Festival review: StAnza, various venues, St Andrews

After two years of disruption due to covid, the StAnza poetry festival returns with a new director and a thought-provoking theme. Review by Susan Mansfield
Scotland’s national poet Kathleen Jamie PIC: Robin GillandersScotland’s national poet Kathleen Jamie PIC: Robin Gillanders
Scotland’s national poet Kathleen Jamie PIC: Robin Gillanders

StAnza 2022: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, various venues St Andrews and online

Scotland’s international poetry festival has emerged from the pandemic looking a little different, with a new director, some new venues and (at least for this year) a hybrid model. The feeling in St Andrews, however, is one of relief to be back in person listening to poets read and talk about their work.

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The festival launched in fine form on Wednesday night, with readings from Kathleen Jamie, Jen Hadfield, Hannah Lavery and Peter Mackay, reminding us of things we have enjoyed from StAnzas past. However, new director Lucy Burnett has also shaken up some of the festival’s traditions, bringing in the idea of “intervention rather than celebration”, and foregrounding the discussion of issues central to poetry.

This year’s theme, Stories Like Starting Points, links the festival to Scotland’s Year of Stories and provides a starting point for debates about the place of narrative in poetry. Things really take off, however, when the writers stop discussing the pros and cons of narrative and dive into the stories themselves.

So, we learn that Hannah Lowe, who won this year’s Costa Award for her poetry collection The Kids, has been motivated throughout her writing career by the story of her father, a Chinese Jamaican who came to the UK in 1947. We meet Yousif Qasmiyeh, who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, and Gezim Hadjari, who escaped the Albanian dictatorship to live as an exile in Italy, writers who carry not only their own stories but those of their families and, perhaps, their nations.

We get a sneak preview of Billy Letford’s forthcoming “verse novel in progress” and hear Robin Robertson read from The Long Take, his verse novel about a US war veteran with PTSD, which was the first poetry book to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize. And we hear Robert Crawford tell the story of Ezra Pound and his crucial role as a translator and editor. Among these stories old and new, the story of StAnza itself is still being written.

StAnza runs until 13 March, www.stanzapoetry.org

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