StAnza 2009 gets off to a fiery start as Robert burns
The launch of StAnza on the evening 19th March in the Byre Theatre, St Andrews was attended by those aged seven to seventy. Festival Director Brian Johnstone reminded us of the modest beginnings of StAnza in 1998, with the distant Scots diaspora being represented by Bill Manhire from New Zealand, StAnza’s poet in residence, and Kate Clanchy from closer to home. Kate Clanchy read briefly from some of her own work and happened to mentioned Fountainbridge, which enabled the First Minster, Alex Salmond, to weave Sean Connery into an otherwise apposite opening speech, one resonating with enthusiasm for his old University town. Sheena Wellington, who sang at the opening of the Scottish Parliament, gave us a great rendition of A Red, Red Rose. The launch concluded with the lighting of a flaming bust by David Mach of Robert Burns.
The opening show of the festival was Sex and the Poet. The 7 years olds in the audience certainly had to leave at this point. The first half was a piece entitled In the Footsteps of Clarinda, Burns’ Edinburgh lover Nancy McLehose, narrated by Gill Bowman and interspersed by her singing and readings from Burns letters.
The second half was a discussion of Burns’ Merry muses of Caledonia by Pauline Gray who has made this area her Phd subject and Nigel Leask who has an impending book on Burns with further songs by Rod Paterson, Gill Bowman and Sheena Wellington.
Behind the extremely graphic and ribald language in the songs are some attitudes to sex that we would be well to recover, and which were certainly lost as Victorian mores gained the ascendancy. The opposition to paying for sex, the importance of mutual pleasure and the equality of motivation, involvement and action by both genders for perfect union can certainly be credited to Burns.
The programme continues to Sunday evening. Carol Anne Duffy on Saturday night is sold out but tickets for most other events are available.
For full programme see www.stanzapoetry.org