Tag Archives: The Byre Theatre

June is bursting out ….

4 Jun

Tanya Shirley

Tanya Shirley

While June is now here, March is still a fond memory. We are sorting through all the photographs and reviews of this year’s festival and a selection of these will appear in an Afterword page on our website soon, together with this year’s lecture by David Constantine. But meantime if you’d like to recapture the flavour of StAnza 2014, three podcasts are now available on our website at http://www.stanzapoetry.org/podcast/ all recorded by our good friend Jennifer Williams from the Scottish Poetry Library, and featuring Tanya Shirley, Brian Turner and US poet Ilyse Kusnetz, recent winner of the US T.S. Eliot Prize, who was in St Andrews for the festival.

Elsewhere, it’s good to see that the Byre Theatre has a busy programme for this month. Full details on their website at http://www.byretheatre.com, but here is a quick summary:

Friday 6th & Saturday 7th: Byre Youth Theatre: Haud yer Wheesht at 7pm. This is a piece that has been devised by the Youth Theatre and includes all members from the nursery group through to the young adults.

Tuesday 10th at 7pm, StAnza’s own Brian Johnstone launches his latest collection, Dry Stone Work. People planning to attend this should rsvp Brian on brian@brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk.

Friday 13th; Flat Caps: Live music by local performers.

Sunday 15th to Tuesday 17th: St Andrews Opera presents Benjamin Britten¹s sparkling comedy, Albert Herring.

Saturday 21st: Elaine C Smith at 7.30pm, Still Standing…..Just

Still in Fife, but over in Freuchie for the next Fife Writes event, Helena Nelson of HappenStance Press will be giving a reading at the Lomond Hills Hotel at 7.30pm on Thursday 26th June with StAnza’s Eleanor Livingstone and Lindsay Macgregor, co-host of Ladybank’s Platform Poetry. It’s a free email but space is limited so if you plan to attend, you should email george@george-sinclair.com.

Moving a bit further away still, Brian Johnstone will have a second launch event in Edinburgh at 7pm on Monday 9th June at St Columba’s by the Castle Church Hall, 14 Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh EH1 2PW.

Later in the month Germaine Greer is coming to Edinburgh on 21st June to mark unveiling of paving stone in Makars Court for Elizabeth Melville, Scotland’s first woman poet in print, as part of a day of events about Scottish women writers. Following the unveiling, which is a free public event, there will be a lunch reception followed by an afternoon session with James Robertson and Meg Bateman, and the day will conclude with a concert in St Giles. Full details are online at http://www.historyfest.co.uk/pages/elizabeth-melville-day.

So whether the sun shines or not, June has plenty to offer.

StAnza launches its programme at the NLS

1 Feb

StAnza launched its programme on Wednesday in Edinburgh at the National Library of Scotland. In attendance was our Festival Blogger, James Harding, who gives us his unique account below. The photographs are by Chris Scott, Edinburgh’s literary paparazzo. James and Chris will be providing more words and pictures on this blog during StAnza in March. 

Eleanor introduces...

Eleanor introduces…

‘I couldn’t describe StAnza dust with scientific precision, but it’s something to do with a room’s rumble when a StAnza event is about to start, something to do with the friendly greetings of audience members – between both old friends and new acquaintances. It’s a touch of anticipation in the air, the knowledge that something interesting is about to happen.

It surprised me that a room so far away from the festival’s home felt like a true StAnza event, but it did. Maybe it just feels that way because of the proximity of the library’s thousands of books? Maybe it was the steel woks, yoga mats and blue beards brought in by some of the audience? (True story.) Or perhaps it is simply NLS has a secret passageway to St Andrews? (Not a true story.)

Whatever the reason for the audience’s good mood, they were treated to a preview of the festival by poets Ron Butlin, Harry Giles and Rachel McCrum. Harry Giles was a student at St Andrews and a volunteer at StAnza a few moons ago, and Eleanor Livingstone, the festival’s director, commented that it was such a pleasure to have watched his career develop – and now to be able to invite him to attend StAnza as one of the readers.

