Tag Archives: StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival

StAnza Poet in Residence Clare Mulley has Unfinished Business

16 Mar Clare Mulley by Darina Garland

Clare Mulley was our Poet in Residence at this StAnza just passed. Having studied literature at St Andrews and been a volunteer at previous StAnza festivals, Clare went on to be shortlisted for Young Poet Laureate for London. We were delighted to have her back again in a different hat! She’s living proof that there really is no escape from the StAnza sphere. Here’s Clare’s round-up of the StAnza experience from a poet’s point of view:

The week after StAnza finds me in my favourite café, as usual taking far too long over one pot of tea whilst trying to decide between two words of an ‘Unfinished Business’ poem. Standard. Although to be honest, that’s not all I’m thinking about. My mind is currently replaying the frantic, packed, and absolutely phenomenal week before – one which saw me doing everything from writing riddles with children to drinking with Dylan Thomas.

I’m still recovering (poets party hard… hey, who knew?) but the strangest thing was coming to terms with a basic fact. Last week was the first time I’ve visited St Andrews, not just as an alumnus, but as a poet. Rather, as someone who feels they can say ‘I am a poet’ rather than ‘I write poems.’

It’s odd being a poet – no matter how much you ‘grow up’, or think that you’re getting better at writing, you’re still afraid that someone somewhere might have made a mistake in allowing you to get this far. So-and-so loved your poem? Well, how can they judge?

The battle between the urge to spout words and the urge to be modest is the thing which makes so many poets slightly cagey. No wonder festivals can be hotbeds of tension.

Thank God, then, for StAnza, which gave me, and so many others, a lucky break. The tiny size of the town compared with the massive scale of the event is what makes it so unique, and so relaxing. You can’t help but meet people, be inspired. Not only an event for artists, but a family business – one where aspiring youngsters are encouraged to mix with seasoned artists, because the organisers know this is the best way to make more artists.

Once, I was an awkward student reciting snippets to older poets, all of whom could have smiled politely and dismissed me. Instead, they beamed and chatted, clearly delighted that someone shared their passion.

Now, thanks to their encouragement, I’m still growing, still hopeful. Unfinished Business, indeed!

An Archipelago of Poetry

8 Mar

I have a theory of festivals, copyright to me, so don’t steal it,” said Eleanor Livingstone—our Festival Director—the other night at dinner. (No points for guessing what I’m about to write about.)

Her theory is that a festival like StAnza, with so many events in such a short space of time, gains its character from the connections that form between the readings. A workshop about the difficulties of translation will illuminate a Border Crossings presenting a poet in translation, of course, but a lot of the time the connections are more unpredictable here.

A metaphor in the morning might resonate with a totally different poet and poem in the afternoon, say. The compare and contrast improves your experience of both… For example, I was struck how both Simon Armitage and Toby Campion—poets otherwise extremely contrasting—both used public announcements on transport as a poetic device to critique similar themes of social injustice. Who knew?

StAnza and the Byre are just one island of poetry among the archipelago of poetry festivals that take place worldwide. We’re honoured to host many international poets, of course, but also programmers and artistic directors who run other poetry festivals. The connections they make here at StAnza spiral outwards—taking poets and their ideas to read, share, and make more connections all over Europe.

One StAnza connection was between poet Jon Ståle Ritland and media artist Michiel Koelink, who met at StAnza in 2012 [check] and found that their practices were well-suited to each other.

Jon’s poetry is often laid out to be read in different directions, in three columns that can be read together as a whole or individually to make subpoems. Michiel’s PoetryMachine, similarly, presents a solar system of poetic fragments revolving, tied down by elastic strings and thrown apart by gravitational repulsion.

The multiple reading paths this creates fits well with Jon’s BodySearches. Jon and Michiel presented their collaboration at StAnza this Saturday. They used the PoetryMachine to typeset Jon’s poems in three-dimensional space – you can view and download the results here. The next step for them, they say, is to think about what a poem designed in three dimensions instead of two might be.

Watching the poems revolve about themselves on the projector screens in the Byre, I am struck by how much like Eleanor’s idea of a poetry festival they are…

and the eyes spring up

and one unknown

All poets are islands, said Bill Manhire, with apologies to Donne. But at festivals like this one we see how they’re animated by the pull of the lines between them. Even a brief look at the #StAnza15 feed on Twitter shows a huge variety of new relationships formed, old friends reconnected, and the beginnings of new ideas squeezed out by the collision of poems.

As Kei Miller commented at Saturday morning’s Poetry Breakfast, asked about the theme of the sea in Jamaican poetry: the sea is not what separates our islands, but what brings them together.

