The 2015 StAnza Festival is over, but of course the work of its Director, the Board and the Planning Committee continues. StAnza 2016 is already in the planning stage, and of course the merry round of funding applications continues. I won’t bore you with all that, however, but I have a few impressions of the festival just past.
The Byre Theatre came up to its brilliant best this year, thanks to its wonderful staff. It’s such a welcoming space; even when there aren’t many people about, it always feels inhabited. And yet it can accommodate the big crowds, as we saw on the launch night.
The opening production was an immersive theatre experience, exploring some aspects of Dylan Thomas, his development and the milieu he enjoyed in New York. The set was a bar, and several lucky audience members sat at the tables on stage, while the actors performed the work around them. I loved, loved, loved it, but then I’m an old thesp from way back, darlings. Before the play itself started, we chatted and interacted with Dylan, e.e. cummings, and the avant-garde film-maker Maya Deren.
The musical highlight for me this year was a performance of Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains’, preceded by a reading of Rob Mackenzie’s poem of the same title. The whole experience was extremely moving. I know the music well, but seeing a live performance was so exciting.
I thought the Past and Present events this year were particularly good, and the audiences seemed to agree – they were all sold out. I had the honour to introduce two of the four, and I was extremely impressed. These events always introduce me to poets I haven’t encountered in such depth before, so I’m looking forward to getting to know much more about Elizabeth Melville, Thomas Wyatt, Wladislaw Khodasevich and others.
The main auditorium readings were outstanding this year. Kei Miller impressed me hugely, and Carolyn Forché was mesmerising. Readings in Parliament Hall were great too – I loved the readings by Helen Mort and Jennifer Williams. I only managed to one of the Undercroft readings this year, but I’m glad I heard my friend Mandy Haggith – she was great.
I got to a couple of the Poetry Breakfast discussions, on Unfinished Business, and An Archipelago of Poetry – both good sessions. And I enjoyed the Poetry Café lunch-time sessions.
I was drafted in as one of the judges for a poetry recitation competition in the University Library, and I loved that. It was so good to see the different approaches to readings by the students.
Other duties meant I couldn’t man the Calder Wood Press stall at the Poetry Market all the time, and maybe my sales suffered as a result.
I’m left with many happy memories, maybe summed up when a group of friends found ourselves sitting on a sunny pavement outside Zest Café. And the chat continued at the party after the final readings by the wonderful Sinead Morrissey and Bill Manhire.
A vintage StAnza, and as I said on the Byre stage at the end, it’s a privilege working with StAnza’s Director, Eleanor Livingstone. She is terrific.