Comment: StAnza well versed in poetry 18 years on

Eleanor Livingstone, StAnza festival director. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Eleanor Livingstone, StAnza festival director. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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FOR better or for verse, StAnza is again the place to be as Fife welcomes poets and fans of poetry

With just a few weeks left until StAnza officially opens, welcoming the world to St Andrews to celebrate the spoken word in all its forms, it is timely to pause and reflect on the 18th year of the festival.

Founded in 1998, StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, has not only built a reputation as one of the UK’s and – I say with huge pride – Europe’s leading festivals dedicated to poetry but has, over the years, gathered a wonderful collection of poetry lovers who have become almost like family. Year after year the anticipation of welcoming old friends, and new ones yet undiscovered, is as much a part of the festival as the poetry itself. Jump forward to 2015 and the festival has indeed grown since its early days. This year StAnza boasts a programme crammed with some of the biggest names and talents from all over the world.

For the 18th year of StAnza, the programme is in a league of its own. Headliners include the multi-award winning English poet Simon Armitage and New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate Bill Manhire, along with three poets on their first appearance at StAnza, American poet Alice Notley, Sinéad Morrissey, currently Belfast’s Poet Laureate, and Ian Duhig. Winner of the 2014 Forward Prize for best collection and Forward First Prize for best first collection, Kei Miller and Liz Berry respectively, are also included in this year’s line up along with Helen Mort, recent winner of the Aldeburgh First Collection prize. We’re also welcoming back Paul Durkan and Christine De Luca, both of whom appeared in the very first StAnza. Although not joining us in person this year, John Burnside – who performed last year and is another from the first StAnza festival – features in a collaboration with Will Maclean as one of this year’s exhibitions.

And for those who think poetry is out of touch with modern culture we’re delighted that Game of Thrones star Clive Russell will be coming to St Andrews to open this year’s festival.

As well as adding a touch of glamour to the opening night, he will also be sharing his love of poetry in an “In Conversation’”session as part of the festival programme.

Back to the opening and this year’s opening-night show takes us back in time to 1950s New York. StAnza 2015 will open with a performance of Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York. For one night the Byre Theatre will be transformed into 1950s New York as audience members are invited to enjoy a drink with the cast, in character as the legendary Dylan Thomas and friends, while being transported back in time to the heady, bohemian world of Greenwich Village in the 50s.

At StAnza we pride ourselves in having something for everyone and in Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink the programme includes a culinary focus, including an all-day workshop in the Edwardian kitchen of the Hill of Tarvit mansion house on metaphors about food, and another in Kellie Castle famous for producing organic fruit and vegetables.

Our children’s programme this year includes Stars in Jars by the popular Chrissie Gittens as well as the usual display of winning entries in the annual Children’s Poetry Competition open to children who live or attend school in Fife.

Other highlights in the programme include A Modern Don Juan in the steps of Byron, Karen Cairns exhibition of Places and Faces around St Andrews, jazz singer Lorna Reid, singer Kirsty Law, the Viridian Quartet who will be performing Steve Reich’s Different Trains, and the Black Cat Jook Band playing the festival finale.

With more than 100 events, many of them free, and over 70 poets, StAnza features a diverse range of performances, readings, music, drama, talks, workshops and a masterclass, open mic events, films, exhibitions and installations. From 4 to 8 March, St Andrews is the place to hear your favourite poet, discover new voices, meet other poets, writers and publishers and enjoy the energetic buzz of the beautiful and historic town of St Andrews.

For those who can’t wait until March, or would just like a taster of what’s to come we’re hosting our second preview event in Edinburgh at Craigmillar Library on 17 February. Tickets for the preview are free but booking is essential. For this, and all other booking information visit our website at www.stanza.org.uk.

• Eleanor Livingstone is festival director at StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival.

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