By now many of you will have heard the sad news about the Byre theatre going into liquidation. The festival has been inundated with offers of support and messages of goodwill from poets, venues, partners, funders, volunteers and audience members alike. Angela Wrapson, chair of the StAnza board, singled out two parties in particular for their goodwill. The University of St Andrews for their immediate offer of help in finding new venues; and the staff of the Byre theatre, who, on hearing that the Byre was closing, came in to work specially to print off hundreds of tickets for StAnza so that all of the tickets booked so far can be honoured. (Stand by for details of the new bookings system.) It’s humbling, somewhat exciting, and not the least bit surprising that StAnza has the support of so many wonderful people.

Rachel McCrum

Rachel McCrum

And as Eleanor assured us this evening, the show will go on! “The ocean of goodwill and everyone’s determination to help us overcome this setback gives me confidence that this year’s festival is going to be sensational.” And it will be sensational, especially if Mark Doty, Robin Robertson, Liz Lochhead, George Szirtes, Paula Meehan and all the other poets attending this year have anything to do with it!

I think tonight’s launch proved that StAnza can sprinkle its magic anywhere it chooses. But tonight was just a tiny taster of the full-throttle celebration of poetry to come this March in St Andrews…

As the toaster of time prepares to trap the bagel of this blog post irretrievably in its toothy wires, so this blog post comes to and end. I am available for stalking on t’Interwebs, and look forward to seeing you all at #StAnza13 – offline or on.

P.S. Eleanor Livingstone has confirmed rumours that edible poetry will return to the festival this year, with the somewhat cryptic comment “This year we’ll make sure you can have your cake and eat it.” I’m not sure what exactly what this will entail (presumably poetic cakes of some sort) but it sounds very exciting! I will keep you informed of further developments on Twitter @empowermint.’

James Harding

StAnza to welcome Welsh poets in March

10 Dec

Clarke, GillianStAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival will play host to seven Welsh poets in 2013, including Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales (left).  In what will be one of the stand-out events during the festival, she will read with Liz Lochhead, the Scots Makar, at StAnza’s hub venue, the Byre Theatre. She will also deliver the StAnza Lecture, taking as her theme the Welsh origins and influences of early poetry.

The Welsh Focus will celebrate the talents of established and younger Welsh poets, three of whom have been shortlisted for this year’s T.S. Eliot Prize. Along with Gillian Clarke, StAnza will be welcoming Ifor Ap Glyn, Robert Minhinnick, Deryn Rees-Jones, Eurig Salisbury, Zoë Skoulding  and Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch.

They will be featuring in a rich variety of readings, collaborations and talks.  Ifor Ap Glyn will be taking part in a showcase of European poets who have been brought together to translate each other’s work. And the legacy of Welsh poets from the past continues to be celebrated in Zoë Skoulding’s talk about the neglected Modernist Lynette Roberts and Robert Minhinnick’s on the legacy of Dylan Thomas.

StAnza’s programme is now online here. Tickets will be on sale from January.

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/

More event reviews, plus news of our webcast tomorrow

17 Mar

James on Day 3: Filmpoem Live, Lavinia Greenlaw and Chase Twichell, Split Screen Webcast Tomorrow

I’m getting tired of beginning my blog posts with a comment on how packed the audience of some event or other was. Perhaps I just have a fantastic instinct for choosing the best events to go to? Or perhaps there are simply a ridiculously large number of poetry heads in St Andrews this week?

In either case, please take is as read from now on that whatever events I talk about were sardine-stacked to the rafters.

Filmpoem Live

Alastair Cook’s Filmpoems are an ongoing project pairing readings of great poems with filmic extensions. And what a roster of poets Cook has ensnared in his celluloid web! In this particualr live performance there were poems by Jane McKie, Jo Bell, Jennifer Lynn Williams, Kevin Cadwallender and Colin Will.

Each poet read their poem while Cook’s moving images screened behind them. Landscape-like music was provided live by Luca Nasciuti.

