Tag Archives: Norman McBeath

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’.


Festival Blog: Day Two, Stephanie Green on poetic larceny

17 Mar

Stephanie attended Kwame Dawes’s workshop on Thursday and followed it with other StAnzaesque visual adventures:

Thieves, Liars, Pedlars and Soldiers – and Poets. 

I never thought I’d be incited to a life of crime today but this is what happened.  ‘If you have a great sense of morality about this Grand Larceny, best leave the workshop now’, said Kwame Dawes.  As T.S.Eliot put it – second-rate poets borrow, good poets steal.  But as Kwame said, ‘steal but go to town on it.’  In other words , make something of your own.

This was a workshop about the Ekphrastic – writing poetry inspired by art – my second workshop in a row, phew, but I needn’t have worried. Kwame, who has great warmth and personality made it fun and I left the workshop with a notebook full of approaches  to try out later. It won’t just be art students propping their easels in front of Old Masters in galleries now but poets brandishing notebook and pen- speed-writing, gleaning images to make into something rich and strange later. (Echoes of Lavinia’s workshop at Balmungo House – the image, the image.)

I decided to put Kwame’s theories to the test by catching up with other art installations/exhibitions –  poetry inspired by photos or conversely photos inspired by poets.  Co-incidentally our workshop took place in the Town Library surrounded by Norman McBeath’s photos:  Creative Capture: photos and a poem each of 6 poets who have been are still teaching at St Andrew’s University. What a roll-call: Douglas Dunn (recently retired), John Burnside, Robert Crawford, Kathleen Jamie (now at Stirling Uni) Don Paterson and the latest arrival at St A, Jacob Polley.

These are studio portraits – not the open-mouthed poet in performance, obscured by a mic nor Flickr  off-stage unguarded moments, blurred or blinking. I think I might just hang up my camera straps. Be that as it may, these are seriously good photos – black and white, portraits in depth. It’s interesting to muse though, how much the photos catch the personality of each poet or whether it reflects or contradicts the persona revealed in each poet’s poem.  It must have been hard to select just one poem. I hardly dare say each has the poet’s ‘voice’ since I know Don P says that concept is a nonsense – every poem has its own voice – but all the poems chosen  are instantly recognizable as that poet’s.   I’m not sure all the photos caught that elusive something of the poet’s personality. My favourite photo and poem pairings were of Kathleen Jamie, looking quizzical and her poem ‘Speirin’ and Don Paterson’s looking Noirish with his Film Noir-like poem ‘Rain’.

You can see these photos online via  Echoes from the Vault.

Dan Phillips was last year’s artist in residence and his photo  portraits of poets performing, with much emphasis on hands, hands gesturing, jazz hands, hands to lean books on, are on show in the Byre’s Bistro and Bar. I recognized Jo Bell, John Glenday, Lorna Callery amongst others. They could not be more different from McBeath’s. For the OTT, look at the portrait of  Bob Holman, New York’s performance star, with our own American born/currently Scottish-based Ryan van Winkle

So wherever you go in St A this year there are photographs – the most stunning exhibition of all has to be Simonides’ poetry and Robert Crawford’s translations into raw Scots and English, alongside Norman MacBeath’s photos. I have blogged about the latter when the exhibition was shown at Edinburgh Art College as part of the Edinburgh International Festival last summer (2011).

It was the most interesting art installation of the EIF for me and terrific  to see it again here at StAnza. A sombre note to the festival but if you only come for one thing it should be this heart-stopping exhibition , both photos and poems.  There is no body bag installation as at ECA, though as Crawford has said, the poems themselves are little ‘body bags’ – memories of the dead- recollections of what is lost.

Photography is obviously a big component of StAnza this year.  And St Andrew’s University has an amazing special collection of early photography – it could be said to be the poetic hub of Scotland. But more of that serendipity (No, obviously well thought-out planning) over the weekend.

StAnza 2012 focuses on The Image

3 Jan

StAnza’s theme, The Image  has inspired a series of unmissable events, exploring poetry’s relationship with the visual arts, film, tv, and photography. Here are just some of the highlights: Lavinia Greenlaw, the festival’s Poet-in-Residence, will be leading an all-day workshop, ‘Linked Forms’ at Balmungo House, formerly the home of artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. Participants will draw inspiration from the house itself in its beautiful Fife setting and the artist’s works displayed there. St Andrews has strong links with the history of photography and this will be reflected in several ways at StAnza. Simonides: Body Bags, is a collaboration between poet Robert Crawford and photographer Norman McBeath, juxtaposing images and Scots versions of ancient Greek poems about war. Photographs by StAnza’s Photographer-in-Residence in 2011, Dan Phillips will present a visual record of the poet in performance. More about photographic and art exhibitions here. Photographs are also at the heart of ‘Whistle’, Martin Figuera’s harrowing yet humorous account of his tragic childhood, evoked through family snaps and memorabilia. StAnza has featured poetry films since 2007 and this year has expanded this strand to include to three major events. Psycho Poetica matches original poems and music, with scenes from Hitchcock’s classic. Alastair Cook’s Filmpoem live uses sound and vision to create a new art form: poetry readings and music accompany haunting, beautiful images. Split-Screen, a new anthology of poems inspired by TV programmes and films, which will be launched at StAnza, is a celebration of ways in which poetry has connected with the visual off and on the page. Find out more about these events here.

There also talks, workshops and readings devoted to the theme. Check our website for more details. Tickets go on sale 11 January.

Robert Crawford on Simonides and Body Bags: this Sunday on BBC Radio 4

24 Nov

Robert Crawford

Earlier this year at the festival, the poet Robert Crawford gave the StAnza Lecture on Simonides and the War on Terror: an insightful and closely argued discussion which connected the ancient Greek poet with modern warfare. In a key image, he compared the poetry of Simonides, which has come to us in fragments, to the body bag, making connections between ancient and modern attitudes to memorialising the casualties of war.

Following on from this, StAnza 2012 will be featuring an exhibition of poetry and images by Robert Crawford and photographer Norman McBeath from their book Simonides. You can find out more about that when the festival events programme goes online on 30 November at www.stanzapoetry.org

Meantime they have now made a programme about Simonides, to be broadcast this Sunday (27th) at 4.30pm on BBC Radio 4. It will be available afterwards on iPlayer, if you don’t get the chance to tune in. There’s more about the broadcast here.

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