Win: Become the Wild-Card StAnza Slam Judge for 2015

6 Mar

Elvis McGonagall is set to host the StAnza Slam this Saturday evening. The stakes will be high: the winner of tomorrow’s event will go on to compete in the Scottish National Slam and from there, if they play their poems right, to the World Slam Championships in Paris.

StAnza heads will remember 2013’s winner, St Andrews’s student Carly Brown, who made it all the way to Paris – the youngest woman ever to do so from Scotland!

It happened then, and it could happen again – the World Slam title beckons, and the StAnza stage might just be the trampoline that launches a talented poet into the global series…

Now the StAnza slam is traditionally judged by three literary luminaries, but this year we’re going to shake things up a little.

Joining the programmed panel of two will be a Third Judge, a Wild-Card Judge, an Audience-Member-Who-Got-Powerful Judge, a You-Could-Win-This-Competition-and-Become-This-Judge.

Because when the stakes are high you want to make sure there’s an element of terrifying randomness. We can’t have the poets resting easy, after all.

If you would like to the this year’s Third Judge, and will be in St Andrews on Saturday evening ready to take the stage and vote like your life depends on it, then all you have to do is write a poem that fits in a tweet with the hashtag #StAnza15 (twoem, poeet?), responding to one of the events or themes of the festival: Archipelago or Unfinished Business.

The deadline to tweet your entry is 17:06 on Saturday. We’ll be RTing your entries all day 🙂

Tweet well, friends, and I’ll hope to see you all at the Slam!

Five Festival Highlights (James’s Witterings #3)

11 Mar

What a cracker of a StAnza was pulled this week in St Andrews! The good people of Twitter are chatting about their festival highlights, so I have taken it upon myself to force my own upon you here.

The Byre Reopening

After last year’s last-minute relocation, it was lovely to be back in the gorgeous Byre Theatre with its magisterial auditorium, comfortable studio (I think those armchairs are new?), and bustling restaurant. Patrons, patrons and StAnza volunteers alike were prone to spontaneous cheers whenever a Byre staff member walked past, which lent an most pleasant atmosphere of celebration to proceedings. We wish Stephen and all the team the best in securing the venue’s future for years to come .

Spoken Word

This year there was a more diverse spoken-word strand than ever before in the One O’Clock and Poetry in Performance slots, ranging from the resonant word-sharing of Rachel Amey and Ross Sutherland to the fabulously fully staged extravaganzas of Robin Cairns and Alex Gwyther.

I particularly enjoyed the joint reading given by Sophia Walker and David Lee Morgan. Both took their 45-minute shows from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and boiled them down to 27-minute slots. The effect was intense, memorable, and highly enjoyable.

Scotch Pies

And did I mention that Stuart’s of Buckhavens, who provide macaroni and scotch pies for attendees, are world Scotch Pie champions? Anyone who attended a Café this year probably suspected as much.

The StAnza Slam

Sometimes at StAnza we’re so busy being happy and nice to each other that we forget that poetry is actually the most competitive sport there is. It was great to reminded of that on the Saturday night by the most vicious and violent StAnza Slam to date! (I’m told it took three hours to wash the blood out of the seats.)

It was a close call, but a winner was declared and reigning champion Carly Brown graciously handed her crown to Edinburgh-based Agnes Török, along with a ticket to compete in this year’s Scottish Slam Final on Saturday. Break a few legs, Agnes!

Rachel McCrum, Rachel Amey and Jenny Lindsay

Poetry Centre Stage

And of course, Poetry Centre Stage! Where else but StAnza can you hear Paul Muldoon, Carol Ann Duffy, John Burnside and Menna Elfyn all on the same stage in the space of less than a week?

Poetry Centre Stage Audience

I think a highlight for many will be Paul Muldoon’s reading on Sunday. Reading a mixture of familiar and new poems, he reminded us all that “The best poems, meanwhile, give the answers to questions that only they have raised.”

And also that dung beetles navigate by the stars.

Boozing and Schmoozing

One of the best things about StAnza every year is its friendly atmosphere and the exchange and interchange of ideas that happens between everyone who comes here. Poetry is an increasingly international community, and festivals like StAnza bring together voices from all over the world—this year from no less than three continents. (No penguins were in attendance, sadly. I’ll put it in the suggestions’ box.)

David Constantine's StAnza Lecture

As David Constantine said in his poignant StAnza Lecture about the poetry of the Great War, poetry finds the universal in the specific. The more voices we listen to, the wider our consciousness of the world, the more we will enjoy our time in it.

All photos taken by @empowermint.

See you next year!

