Annie’s StAnza

March 24, 2010

When your events are so popular that you have to find extra space to accommodate more of the audience, you know you are getting something right. StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival is now in its thirteenth year and festival, held at the Byre Theatre and venues in St Andrews from 17-21 March, was a sell-out; most notably the events with Seamus Heaney and Linton Kwesi Johnson, which, to give more people a chance to enjoy them, were relayed on a screen in the Studio Theatre upstairs from the Byre Theatre’s main auditorium.

The atmosphere throughout the weekend was one of exuberant celebration, starting with the St Patrick’s Day launch on Wednesday night with poetry from Matthew Sweeney and Moya Cannon and music from the graceful Galway trio Dordán. All this was just a prelude to the Irish focus of the first two days of the festival, with poets Anne-Marie Fyfe, Colette Bryce, Dennis O’ Driscoll, whose droll wit and satirical edge makes him surely the Dave Allen of Irish poetry – and of course Seamus Heaney. Returning to the festival for the first time since 1999, this poetic legend delighted audiences, festival staff and just about everyone he met with his warmth, humour, eloquence and the power of his poetry. In terms of the latter, he is gives us a sense, perhaps, of the poetic gift of imbas forosnai, which Grevel Lindop referred to in Friday’s StAnza Lecture, Myth, Magic and the Future of Poetry, itself a response to StAnza’s theme, Myth & Legend. More legendary poetry was to come in the shape of the great Linton Kwesi Johnson, who appeared alongside the amazingly talented John Akpata, who admitted that headlining with the ‘father of dub poetry’ was ‘the biggest night of his life’.

A festival is more than the sum of its line-up. At StAnza there is a special alchemy that is created by myriad encounters and opportunities to be creative. Stroll through the Byre Theatre on Saturday and you found a buzz and energy that is unsurpassed elsewhere: people moving between events, or chatting over coffee or drinks. A festival is as much about the exchange of ideas, the inspiration – and the unexpected. This year StAnza acquired its own unofficial one man Fringe: Andrew Newman, a therapist from Edinburgh decided to support the cause of poetry and the Haiti Earthquake disaster appeal by becoming a ‘poem-catcher’. He asked passers-by in St Andrews to donate a short poem and on the first day, collected 58. By the following afternoon, he had 38 more. Some of the visiting poets were spotted writing poems for Andrew. The youngest person to donate one was a five-year-old boy. At last reckoning the number was in the hundreds. The plan, he hopes, is to compile them in book form and sell copies, the proceeds going to the Haiti appeal.

It’s a cliché to say ‘you had to be there’ in order to experience the magical atmosphere of poetry and partying that is StAnza. But you can catch some of the highlights by listening to our podcasts, visiting our Flickr pool and our website for photos and more news of (to misquote Heaney) the marvellous festival as we had known it.

Annie Kelly is the Press & Media Manager for StAnza

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