First, let me say that I thought this year’s StAnza Festival was the best I’ve attended. The standard of the readings in particular was outstanding. I heard (and saw) Seamus Heaney courtesy of the live relay to the Studio Theatre, because the main auditorium was sold out. What cheered me greatly was that during the interval Seamus came upstairs to the Studio to greet us all in person. He was in tremendous form. Jean Sprackland’s reading on the Friday morning was something I’ll remember for a long time. I’ve read ‘Tilt’, but hearing the poems read in her own voice was very very special. The Friday afternoon reading with Tiffany Atkinson and Kei Miller stunned in other ways. Tiffany’s choice of phrase is often startling and unexpected, as I know from reading her book, but again she came across as an accomplished and gifted reader. I could listen to Kei Miller for ever – the poems are rich and subtle, and his delivery is warm and musical. Then in the evening Denis O’Driscoll showed his immense charm and wit in a reading which was understated but highly entertaining. Saturday for me was the Poets’ Market, where I was on the stand with my Calder Wood Press titles. I was very happy with the sales this year, and I had picked up Juliet Wilson’s book on the way through to StAnza, so I had the full CWP range, including the four new titles I’ve published so far this year – Judith Taylor’s Local Colour, Mary Johnston’s Teuchat Storm, morgan downie’s stone and sea, and Juliet Wilson’s Unthinkable Skies. The evening readings were by Linton Kwesi Johnson and John Akpata. I say readings, but John was off the page, a performance set full of nuance and power, and all delivered from memory. Linton is a man of immense dignity, and I loved the Jamaican-English poetry he read. Sunday began for me with an extremely interesting discussion at the Poetry Breakfast, and continued with a funny and brilliant reading by Eddie Gibbons. Eddie has a new full-length collection expected any day now, and a pamphlet which I’m publishing later this year. The Undercroft reading, with Jen Hadfield and Mario Petrucci, was a contrast in mood and technique. The final evening reading was the best of the lot. Vicki Feaver was superb, and Don Paterson’s reading was quite simply masterful. I loved both. During the interval I managed, with Jayne Wilding, to catch up with Vicki. Around 10 years ago the three of us, together with Alec Finlay and others, had written a renga in Dawyck Botanic Gardens. She wants to do more, so I hope we can do that.
Finally, I’ve been in a fever of anticipation for ages now, but Sheila Wakefield brought copies of my new book, The floorshow at the Mad Yak Café on the Thursday, and I’m knocked out, blown away and turned upside down by it. It’s available from Red Squirrel Scotland.