This year’s StAnza had all the usual good things, friendly welcome, brilliant poetry, buying too many books, fish supper at the Tail End, the lovely town of St Andrews, mercifully free of the beer festival this year and meeting so many old friends and making some new ones. This year had its individual aspects however.
The first was the snow. The thaw was well and truly under way by Wednesday, but there were still scoops of snow along sheltered roadsides and behind hedges, and great mounds along some roads where snow had been ploughed and left in heaps that melted very slowly. But it had caused havoc with the meticulous preparation that is a hallmark of StAnza. Training sessions for the many wonderful volunteers who make it run so smoothly had had to be cancelled, and the welcome packs with all the information and schedules couldn’t be assembled in good time and had to be sent out by email.
But did we notice? Not at all. By the time we got there, everything was assembled, and there were familiar faces ready to answer questions, information packs all stacked at the Festival desk, and the Box Office on top of their game. The restaurant had the system with meal vouchers down pat this year, so there weren’t the hiccoughs that sometimes happened in previous years.
There were many highlights – brilliant readings by so many poets – Lyn Moir, Tara Bergin and Martin Figura stood out especially for me – Martin Figura’s Doctor Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine was funny and affectionate, enhanced but not overwhelmed by the sound and technical add-ons, the #Metoo reading, the Sinead Morrissey lecture, the exhibitions and the Poet’s Market, where small presses showed that it’s not all about the big publishers, and much more.
However, the big thing about this StAnza for me was that Red Squirrel Press had a showcase and I was in it! Red Squirrel poets Judith Taylor and Colin Will and I all had recent publications, so we were the poets chosen. You can see us in the photograph above, but you can’t see how dwarfed I was by that Provost’s chair. My feet didn’t touch the floor and I felt a bit like Tyrion Lannister sitting in it.
Sheila Wakefield introduced us, as our publisher. Sheila is such a powerhouse of publishing, they should really wire her into the National Grid, and in only a little more than ten years, has published almost two hundred titles. Here she is looking unusually calm and collected!
Judith was up first, fresh from a reading at a school in Newport, with a powerful set, including Incomer which includes the title poem of her book Not in Nightingale Country and Raven, Stac Polly, which I particularly like. The mic caught every nuance of her reading, and it was very impressive.
Then I was up. I had tried to mix things up a little, but somehow the book fought back, and I finished up as usual, with the last bit of The Wren – In the Silence of Our Hearts. One nice thing that happened afterwards was that someone complained I hadn’t read her favourite, Instructions to the Laundrymaid, which was a pity, because I had cut it out, because I was afraid I would chat too much between poems. I like that people have favourites!
Because it was the day after International Women’s Day, I read the Valiant Woman passage from The Wren in the Ash Tree, and name-checked our own Valiant Women, Eleanor Livingstone and Annie Rutherford, without whom StAnza could hardly happen at all, and certainly wouldn’t be the thing of beauty it is, and Sheila, without whom we certainly wouldn’t have been in it!
Colin finished up with poems from The Night I Danced With Maya, his fifth from Red Squirrel Press, including poems on subjects that ranged from Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball (Deconstruction) to a Tibetan monastery, (Kumbun) and summed up his outlook in Wonky
the lie of the land.
It was a fairly terrifying experience, but no-one could have done more to make it a success than the StAnza team, from Matthew Griffiths and the sound technicians and liaison workers who kept everything running smoothly. Thank you so much to all of you!