

Seamus Heaney in conversation with the late Dennis O’Driscoll at StAnza 2010

Like Scotland, Ireland is famous for its literary festivals, usually centred on areas associated with writers. This one is really rather special: a celebration of poetry and place in the territory of one of the world’s most prominent poets: Seamus Heaney.

‘On Home Ground’ is a new festival, taking place over a long weekend in Magherafelt,  in the South Derry of Heaney’s poetry. The Festival, unique in returning the local Nobel Laureate to his home ground, is one of the highlights of the Derry~Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 events programme.

Seamus Heaney, as Patron, will open the festival with an address entitled Important Places: A Reading with Commentary on Friday 20 September 2013. During the weekend there will be talks and readings about local places and the chance to take a guided tour of the places Heaney talks about or there will be ample time to explore them yourselves.

Other poetic gems include a reading by award-winning poet Michael Longley and novelist and short story writer Bernard MacLaverty, both of whom are favourites at StAnza. And among the other events are readings by Colette Bryce, Nick Laird and Sinead Morrissey. During the course of the weekend there will an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Michael McGuinness, one of the finest Irish artists of his generation. The National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, will close the Festival on Sunday 22 September.

Nine of the 10 Festival events will be held in the grounds of Laurel Villa Guesthouse in Magherafelt, a designated UK Poetry Society Landmark, which hosts regular poetry readings through the year.

On Home Ground Poetry Festival is part-funded by Culture Company 2013.

The full Festival program including box office information is available at http://www.laurel-villa.com


‘Exuberant and electrifying’: Carly Brown on competing at the Poetry Slam World Cup

19 Jun

‘Are you actually Scottish?’

I was asked this question many times at this year’s Poetry Slam World Cup (Coupe du Monde) in Paris. It’s a fair question considering that I was representing Scotland in the competition, joining 21 other national champions from countries such as Russia, Gabon and Spain, to compete for the title of World Champion. Although I have called Scotland home for the last three years, I am not actually Scottish. Before arriving at the competition, I felt pretty self-conscious about this fact. I even memorized a few lines from ‘Scots Wha Hae’ on the plane to Paris, in an attempt to lend myself some Scottish credibility.

However, within minutes of arriving at the Culture Rapide (a eclectic café in Paris’ Chinatown which served as the festival hub), I learned that the U.S national champion, Thuli Zuma, was originally from South Africa and the English champion, Stephanie Dogfoot, was born in Singapore. The diverse backgrounds of the other slam poets was one of the most interesting aspects of the Coupe du Monde. I quickly learned that the World Cup was less of a competition between different nations than an international celebration of Slam Poetry.

Carly in Paris with Sweden's Niklas Mesaros (left) and Denmark's Michael Dyst.

Carly in Paris with Sweden’s Niklas Mesaros (left) and Denmark’s Michael Dyst.

Although some of the other competitors were seasoned Slam veterans, I’m still a relative newcomer to the slam scene. I attended my first poetry slam three years ago as a fresher at the University of St Andrews and I was immediately drawn to Slam because it seemed to be a marriage of my two passions: acting and writing. After winning a few student slams, I entered the StAnza Slam in March 2013 and won. I then went on to win the Scottish National Slam in Edinburgh, securing my place as the Scottish National Champion (and my slot in the World Cup). So, this June, accompanied by three university friends (one of whom is actually Scottish), I set off for the Coupe du Monde.

The Coupe du Monde took place between June 3-9th this year. For one week, we watched 21 talented poets perform their original poetry in their native languages, from the deadpan comedic verse of Denmark’s Michael Dyst, to the exuberant and electrifying words of France’s Eupédien Deschardons. One of my favourite poets was Israel’s Ellen Potless, both a charismatic performer (as she crooned out melodic syllables in Hebrew) and a talented writer, grappling with themes like national identity in her poem ‘Jerusalem’.

coupe du monde

The multi-lingual nature of the World Cup, however, was not without its issues. Although translations of the poet’s words were supposed to appear on a screen, in both French and English, as he/she performed, many of the translations were inaccurate or out of sync. At one hilarious and frustrating moment during the Final Round, the projector actually broke! However, despite all of these translation errors and technological mishaps, the energy and enthusiasm of each competitor was easily understood and appreciated by the French audience, who laughed and applauded on cue despite the language barrier.

