One Night StAnza

….or, to be honest, a four-night stay at StAnza. I was going to give you a long and leisurely account of my stay at St Andrews’ international poetry festival, but as you will see later today I have something else exciting to tell you about. So here’s a short summary and a piece of advice: StAnza is a glorious, friendly, intimate but world-class assembly of poeticians. Get it in your diary for mid-March next year.

The town is small, and once outside the bar of the Byre Theatre there are no Scottish people in it at all. The streets are heaving with appallingly healthy American students with teeth like horses, and unbelievably posh English students with accents that would make HM the Q sound like something out of Shameless. It’s a surreal place: in my short stay I saw two St Patricks on the beach, red-gowned graduates, several people in lederhosen (no, really) and a young man wearing plus fours, apparently with no sense of irony at all.

The Poem Catcher moves in...

I walled myself into the Byre, the festival’s main venue, and didn’t really need to go outside till Sunday. I did my reading to a lovely, receptive audience – hear a bit of it here – and was then free to enjoy readings from Paul Farley, Marilyn Hacker, Philip Gross and Selima Hill (unique, alarming, brilliant); to watch Rab Wilson’s film on coal mining, and his Scots poetry documenting it; to buy beautiful letterpress pamphlets from the poetry market; and to hear a lively and affectionate discussion with Edwin Morgan’s biographer. Discovery of the year was William Letford whose plain, masculine poetry had a kindness and humour to it that reminded me of Raymond Carver; but there were many fine poets there and I couldn’t hear them all.

I walked on the beach on St Patrick’s Day… and every other day. At the aquarium I saw Laurel, the lonely seal (Hardy escaped) and, inexplicably, some meerkats. I saw fine performances and quite a lot of red wine. There were old friends who I had expected to see, some who were a lovely surprise, and best of all I made some really good new friends too – particularly cheeky chapess Peggy Hughes of the Scottish Poetry Library. The poetry family is a wide and varied one; but the Scottish branch of the clan is particularly fine. Thanks to all.

Far in the distance, beyond the huge audience... is me!

Published by Jo Bell

Poet, boater, archaeologist and former director of the UK's National Poetry Day. One third of @OnThisDayShe. Erstwhile UK Canal Laureate.

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