StAnza 2018: Rhyme and Reasoning

We recap this year's edition of StAnza poetry festival in St Andrews

Feature by Beth Cochrane | 16 Mar 2018

Forty-eight hours spent at StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, provides a whirlwind of poetry, conversation, and exhibitions. From first foot in the Poetry Market on Saturday afternoon to the Festival Closing Party on the Sunday evening, it's impossible not to be swept away by the talent and passion of the poets involved. This extends, too, to the organisers of StAnza: Festival Director Eleanor Livingstone and Programme Co-ordinator Annie Rutherford, alongside their team of volunteers, patrons, and honourary presidents, infuse the festival with their unbounded excitement for both innovative and traditional poetry.

With themes of Borderlines, The Self, and Going Dutch, the poets involved over the festival's five days have a great deal of inspiration to work with. The themes unify the festival into a coherent series of over eighty events across five days – a remarkable feat for such a mammoth programme.

It’s impossible to go into the details of every event. The talent of Foyle Young Poets at Saturday’s Meet the Artist is phenomenal; some of their poetry is more accomplished than your average, competent adult writers. At the same event, Voluntary Arts Scotland showcase their My Time project, with a selection of St Mungo’s Mirrorball poets reading poems influenced by creative groups based throughout Scotland. In this mix Polly Atkin particularly stands out, with a piece inspired by Aberdeen University Swing Dance Society and performed as a vocal dance piece with a volunteer.

The In Conversation strand of the programme shines during Marie-Else Bragg and Don Paterson’s conversation: poetry vs the novel. Bragg’s work as a Spiritual Director shines a unique and provoking light on the poet as performer, commenting that some poets have the ability to appear prophet-like in their performances. Multi-award-winning poet Paterson, too, shares thoughts that nibble away at the mind: should we still be using the terms ‘poetic’ or ‘poetical’ as an automatic positive? A fascinating discussion, and a stand-out in the programme.

The Saturday night Centre Stage audience is treated to some of William Letford’s new work, a book created with an economic end of the world at its heart. Letford plays with form during his performance, reading diary excerpts from his protagonist, as well as accompanying poems – both to be found in the forthcoming book.

The StAnza Slam is a mix-bag of spoken word poets. By their very nature, slams can often encourage poets to re-use pieces that have been received well in the past, thus repetition of work (no matter how excellent) often occurs in multiple performances. StAnza is a welcoming and innovative festival which could be seen as a safe space to trial new slam poems; hopefully this will be taken into account in the future, with the excellent standard of poetry seen this year being maintained.

The Festival Plenary is a new event in the programme, a final part of the Poetry Café series which wraps up the weekend. A panel of poets, including the incredible Vahni Capildeo, discuss their highs of the weekend. The discussion is quickly opened up to the audience by chair Dr Robyn Marsack, who is keen to involve everyone in the conversation – adding a layer of intimacy and community to the event. A wonderful way to wrap up the weekend, and one which StAnza will hopefully continue to programme in the future.

There’s so much left to discuss: Sara Hirsch’s Poetry Café; the Translation Showcase with Geart Tigchelaar, Rachel Plummer, Sigrid Kingma and Stewart Sanderson; Liz Lochhead’s incredible humour and continuing prolific writing; and the Poetry Market’s incredible selection of poetry – from Tapsalteerie Press to the newly reformed co-operative magazine, Gutter. The 21st StAnza Festival outdoes itself; forming a five day community which centres around a shared love of ideas, innovation and, most importantly, poetry.

StAnza 2018 took place in St Andrews, 7-11 March