As a proud unofficial Scot (and a committee member of StAnza), I am pleased to report that I won 4th in the competition overall, placing higher than any other English speaking poet. First place went to Quebec’s Simon Roberts, Second went to Gabon’s Didier Tanguy and Third to Spain’s Daniel Orviz. I would like to extend a heart-felt congratulations to all of the poets I met that week and a thank you to my friends who travelled from the U.K to support me in Paris. It was one of the most inspiring, exhilarating and exhausting weeks of my life and I was honored to take part. Go Scotland…Vive L’Ecosse!

 Carly was interviewed by Le Point magazine while in Paris: see the video here

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. 

Exclusive ticket offers for East Neuk Festival

2 Jun

thingOne of the highlights of summer in Fife is the East Neuk Festival, 3-7 July, which combines an exciting and innovative musical and literature programme with wonderful venues, from exquisite churches to beautiful gardens. Nature is even more to the forefront this year, as the East Neuk Festival celebrates birds and birdsong. In its music programme there are masterpieces by Beethoven and Ravel as well two pieces by the outstanding Alaskan composer, John Luther-Adams. Its Littoral programme, curated by Catherine Lockerbie and Jenny Brown, aims to inspire, enquire and explore through writers and writing. This year, Littoral brings some of the finest nature writers from across the UK to join highly distinguished local authors to reflect on how we observe and interact with our environment.  The Festival has offered StAnza special ticket prices for the following Littoral and Music events:

LITTORAL: £5 tickets (instead of £10) for people quoting: ENFStAnza5

Thursday 4 July  | 18:00hrs  | Largo Kirk  | GAVIN FRANCIS

Adventurers including Alexander Selkirk, immortalised as Robinson Crusoe, are associated with this historic kirk, so it’s a fitting place to hear Fife-bred explorer Gavin Francis. After a year as doctor to the British Antarctic Survey, he speaks eloquently of a world of ice, silence and Emperor penguins.

LITTORAL: £10 (instead of £15) for people quoting: ENFStAnza10

Saturday 6 July  | 14:30hrs  | Cambo House and Estate  | CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOP WITH LINDA CRACKNELL

Join experienced author and tutor, Linda Cracknell, in a workshop including forays outdoors into the beautiful Cambo Estate. Aimed at both new and experienced writers, the workshop will inspire you to explore your own associations with landscape through writing.

LITTORAL: £5 tickets (instead of £10) for people quoting: ENFStAnza5

Sunday 7 July  | 11:30hrs  | Crail Church Hall  | A SILENT SUMMER?

Join in a highly topical discussion with some of our leading authors and thinkers. Fifty years after Rachel Carson’s seminal Silent Spring warned of the threats to our environment, what now are the dangers, and the signs of hope and success? Speakers include TC Smout, Sir John Lister-Kaye and Esther Woolfson.


London Conchord Ensemble

MUSIC: £10 tickets (instead of £15 & £12) for people quoting: ENFStAnza15 (for £15 to £10 tickets) and ENFStAnza12 (for £12 to £10 tickets)

Thursday 4 July  | 11:30hrs  | Cellardyke Church  | Wit Mystery and Youth 

London Conchord Ensemble

Poulenc: Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon, Messiaen: Abîme des Oiseaux, Mozart: Sonata for Cello and Bassoon K292, Janáček: Mladi 

London Conchord Ensemble’s clarinetist is none other than SCO principal, Maximiliano Martín. He plays solo Messiaen and features in youthful Mozart and Poulenc, both full of wit and brilliance. Janáček, ebullient and spry in his 70s, looks back to his own schooldays in one of his most uplifting works, Mladi.