Conflicts between different contributor’s conceptions of what the poem should be – the words, the images and the music all had complimentary but different things to say – were the most interesting part of these performances to me. At the beginning of the event I actually found it hard to take in the three different strands all at once. It is something of a trick to appreciate the overall film entity, like looking at a magic eye picture.

Jane McKie had some interesting things to say about the collaboration process in her introduction to Leper Window, St Mary the Virgin.

Listen to Janie’s introduction about the “serendipity of bring two forms together” here:http://audioboo.fm/boos/715853-poet-jane-mckie-on-collaborating-with-alastair-cook

And watch the film she’s talking about here: http://vimeo.com/36201991

You can see more of the filmpoems on http://www.filmpoem.com/.

Poetry Centre Stage with Chase Twichell and Lavinia Greenlaw

Lavinia – who said she has an unexpected claim to fame in that the Essex Tourist Board has complained about her poetry – presented a set which included subjects such as Arctic personality disorder, silent discos and messenger gods.

Chase’s reading was organised into pairs – two love poems, two environmental poems, two poems about drugs – not unlike the poet pairings StAnza uses for all of the Poetry Centre Stage series.

Chase has had sixteen years of Zen Buddhist teaching, but the first half of the reading avoided Zen topics. Shortly after “Sayonara, Marijuana, Mon Amor”, however, Chase sharpened her Zen pencil with “How Zen Ruins Poets” and got down to some more Buddhist poetry in the second half.

I was particularly taken with this line, and I’ll leave you with it:

“Falling leaf, stop for a moment so I can write on you.”

Split Screen Webcast Tomorrow

“More webcasting?!” I hear you cry.

Well it’s true: due to the success of Saturday morning’s webcast of Poetry Breakfast, the Split Screen launch reading will be webcast live at 2.15pm on Sunday, which is tomorrow as I write. The new anthology by Red Squirrel Press brings the worlds of film/television and poetry together for what promises to be an interesting collision.

Find out more and watch the broadcast here on the Byre Theatre website. We’ll tweet the link soon. 


As the homing pigeon of time grows tired of flirting with the other pigeons in Trafalgar Square and actually decided to fly home, so today’s blog post has come to an end.

Never fear! You can follow my Storify timeline of the pick of the pics, best links, tweets and boos surrounding StAnza here:http://storify.com/empowermint/stanza-scotland-s-international-poetry-festival-20-22and join the StAnza conversation using #StAnza12.

I’m available for stalking atwww.james-t-harding.comand on Twitter @empowermint.

James on Day 2/3: The StAnza Lecture, Scattered Like Seeds, PLUS Live Webcasts, Saturday!

17 Mar

The StAnza Lecture 2012: Lavinia Greenlaw – A Good Argument: A Sudden Blow

I’ve never been to a lecture where there was standing room only before. In fact, I’ve never even heard of a lecture that was that popular. Lectures are supposed to be moth-eaten little things aren’t they?

Lavinia Greenlaw’s lecture on Thursday was far from moth-eaten. It was freshly squeezed.

The argument of A Good Argument (see what I did there?) is that a poem makes an argument for seeing the world from another angle. It does this not through deduction or simple seduction – although these are useful techniques – but through “argument as experience,” which is beyond visceral reason. There is a underlying violence to the poetic argument, no matter how sugar-coated it might be. Ultimately, the poem persuades the reader by making them feel its point of view rather than just telling them about it – it has to invade your personal space.

Poems can tap into the raw properties of language to ensnare the reader. Some of the techniques Lavinia explored in her lecture were slippage (for example, between formal and informal language), noise, and unsettlement. “Narrative,”says Lavinia, “is the surface of the poem for me.”

By using examples – the subtitle “A Sudden Blow” is from the first line of Yeats’ “Leda and The Swan” – Lavinia cleverly illustrated her points by helping the audience experience them in the poems used. The example, of course, being a prime example of an experience-based argument rather than a reason based one. It’s not for nothing that she is a Professor of creative writing at UEA…

Lavinia’s lecture has been the subject of much debate around the StAnza venues and will no doubt continue to be a hot topic over the coming days.

