StAnza 2017 Recurring Motifs

Poor internet connections have slowed the process of theses blog posts, but given me time to think over what to say – you are, of course also reading the in-house posts? you can find them here if you haven’t seen them already, and there are facebook and twitter feeds with photographs too.

I’ve talked a lot about how friendly StAnza is, and about how it is full of the meetings of friends. I love this aspect of the festival, because when you don’t live at the heart of poetry action, it is something to cherish, but it did make me wonder if I had created the impression of something rather cosy and inward-looking. Is it no more than the reunion of the same old faces?

The festival has a policy of not asking anyone back to do a similar event in less than five years, so the readers are always new, and you never get the same masterclass or workshop twice. And the regular features, Border Crossings and Past and Present, are designed to encourage more adventurous perspectives. Setting themes – this years were On the Road and The Heights of Poetry – encourages the planners to have a deliberate focus on something new every year, and there is an attempt to invite poets from a wide variety of countries, though this is inevitably limited by financial considerations. As a regular attendee, I’m constantly challenged by new ways of presenting poetry, new poetic forms, new writers.

But every year there are  motifs which recur, in different contexts. This year it was so often the constraints on writing: on writing in this language rather than that, on finding the right kind of language  – Alice Oswald’s ‘winged words’, which evoke a response, create a buzz of communication between people, a ‘through-movement’ she called it, as opposed to ‘wingless words’ which fall into empty air and are disregarded – on writing if you are perceived as being too young, or if your national identity is perceived as complicated, on writing about ambivalent feelings towards your own country (or your own people), on writing to make contact, create lines of communication rather than barriers, on finding the right words to render another person’s insight, on writing in forms that other people don’t recognise as being ‘proper’ poetry, or crossing barriers between prose and poetry, literature and art or film.

I had the feeling that this year StAnza was a kind of breathing space where poets could speak or write or experiment with ways of communicating freely. A place where many people said, ‘It is okay to say this here’. This is more than a poetry party; it’s where art begins to take on its responsibility towards a whole culture. More power to its elbow!

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