Bookworm: Tea and cakes with Jackie Kay, and poetry too - what could possibly be nicer than that?

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Snippets from the past week in the literary world

Tea for 12

WHAT’S the hottest ticket at this year’s StAnza festival? They went on sale on Wednesday, but even though the St Andrews poetryfest is still two whole months away (14-18 March), and even though there are almost 100 events on the programme (check it out on one event stands out above all others.

Full-price tickets cost just £7, but the only problem is that there are only 12 of them. Just a delighted dozen who can sit in front of the roaring fire in the lounge of the Albany Hotel in North Street and have afternoon tea and cakes with Jackie Kay. Imagine: tea and cakes with Jackie Kay, and poetry too. On Planet Earth at 3.45pm on Friday 16 March, what’s going on that could possibly be nicer than that?

Acquired Tastes

Of course, you see what I’ve just done there, don’t you? That’s Bookworm forever crossed off the Christmas card list of Lavinia Greenlaw, this year’s poet-in-residence who is not only giving the StAnza lecture but giving its first all-day workshop at Balmungo House, erstwhile home of the leading Scottish abstract artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (just 16 tickets for that one). Christopher Reid, winner of the Costa Book of the Year two years ago, won’t bother returning my calls. Michael Symmons Roberts, Don Paterson, Kathleen Jamie (first time at StAnza in eight years, apparently), John Glenday, John Burnside and Don Paterson will all give me the old cold shoulder routine at the Byre bar.

No-one will bother introducing me to the American poets, the visiting Poles, or Tusiata Avia, who’s probably come furthest of all (Samoa). “Not as good as Jackie Kay, eh?”, they will chorus in disapproval. “No”, I shall reply. “Nothing personal: it’s just the cakes. She has them and you, sadly, don’t.”

Inspired Sip

For poets themselves, however, whisky seems more inspirational than cakes. Or at least it so proved for Katrina Naomi at last year’s StAnza, who went back to her hotel after her event, drank the miniature of Balblair supplied by StAnza, and wrote the poem, “After The Reading”, which begins like this:

She breathes in the hairspray topnotes

of a highland single malt, which needs a glass

not a tooth mug. Her lips sting.

They have opened and closed all day.

Here’s to a taste of being happy …