MUSIC: £10 tickets (instead of £15) for people quoting: ENFStAnza15 

Friday 5 July  |  20:00hrs  | Cambo Barn  | The Tallis Scholars

John Taverner: Missa Corona Spinea

Thomas Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah

In their 40th Anniversary year, The Tallis Scholars bring masterpieces of the Renaissance to East Neuk. Taverner’s mass has the sweeping glory of Kings College Chapel: he was the greatest English composer of Henry VIII’s time, and his mass settings are magnificent choral spectaculars – vast and dramatic. Tallis’ Lamentations are profound, timeless – a great contrast.

MUSIC: £10 tickets (instead of £15) for people quoting: ENFStAnza15 

Sunday 7 July  | 17:00 hrs  | Cambo Barn Closing Concert 

Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Christian Zacharias, conductor

Messiaen: Appel Interstellaire; Ravel: Ma Mère L’Oye (Suite); Beethoven: Symphony No 6 “Pastoral”

Cambo Barn invites something a little out of the ordinary so you are invited to take a journey in music from deepest space to the natural world right outside the venue. Zacharias conducts a perfect programme to close the 2013 Festival.


Hub Tickets: +44 (0)131 473 2000 / www.hubtickets.co.uk. These offers apply to telephone and online bookings and in person at Hub Tickets, The Hub, Castlehill, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 2NE. To take advantage of these special ticket offers, you must quote the references given above.

For more details about the East Neuk Festival programme, visit their website.

StAnza 2013 finale: Paula Meehan, Robin Robertson

11 Mar
The stage at the Town Hall/photo Chris Scott

The stage at the Town Hall/photo Chris Scott

The final night of StAnza always comes too quickly.  The Sunday night reading is the highlight of the festival, an apogee, and yet the experience is bittersweet, for afterwards there will be no more StAnza 2013 to experience. This year though, the occasion was also touched with a real sense of triumph, for it had become clear that the festival was not just one of our best, but the best, this despite the challenges faced by the closure of our hub venue.

The finale saw the pairing of two supremely evocative poets Paula Meehan and Robin Robertson. The reading took place, as did many of our events, in the Town Hall Auditorium, transformed for the duration of the festival by wonderful lighting (courtesy of the former Byre Theatre staff) by the artwork of Lucilla Sim and, by replicas of two large woven grass works by outsider artist Angus McPhee. These two were hung  above the stage, prompting much speculation about their meaning, and taking on new interpretations thanks to our imaginative audience. You can see them in the picture above and (on the right) is a chandelier made by Lucilla out of used tickets from last year’s festival.

meehanpPaula Meehan is one of the most distinguished poets currently writing in Ireland. You can get a sense of the intensity and universality of her writing in one of the poems she read that  also appears on our website: Diamond Faceted, His Breath, which deals with the death of her father. Meehan tackles these  and other experiences with grace, humour and acute observation. Last night she read some new poems, some from her most recent book, Painting Rain and others from her seminal works of the Nineties. True to the theme of Legacy & Place, Meehan’s Dublin strides through her work, as strong a character, almost, as her father and her grandmother – the latter remembered in one poem as a voice whispering warnings about the proclivities of priests. She tackles the legacy of a tough childhood in a working class area of north Dublin. In one moving and strongly rhythmic poem she described the effort involved in remaining sober, day after day. Meehan talked also about the wounding experiences Ireland has undergone during the recent recession, and  of  her own personal journey from a difficult childhood to her achievements through education and literature. Both are somehow connected in the richness and undercurrents of rage in her poems. One of the most memorable images I came away with, however, was of a book hanging high in the branches of a tree, something she saw one day, out walking in the Georgian splendour of Merrion Square. A reminder to keep looking up indeed.

Robertson,Robin_credit Niall McDiarmidLike Meehan, Robin Robertson is adept at evoking places and universal human experiences, albeit extreme ones. As he himself joked during his reading, his themes are assumed to be ‘drink, sex and death, in that order.’  His dark vision seems to be even darker in the selection of poems from his new book, Hill of Doors. There were preoccupations with Greek mythology, especially Dionysus. There were bears, a cat in the throes of death whose ‘face I see has turned human’,  balladic tragedies of murder and death in bleak landscapes of mountains and lakes. He, like Meehan, like evoked his own childhood – most memorable was the image of  feeding a bonfire with a Salvation Army picture of Jesus. A child of the manse, he linked his own past memories with the hymn tune Crimond, written by a teenage minister’s daughter in the 1850s, and asked ‘what softness brought this tune from your hands?’ Outstanding too was a visceral recollection of undergoing heart surgery. He finished the reading, scarcely marred by his hoarseness, the result he said of a  ‘Strindbergian flu’ with the ever powerful ‘At Roan Head’. For all the darkness in this powerful reading, there was a glimmer of hope, best expressed in ‘Glass of Water and Coffee Pot’ (about a Chardin still life):  ‘happiness of the hand and heart/to keep its sweetness and still pour true.’