Scattered Like Seeds All Around the Byre

One of my favourite things about StAnza – and as a StAnza freshman I have fresh eyes on all this – is the brilliantly vibrant atmosphere that develops around the StAnza venues, especially the Byre Theatre.

Whether you’re being surprised by one of the Murmur Line installations by Holly Pester breathing down your next, debating the influence of T.S. Elliot on Lana Del Ray with a passing poet, or simply watching the projections of poems and photos on the bar wall, there is always something to see and someone to talk to. And that’s without factoring in the fourteen plus programmed events that went on during Thursday.

My favourite attraction – some might say distraction – in the Byre is the Scattered Like Seeds exhibit from Sacramento’s Poems-For-All. You have to see them to believe them:

You see those tiny wee squares of colour dotted in among the Wall of Fame? They are mini poetry books, my friends – very slim volumes.

They’re ubiquitous about the festival. They Byre serves them with cappuccinos like mint chocolates in a hotel. I’ve collected so many that whenever I take out my mobile phone a shower of baby poetry books sprays out of my pocket.

I’m told there there are more than a thousand varieties of microbooks, and that every one of them has its own little cover design. The poems range from frivolous to serious – but you’ll have to read them to find your favourites.

Live Webcasts Saturday!

There will be two LIVE WEBCASTS  (Saturday). Poetry Breakfast LIVE at 10am and Sharks LIVE at 7.40pm, GMT.

I’m overexcited about Poetry Breakfast already, because I will be live tweeting during the show. If you have any questions you’d like to ask one of the panellists – Robert Crawford, Norman McBeath, Lavinia Greenlaw and Michael Symmons Roberts –then you’ll be able to tweet them to me @stanzapoetry before or during the show to be posed during the Q&A at the end.

No tongue twisters please.


As the washing machine of time trundles ever closer to the end of the spin cycle, this blog post has come to an end.

Never fear! You can follow my Storify timeline of the pick of the pics, best links, tweets and boos surrounding StAnza here:http://storify.com/empowermint/stanza-scotland-s-international-poetry-festival-20-22and join the StAnza conversation using #StAnza12.

I’m available for stalking atwww.james-t-harding.comand on Twitter @empowermint.

Photos in this post were taken by John Starr, who also maintains a website atwww.starrphotographic.com.

Festival Blog: James on Day One: Launch Party, Kind of Larkin, Picks for Day Two

15 Mar

James T Harding is a freelance writer and, believe it or not, a StAnza newbie. We couldn’t resist asking him to be our festival blogger this year – casting a fresh eye on our activities in our 14th year. Here’s James’s take on the launch day, with photos from John Starr.



We Have Lift Off!

There were a lot of people at the launch party for StAnza last night. It was a bit scary, actually.

The first sign of trouble was the table of wine glasses set out by the lovely staff of the Byre Theatre.  In my naivety, I thought that the Byre were being a little over-zealous. I imagined the bar staff laying out that extra crate of glasses with a “better safe than sorry,” or maybe even a “we’ve carried them up the stairs now, we might as well use them.”

In the event, however, all of the wine glasses were needed. The Byre Theatre’s lobby was jam packed for the launch ceremony with Eleanor Livingstone, our Festival Director and Alastair Moffat, the new Rector of St Andrews University.

It turns out that not only do the Byre staff more than know what they are doing – which is hardly surprising – but that the StAnza festival is going to bigger and better than ever before. Which isn’t actually very surprising either.

As well as an abundance of applause and glasses clinking – and the exciting announcement that the StAnza archives are to be looked after by the University of St Andrews Library – we were treated to poems from Lavinia Greenlaw and Kwame Dawes.

Lavinia came down to the Byre after her all-day poetry workshop at Balmungo House (I’m told it’s a sort of architectural Mecca of country houses) to read us “Cutter”, a poem about poetry. “I normally apologise for reading a poem about poetry,” said Lavinia, “but I don’t think I need to do that here.”

Kwame Dawes performed “Elegy for Herouy”, warning the audience that he doesn’t perform it very often so it might be a little rusty. It was brilliant, of course.

