Collected Electric

StAnza Poetry Festival 2009
March 24, 2009, 17:07
Filed under: Poetry

With Caroline reluctantly carted off down south last week, there was only little old me to stay in St Andrews for the annual poetry festival, StAnza — an internationally recognised event and a distinct highlight on the Scottish literary calendar. Sadly, I was snowed under with academia this week, and saw very little…though what I did see deserves to be reported. I spent four hours on Saturday meandering around the foyer of the Byre theatre, dressed absurdly in a Victorian costume for what the organisers termed ‘poetry theatre.’ Essentially, it was my job to offer patrons of the festival a poem, if they so desired. I went armed with a retinue of contemporary poetry (ie. Seamus Heaney, Sylvia Plath) to recite when asked. I made the slight error of adding a piece of my own to the menu — the festival-going Public, being a polite and generally good-natured entity, tended to ask to hear my own amateur efforts over the published work of actual poets (though I did read Plath’s You’re to a pregnant lady, which was nice). Feedback was all positive and charming (all very British), but it gets tiresome reciting the same lines all day, especially if they happen to be your own.

The modern literati were of course out in force at the festival. In that one day, I spotted Ian Rankin, Simon Armitage, Patience Agbabi and Carol Ann Duffy milling around the Byre. Ian and Patience both vanished before I could work up the nerve to offer them a recitation.

Towards the end of our evening shift, I managed, along with Harry Giles, my poetry theatre comrade, to score a last-minute ticket to the 8pm poetry reading by Patience Agbabi and Carol Ann Duffy. Both poets were phenomenal; they gave nuanced performances full of quiet power. Patience delivered a diverse range of pieces (from her most recent book, Bloodshot Monochrome), from experimental sonnet forms to striking epistolary vignettes and great, sweeping tales merging nursery rhymes and modern poetic anxieties seamlessly. Carol Ann proved herself as a true master of her craft, conjuring breath-catching visions of love and loss from her latest collection, Rapture, with a simple yet baffling elegance. The pieces she read from her older volumes displayed a level of talent I’d never heard live before. Her skill with humour and pathos had me winging from laughter to awed silence in minutes.

Before the reading, I’d managed somehow to summon the courage to read my own poem, Cartography, to Carol Ann while she relaxed in the Byre bar. I was nervous as all hell, and consequently gave a dull, flat and monotonous reading. In spite of this, Carol Ann was complimentary and kind, signing my copy of Rapture with an instruction to “keep writing”…I must have seemed a gibbering idiot. Still, I’m proud that such an acclaimed and prodigiously gifted poet could have anything nice to say about my work.

Regardless, I think I’ve rambled on enough…StAnza seemed an appropriate opportunity to kickstart the blog, even if I only attended one reading. Hopefully more soon, either from myself or Caroline.

— Chris


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