The StAnza International Poetry Festival in St Andrews has grown from tiny beginnings to become, inside 13 years, one of Britain’s major literary events. My role was to staff the Magma stall at the Poets’ Market on the Saturday afternoon, to sit on a panel discussing ‘Poetry Beyond the Page’ on the Sunday morning, and generally to indulge in as much poetry and fun as I could. If you weren’t at the festval, you can listen to the podcasts and get a fair idea of what went on. I was there from the Friday evening through the weekend (with a quick trip on Thursday evening for Seamus Heaney’s reading), so I no doubt missed some great events from Wednesday to Friday. However, the weekend was terrific.
The Magma stall first. Magma has been invited to StAnza for each of the past few years, and we always appreciate being part of the festival. I very much enjoyed the four hours spent talking with those who came to the stall and answering questions about the magazine. Some people asked about submissions, some about what style of poetry we favour, some asked about how to subscribe. We sold a good number of issues and plenty of people signed up for the Magma e-newsletter. Not a boring moment in the whole afternoon. I heard that over 420 people visited the Poets’ Market, some several times, so it was a busy, buzzing afternoon.
I’ll move on now to a few StAnza highlights, which I’ll arrange into entirely random categories.
It would be easy to go for Seamus Heaney or Dennis O’Driscoll, who both gave excellent readings, but my favourite reading of the weekend was by Karen Solie, a Canadian poet whose work I’d never read before, although I’d heard her name mentioned by other bloggers from time to time. She had previously led a session on the poetry of Frank O’Hara, which I couldn’t get to, and I could sense the influence of the New York poets on her work, but she has her own distinctive style. Her poetry engages with her society and is written with passion and commitment. She combines this with a wonderful tangential humour. The poems are simultaneously funny and deeply serious. I bought her latest collection, Pigeon, afterwards and have been enjoying it over the last couple of days. From that book, here’s Tractor and Pathology of the Senses.
Karen Solie, photo (c) Dan Phillips, used with permission
Best Translated Poet
No contest for this category as I only saw one translated poet. However, what a poet! Víctor Rodriguez Núñez is one of Cuba’s leading poets and has won awards all over the Spanish-speaking world. One thing I like about StAnza is the combination of well known names (as well as Heaney and O’Driscoll, I heard Don Paterson, Vicki Feaver, Jen Hadfield etc) and extraordinary poets from around the world who aren’t so well known in English. Núñez’s poetry is surreal, concise and surprising and he was a charismatic reader (and person). I can’t think of any English-language poets who write in the way he does. As Will Stone (his co-reader) said, Núñez’s reading showed why it’s worth looking beyond our own islands for our poetry. His Selected Poems, The Infinite’s Ash, is published by Arc and you can reach three of his poems at that link.
Victor Rodriguez Nunez, photo (c) StAnza/Al Buntin, used with permission
Best Five Minutes
An entirely arbitrary category, which enables me to mention Alistair Noon, who presented a potted history of European sound poetry inside five minutes, taking us from Russia to Belgium and even back to the UK. I don’t think anyone who was there at the panel discussion on Sunday morning will forget it in a hurry. You can find out all about Alistair’s own work at his MySpace page. Here are links to a few of the sound poets he mentioned, which are well worth checking out for an experience of poetry very different from the average – Jaap Blonk, Valeri Scherstjanoi, Amanda Stewart, and Hannah Silva.
Alistair Noon in the Byre Theatre restaurant, St Andrews, photo (c) StAnza/Iain Gray, used with permission
I only went to two – the official one on the final night and its aftermath. The Byre Theatre bar closed and got rid of us by about 12.30am, which seemed too early somehow. However, we ended up in the house of someone called Jasmine who opened her doors for a post-festival party within fifteen minutes of receiving a phone call from a friend of one of the festival participants, even though she hadn’t been at the festival or met any of us before. Thank you, Jasmine!
The StAnza Party at the Byre, photo (c) StAnza, Iain Gray, used with permission
Best Festival Director
Only one of those too, but it would be remiss of me not to finish by acknowledging the fantastic efforts of Brian Johnstone and his team over the last thirteen years. Brian stepped down as Director of Stanza on Sunday night and declared himself not to be sad at doing so. How could he be given how great the festivals had been and given that they were ending with a party? The applause that followed tells its own story.
If you would like to share your own favourite StAnza moments, please do so below.
Brian Johnstone, photo (c) StAnza/Al Buntin, used with permission