Kind of Larkin

I’m not going to lie to you, there were a few stragglers who stayed in the Byre lobby to polish off the remains of the launch wine, but most people headed into the Auditorium to hear David Hayman and the Dave Batchelor Quintet perform Kind of Larkin.

You can hear a teensy clip of Larkin’s thoughts on the blues here:

In the red corner we have Phillip Larkin, jazz critic for the Telegraph – known to StAnza heads for his poetry of course. In the blue corner we have… modern jazz.

Poor modern jazz doesn’t get much of a chance to defend itself against Larkin’s “I still can’t imagine how anyone could listen to a Coltrane record for pleasure!”and other gems.

The Dave Batchelor Quintet managed to hold their own with their impersonations of everyone from Armstrong to the Bird. The drummer in particular was really having fun with the set.

Picks for Day Two

Lavinia Greenlaw is giving a lecture on rhetoric in poetry (and poetry in rhetoric?) at 3.30pm today that I’m particularly looking forward to.

John Burnside, whom I last saw at the prize readings for this year’s T.S. Elliot Prize, is giving a round table reading at 3.45pm which will no doubt be a highlight for the lucky few who managed to grab tickets.

I’ll certainly be at the Poetry Café this evening, which is presented in conjunction with the year-round Thursday jazz night at the Byre.


Sadly, today’s blog post has come to an end…

Never fear! You can follow my Storify timeline of the pick of the pics, best links, tweets and boos surrounding StAnza here: http://storify.com/empowermint/stanza-scotland-s-international-poetry-festival-20-22 and join the StAnza conversation using #StAnza12.

I’m available for stalking at www.james-t-harding.com and on Twitter @empowermint.

Photos in this post were taken by John Starr, who also maintains a website at www.starrphotographic.com

Countdown to StAnza: Kwame Dawes at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

7 Mar

It’s a week to go before StAnza takes off! This year we start early with a special prequel reading at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway.

It’s an historic occasion. The Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes, one of StAnza’s guest poets, has long been interested in Robert Burns and in the Bard’s own connections with Jamaica. The reading is at 7pm, 13th March. Kwame will also be reading the following evening at the festival launch at the Byre Theatre St Andrews on 14th.

There’s more about Kwame Dawes and his StAnza events here. And for a sample of his work listen here.


Photograph by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

St Andrews wins Creative Places Award

24 Jan

Creative Place Awards 2012 - Winner's logo

Three cheers and hats in the air for St Andrews! The town won a Creative Places Award today, a new award scheme overseen by Creative Scotland, and received £150,000 in the category for places with fewer than 100,000 residents. The awards were announced at a special ceremony in Edinburgh today and StAnza’s Festival Director Eleanor Livingstone attended. What a great start to 2012, the Year of Creative Scotland.  St Andrews will be hosting its own Year of Celebration in 2012 and the award will allow the town to promote its already rich cultural programme to the UK and international visitors and to support a new community musical theatre production as the year’s centre piece production. The application was submitted on behalf of various cultural and marketing organisations active in town with the Byre Theatre as lead organisation. StAnza contributed to the submission.

For a pic of the winning teams, looking very pleased (and so they should) and more about their plans, see the link below:


StAnza stories…whisky, happiness and tea with Jackie Kay

15 Jan

As you all know by now StAnza’s tickets are on sale and the programme is online to peruse. The Scotsman’s Bookworm has already had a look at what’s on offer and so here’s our first news story for 2012. Thanks, Bookworm!

You’ll notice a lovely story in there about a poem by Katrina Naomi, who appeared at StAnza last year and was inspired to write about it and whisky. The poem is in the latest issue of The London Magazine. StAnza is well known for being convivial and for providing pastries, pies and nibbles with its Poetry Cafe tickets. Plus elsewhere, there’s the menu at the Byre Theatre’s Kingarroch restaurant to try and the cafes and restaurants in st Andrews. So if you do miss out on the tea and cakes with Jackie Kay, there are plenty of other wonderful foodie happenings to enjoy!

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