Gillian Clarke, Liz Lochhead and Mark Doty among Stanza 2013 highlights

Gillian Clarke, Liz Lochhead and Mark Doty among Stanza 2013 highlights

Gillian Clarke

St Andrews poetry festival focusses on poetic forms and shared legacy of ancient Britons

The five days of StAnza delivered a stimulating mix of poetry, masterclasses, workshops and slam with sorties into art, music, and sculpture along the way. With the recent and sudden closure of the Byre Theatre, which had become the central hub of the festival, events were rehoused and rearranged very successfully, with the Town Hall of St Andrews became the welcoming centre of the festival.

This year the two themes around which talks and critical analysis centred were Legacy and Place and Poetry by Design, a consideration of poetic forms. The rich and vibrant gathering of poets included Gillian Clarke, the Welsh National Poet and Liz Lochhead, our own Makar. Clarke gave the StAnza lecture and drew attention to the shared legacy of the ancients Britons who spoke the same Brythonic language and whose kingdoms extended from Cornwall, through Wales, the English Midlands and into Scotland as far as Fife. This region was known to the Welsh as Hen Ogledd - the Old North - and the shared sense of place is a continuing inspiration. Poets came from all over the world including Mark Doty from the US and the festival’s Poet in Residence, the Canadian Erin Moure. All the poets read their own poetry or discussed the poems of others which hold creativity, power and resonance for them.

StAnza events are typically a mixture of froth and seriousness, lightweight and academic. All are within a short walk from each other so you can plan a balance of entertainment. Listening to poetry can be a demanding and often an intense experience since each word has a weight we are not used to in the everyday or in novels. Amongst the many poetry translations were some poems of Marina Tsvetaeva read by the poet Christopher Whyte who himself writes in Gaelic. They spoke from pre-Revolutionary Russia with a clarity and emotional vigour that struck deep. In contrast, laughter accompanied the re-enactment of a Flyting, a verbal contest of insults between two 16th Century Scottish courtiers. Such flytes combine exuberant invective and bawdiness which crosses many taboos we in the 21st century would hesitate over, yet they were performed before the Scottish king.

The mix continued with European poetry readings, the Welsh and Canadian poetry focus, music and lyrics from the Jacobean court and Shakespearean sonnets treated to some rock and roll in a witty light-hearted revue. Digital art, lace dresses embroidered with text and embedded with sensors whispering poetry from some 18th century seamstresses are amongst the many offerings. The festival concluded with poetry readings from Paula Meehan and Robin Robertson that transfixed the audience.

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