StAnza: International poets and voices converge on scenic Scottish shores
Nadine Aisha Jassat / credit: Rob McDougall
The List's Books Editor takes on Scotland's biggest poetry festival
Held in scenic Fife hotspot, St Andrews, StAnza is a poetry festival that benefits from a beautiful backdrop. That said, the programme is always just as captivating as the views and anyone able to fit a visit to the festival into their 2020 schedule is in for a treat.
My StAnza experience was crammed into one day, but in that short visit I had the chance to hear a brilliant, broad swathe of voices and, to my delight, languages. The festival's overarching theme in 2019 was 'Another Place' and it certainly felt as though the poets and the organisers explored the concept to great effect. Here's a quick rundown of the events that made up my mini-tour.
Ignition Press Showcase
Three different poets, all published by ignitionpress. (part of Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre) gave us a reading of their recent works. Belinda Zhawi, Patrick James Errington and Lily Blacksell were assured, accomplished and all able to bring something distinct to the experience. Going into the event without prior knowledge, I was delighted by the strength of the work and enjoyed the enthusiastic and warm introductions by editor Alan Buckley.
Border Crossings: Nadine Aisha Jassat and Mary Jean Chan
Part of the Border Crossings strand, this event was another delight. I was already familiar with the work of Nadine Aisha Jassat (we reviewed her debut collection and I'm a big fan of her readings as well as her work on the page) and was pleased to be introduced to Mary Jean Chan. Two distinct voices and experiences and also a few common themes could be found throughout, although the poetic treatment of any similarities differed pleasingly.
Five O'Clock Verses
This is a regular event throughout the festival, with different artists each evening. On Friday, we were treated to a passionate performance from Gerda Stevenson, who was reading from her latest collection QUINES: poems in tribute to women of Scotland. Stevenson read brilliantly in English and Scots and her performance was followed by the equally powerful presence of George Mario Angel Quintero, who read and translated some of his poetry from Spanish to English and was accompanied by a live drummer for several pieces.
Poetry in Conversations: Story Café
This was an informal, friendly event run in association with the Glasgow Women's Library that follows a simple format. The host, Nadine Aisha Jassat, read and/or introduced poets on a theme. This event centred around women poets of colour in Scotland and included a chat about the writing of poet, artist and curator Maud Sulter, poet and theatre-maker Hannah Lavery as well as a reading from talented St Andrews-based poet Zein Sa'dedin, who writes in English and Arabic. It was a great event, only slightly marred by a difficult audience member. However, Jassat handled the disruption with aplomb and the focus remained where it should be, on the poetry.
In between events, I spent some time hanging out by St Andrew's castle, staring out at the tumultuous sea (and wishing I was a poet, better able to document it than with a series of Instagram snaps!) and also sat and enjoyed a few coffees in the welcoming café bar of the Byre Theatre, which is a major hub for the festival.
Overall, it was an invigorating day and I'm already looking forward to hearing what the themes and who the poets will be next year.
StAnza: Scotland's Poetry Festival
The cleverly titled StAnza is a literary festival that focuses on verse. Joining the locals for readings, performances, slams, open mics, jazz, films, workshops and poetry-related art exhibitions, and installations are a host of local and international wordsmiths. Among those taking part are Imtiaz Dharker, Harry Giles…