What is The Collective Noun for Poets? Vote to help us decide. (James’s Witterings #2)

8 Mar

It all started quite innocently, as the closing joke for Craig Millar’s segment on StAnza for Thursday’s STV Six O’Clock News. “What,” he asked, “is the collective noun for poets? Perhaps it’s a stanza.”

Well. I know a challenge when I see it. On Friday morning I posed the question online to see what the good folks of Twitter would make of it. I was rather overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response! It’s apparent that this is a pressing issue which poetry fans have been worrying about for some time now.

I’ve now received over thirty suggestions for what it should be, from poets, readers, editors, journalists, theatre technicians, toddlers and a drunk student. The problem is, they’re all really good. I can’t decide which one I prefer.

A _ of poets at #StAnza14

In a sense, it’s rather lovely there is such a range of eclectic, eccentric expressions available for grouping poets together—if anyone deserves a kaleidoscopic collective noun, it’s poets.

But obviously we need an official winner.

So to help decide what the semiofficial collective noun for poets at #StAnza14 should be, I invite you all to vote by commenting below for your favourite suggestion, or nominating your own ideas. Voting will close at 5pm on Sunday the 9th of March, and I will announce the winner on Twitter from the Festival Finale at 10pm. (One vote per person. The winner will be determined by simple majority.)

Here is the full list of suggestions so far, with duplicates removed:

Continue reading

How to Clap and Drink Wine at the Same Time: James at the #StAnza14 launch

6 Mar

There are three integral ingredients to a launch party: celebs, wine, and applause. All well and good, but there is a fundamental problem with this formula—how on Earth are you supposed to clap and carry wine glasses at the same time?

If you balance the glass on one arm while you clap, it will surely spill. If you put the glass down, 8/10 times you will lose it. And if, worst of all, you attempt to clap with one hand, you risk looking like you are being victimised by your own personal mosquito. Well hold on to your hats wine glasses, for I am proud to be able to present to you a cast-iron solution to this centuries-old quandary.

Continue reading

A Guide to Online Events at #StAnza14

27 Feb

Photo by Iain GrayStAnza calls St Andrews its home, but it likes to get out of the house now and again – exercise keeps you young after all – so this year there will a record number of webcasts of StAnza events as well as the usual Twitter shenanigans. (Though we’re trying to avoid a repeat of the Bill Herbert banana incident.) You’ll find a run-down of the four online events below, as well as links to follow at the right time to watch the show.

As always, the social-media monkeys will be following #StAnza14 and @stanzapoetry during the event so you will be able to ask questions and make comments to the panellists. Attendees in person receive coffee and Fisher & Donaldson pastries, so we recommend online viewers stock up before logging in in case you get jealous during the show. Questions about the refreshments will not be passed on unless unusually witty. That is not a challenge.

Poetry Café for Breakfast: War & Remembrance (Friday 7th March, 10.00-11.00am GMT)

“Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, / As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.” (Wilfred Owen, ‘Dolce et decorum est’)

The war poets are among the most famous and respected writers in history, but what role does poetry play in modern warfare? Panellists David Constantine, Richie McCaffery, Dan O’Brien and SMSteele will discuss this and other questions about war poetry for Friday’s breakfast panel.

Poetry Café for Breakfast: Home Thoughts (Saturday 8th March, 10.00-11.00am GMT)

Tishani Doshi, Gabeba Baderoon, Martin Bates, Sophia Walker and Rob A. Mackenzie are all poets who, in one way or another, have had they feeling they’re not in Kansas any more. Join them as they talk about how moving home has affected their writing and what, after their experiences, home means to them now.

Poetry Café for Breakfast: Means & Ends in Poetry Translation (Sunday 9th March, 10.00-11.00am GMT)

“Tu proverai sì come sa di sale / lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle / lo scendere e ‘l salir per l’altrui scale.” (Dante Alighieri. “You’ll prove how bitter another man’s bread tastes, and how hard it is to climb up and down another man’s stairs.”)

Poetry translation is a notoriously difficult activity, but a rather interesting one to discuss. Panellists Menna Elfyn, Tomica Bajsić, Arjen Duinker and Marco Fazzini explore aspects of moving poems between languages, drawing on their knowledge of translation into and out of Dutch, Croatian, Italian and Welsh.

A Poetry Tour of Scotland (Sunday 9th March, 3.30-4.30pm GMT)

This event kickstarts StAnza’s poetry map of Scotland project, part of the year of Homecoming Scotland. Poems about a specific location in Scotland will be read and then pinned onto the map – which will be available online as well as in person. The map will continue to be updated throughout spring and summer, eventually forming (we hope!) a comprehensive description of Scotland through poetry.

