Is there life after StAnza? ‘Normal’ life seems very mundane, but StAnza went out with a bang, two wonderful readings by Menna Efyn and Paul Muldoon. It had started with a bang too, with a wonderful performance of ‘Rime’ by Square Peg Theatre, a re-telling of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in music, dance, theatre and acrobatics. It was just astonishing, and played to a near-capacity audience. I’ll re-read the poem again in the light of the performance.
I can’t write about the whole Festival, because I couldn’t go to everything, but I’ll concentrate here on the events I was involved in. I introduced two Past and Present sessions, both reflecting on the poets and poetry of the two World Wars of the 20th century. The first featured Lesley Duncan discussing Charles Sorley and Hamish Henderson, and Ian Higgins discussing the French poet Albert-Paul Granier. I have previously read Sorley’s poetry, and I was fortunate to know Hamish Henderson personally, but I hadn’t encountered Granier before preparing for this session. His poetry was a revelation to me, and I recommend that you seek it out. His book is titled Cockerels and Vultures, and Ian is its translator. In my closing remarks I mentioned that his ‘War Song’ reminded me of the tone of Paul Celan’s great poem ‘Death Fugue’, and I was delighted to be given from Ian, on the last night, a copy of his translation of that work.
The second session featured Stephen Raw’s account of the life and poetry of Wilfred Owen, and Gill Plain’s discussion of the women poets of the First World War. I enjoyed Stephen’s exhibition in the Council Chambers, and his talk was no less illuminating. Gill’s talk revealed to her audience the shameful gender imbalance in published anthologies of WWI poets, and has made me want to read more of the work of Vera Brittain, May Wedderburn Cannan, Margaret Postgate Cole and many others, disgracefully under-represented.
Saturday was the Poets’ Market, back in the Supper Room of the Council Chambers, and it was, I felt, very successful. Sales of Calder Wood Press titles were up on last year, and I was delighted to have a little friendly competition with my friend and publisher Sheila Wakefield of Red Squirrel Press at the next table.
I was in the Byre Theatre on the Saturday evening and I saw Drew Campbell, President of Scottish PEN. I haven’t seen him for a couple of years, so it was good to catch up. He was introducing the PEN event that evening, but the reader scheduled to be with him couldn’t manage it, so I ended up reading with him in the Studio Theatre. As a member of Scottish PEN, I was delighted to do it.
Sunday afternoon was the Poetry Tour of Scotland, co-hosted by Andy Jackson and myself. Sixteen poets read poems on specific Scottish places, which we pinned on a map. One of the readers was Fife’s Provost Jim Leishman, and it was great to have his support for the Festival and for the Byre Theatre. Mandy Haggith and Ian Blyth joined us by a Skype link, with the technology working perfectly. Throughout the Festival I was impressed by the expertise and professionalism of the theatre teams assembled by Stephen Sinclair, and I want to thank them publicly.
Before the final readings on Sunday I had asked Paul Muldoon to ensure Eleanor Livingstone, StAnza’s Director didn’t disappear immediately afterwards, and he escorted her on to the stage with great charm, so that I could thank her and present her with a bouquet of flowers on behalf of the Board of Trustees of StAnza, which I have the honour to be chairing for the second time.
It was one of my favourite StAnzas for many reasons, the warm and friendliness of poets and audiences at the top of the list.