StAnza 2015

I did take my camera to StAnza this year, but it never even came out of the suitcase. I was too busy, meeting people, listening to poets, learning from poets, finding good books, and enjoying the wonderful atmosphere. So please go to th Stanza website – there are pictures and memories galore.

In so many ways this has been the best StAnza ever. With the uncertainty around the future of the Byre Theatre laid to rest, the amazing organisational skills of Director Eleanor Livingstone came into their own, and this was the most relaxed and smooth-running festival I’ve ever been to. The staff and operating systems in the Byre coped flawlessly with lost tickets (mine), poets having to cancel at the last minute, venue switches and adding links to other rooms when the big events sold out.

The social spaces in the Byre and the reasonably priced food in the bistro make no small contribution to the atmosphere, and I was able to meet up not only with my friends who are regulars, but with poets from Double Bill, or facebook friends, and with people I’ve shared Bed and Breakfast accommodation with in other years. Probably this was my most social StAnza so far.

The programme was rich and varied and there were some unexpected delights. My favourite events were The Shipwrecked House by Clare Trevien, whose excellent set and wonderful performance made it a subtle, slightly disturbing and moving experience, and Different Trains. To be honest, I booked the tickets because my husband loves the music by Steve Reich, and I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like it, but the performance of the Viridian Quartet was so full of life and joy that I was bowled over. The accompanying poem by Rob MacKenzie, read by Janette Ayachi and Andy Jackson was just what was needed to set the scene for a piece exploring train journeys before, during and after the second world war.

Stephanie Green and DA Prince gave beautifully read poems from their new books, there was a poetry breakfast about island poets, and a fascinating and very helpful workshop from Gerrie Fellows about writing poems sequences. I’ll be implementing all I’ve learned when I come to the final revisions of the sequence in The Territory of Rain later this week.

But the most significant impression I took from this year’s poetry was the power of being, poetically, beyond my comfort zone. Poets such as Alice Notley and Carolyn Forché cover different subjects from mine, and in very different ways. Gerrie Fellows approaches compostion in a way I’m not sure I can even understand. The effect is stimulating and intriguing, and opens doors to new possibilities for subjects I can tackle, ways to use language and to handle emotions and personal experiences, and new – and old – forms I could try. It’s kind of wonderful.

Add to this a fabulous fish supper, a meal with some of the most fun people in poetry (go to a Double Bill event if you get the chance and you’ll see what I mean), and the most friendly enthusiastic and helpful bookshop I’ve been in during the whole of my life (I have a league table of stellar and beautiful bookshops, but Topping & Company you top it!) and you have a poetry experience to beat them all. Eleanor Livingstone, your board, sponsors, satff and poets all, take a bow!

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