The Bill Herbert bananas

Meet Erin Fornoff, Digital Slam winner

25 Sep

We are handing this blog space over to the winner of our Digital Slam, Dublin based American poet, Erin Fornoff. Check out her winning StAnza Digital Slam performance here.

In this post, Erin tells us a little about her background, her favourite poets and what she’s doing performance wise in the lively poetry and spoken work scene across the Irish Sea.

IMG_1792 (2)I am from Asheville, North Carolina, a hippie town in the middle of the Bible Belt of the Appalachian Mountains–the prettiest place on earth! I work for a charity doing social entrepreneurship, and spend my days talking to social visionaries about how they are changing the world and how they got to be the way they are–a privilege. I have lived in Dublin for the past four and a half years.

I came from a creative family and read constantly but was always more focused on visual art. When I was in college, I did nothing artistic, but I got to be friends with a gang that was writing a thousand lines of poetry for their senior thesis. The group also went to a local dive bar every Thursday after class for pitchers of beer with the professor. I’d join them sometimes (the pitchers were free), I loved all the artistic chatter, and started wondering if I could write poems too. I decided to try and write one. I worked on it for ages–about whitewashing a house, badly, during a brief sojourn in Spain–and submitted it to the University literary journal’s poetry contest. I was floored when it won first prize! Baffling to me now, I didn’t write one again for years and years until I moved to Dublin and was swept up in the thriving literary scene here, my favorite part of which is performance based. I found a home and a crew and an endless source of inspiration in the basement bars and festival tents where poetry comes alive in a different way. I found some great friends who were extremely supportive, got me on stage and clapped after, and I will never forget it.

My favorite poets and influences are too many to mention–Mary Oliver and her journeys and wild geese was an early first love; and Philip Levine with his poems about eating potatoes with butter and salt and “Can you taste what I am saying?”;  and Richard Wilbur and his daughter and how he “hoped everything I hoped for her before, but harder”; Billy Collins and the sheep and the Gutenberg Bible; Gerald Manley Hopkins and his “heart in hiding/stirred for a bird”; Hafiz and casting all his votes for dancing; Langston Hughes and jazz like a hypodermic needle; Emily Dickinson’s “If your nerve, Deny you/ Go above your nerve”; and Yeats and his romantic Ireland (or lack thereof). Others include Goodie Mob, the hip hop poets of the Dirty South, my mates Colm Keegan, John Cummins, Kalle Ryan, Stephen James Smith, and those astonishing English musical hybrids Kate Tempest and Dizraeli.

Upcoming I have a few gigs, I’m doing one end of October at Farmleigh House where the Queen stayed when she was here, with my Glastonbury friend Hollie McNish and another friend, Hozier, who’s a rising soul/blue singer, hosted by Peter Sheridan, their Writer In Residence, a playwright and author who became a friend and mentor after he vanquished me in the finals of Literary Death Match. Very excited about that one, partially because it’s not a place with a lot of spoken word and hopefully we can shake it up! http://www.farmleigh.ie/Events/Title,25003,en.html

I’m also curating “Righteous Verse,” a group of some poets performing at a festival called Fading Light in Kerry in the October bank holiday–a small thing that takes over all the pubs in a whole little village in Caherdaniel, the far southwest of Ireland. http://fadinglightfest.com/

Finally, I’m working with a group of performance and page poets, all mates, and we’re organizing Dublin’s first spoken word festival, called Lingo, next spring. No official date set but one coming soon!

Erin Fornoff

View more of Erin’s poetry at  http://erinfornoff.wordpress.com/videos/

Memory and Reality: StAnza’s autumn reading

11 Sep

IMAG0036Yes, there’s a chill in the air, the leaves are turning and the nights are drawing in, but autumn produces its own fine crop of festivals and poetry, and we at StAnza are taking part.

StAnza is holding a reading at the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival (SMHAFF), following on the success of our involvement in previous years, and this event, to be held in St Andrews, promises to be a treat.

images

Memory is an important tool, and poetry often serves to record and preserve memories in a way which makes them available to others. In this special reading,  Tom Pow (above) and Paula Jennings (right) will be offering poems on these themes, both of which have featured strongly in their work. Jennings, Paula

The date for your diaries is Tuesday 1st October,6-7pm and the venue is the Council Chamber at the Town Hall, Queen’s Gardens, St Andrews. Admission is free, and all are welcome, but to be sure of a seat, call 07900 207 429 or email: info@stanzapoetry.org

There’s more about SMHAFF’s programme of events here: http://www.mhfestival.com/

smhaff_logo

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

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