Where else in the world would a country’s First Minister launch a poetry festival? I can’t think of one, but Alex Salmond, MSP, launched StAnza with wit and good nature. I like to think that, as well as celebrating the year of homecoming, it was a mark of the respect in which poetry is held in Scotland. Let me have my little literary fantasies – it may be a one-off, but it was worth savouring.
Kate Clanchy and Bill Manhire, homecoming poets both, read their poetry, and Sheena Wellington sang a Burns song – beautifully as ever. Then, in the Byre Theatre’s garden, the sculptor David Mach ignited his scupture of the head of Robert Burns, made from matches. It was as spectacular and thrilling a metaphor for the spirit of Burns as I’ve ever seen. What I found most moving, to the extent that I had a lump in my throat, was seeing the unmistakeable face of Burns emerging as a dark shadow from the flames. It was as if he was being reborn, Phoenix-like, as a present inspiration. Then David Mach carefully extinguished the flames, and on the sculpture’s return to the theatre it had been transformed from the red head into a grey one, but still a faithful representation of the head of Burns – the familiar Nasmyth portrait one, with the cowlick and the sideburns. I’m glad I was there.