And so to the finale party and a farewell to StAnza 2013 – the festival that almost didn’t happen – but it did and what a festival it has been. In her final introduction, Eleanor Livingstone thanked the supporters, funders, partners and friends, the team from the Byre Theatre who helped us enormously, the participants, the StAnza team, and most of all the audience who kept the faith through the recent crisis.

Thanks to all who contributed to this blog before and during StAnza, and to all who have been following it. Keep following – we have more to say and show in the next week or so about the festival.

Annie Kelly

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

‘What I’m looking forward to at StAnza’: Stephanie Green

6 Mar

In the first of her Festival Blogs for StAnza, poet Stephanie Green gives us us her personal preview of the StAnza line-up. She will be reporting back on her experiences over the next five days, so keep following! 

603458_10151171877642165_1834394057_n Stephanie Green croppedFirst of all it will be fascinating to see what the atmosphere will be like without the Byre.  The Keep Calm and Carry on spirit that Eleanor Livingstone and her team have displayed organizing new venues, the rallying around of St Andrew’s,  town and University  have been magnificent: a sort of crisis camaraderie will prevail, I’m sure – with the Town Hall Supper Room as the new social and foodie Hub.  In years to come, there will be reminiscing – ‘You had to be there.’  I for one, intend to be there at as much as one can humanly take. And there’s a lot on.  More than ever it seems.

This year not one, but two all day workshops at the Georgian Balmungo House in its beautiful setting – I hope the daffodils are out. Douglas Dunn and Sean Borodale as the tutors. And there’s plenty of other poetry workshops – you could do almost one a day.

All the headliners go without saying, but having lived in Wales for 13 years, I’m a bit biased, so my favourites will be the Welsh poets who will be there en masse this year.  For the faint-hearted, their poetry is in English, but you might catch a bit of Welsh sprinkled here and there, not least in the cadences of Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales a total MUST paired with Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead.  What a stupendous billing.

There’s also a slew of other Cymry:  Robert Minhinnick, former editor of Poetry Wales and co-founder of Friends of the Earth (Cymru), so there’s bound to be some politically and environmentally charged poems, Zoë Skoulding, the present editor, an academic whose poetry is complex and multi-layered, and she’ll also be talking about an overlooked but recently rediscovered Welsh poet, Lynette Roberts. I’ll be checking out,  young and talented, Eurig Salisbury, the Welsh Children’s Laureate. Eurig and Ifor ap Glyn will be  participants at the Translation workshop (so you might hear a bit more Welsh there). Deryn Rees-Jones whose highly original and deeply moving latest collection was short-listed for the T.S. Eliot prize last year will be a Must and last but not least, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch whose extraordinarily lyrical poetry takes us in her latest volume to the Antarctic.

More bias:  two of my mates will be Must See: Jean Atkin, whose poetry has been produced  in evocative artist’s books by Hugh Bryden of Roncadora Press.  See


And Patricia Ace who launches her first collection.  With a West Indian/Welsh ancestry, she is noted for her moving poems, full of warmth and humanity, often writing about her teenage daughters (and they still speak to her.)

And if you want to spice up your lunch-hour, I recommend the Edinburgh performance stars, Harry Giles, and Rachel McCrum. I’ve seen them both perform with high octane pizzazz– Harry at Inky Fingers, and Rachel at Rally and Broad, a literary cabaret plus other delights such as flame-throwing acrobats. I kid you not.  There won’t be flames at StAnza but I can promise you flair.

%d bloggers like this: