The quote “It is poetry perfection”, says it all really, and very nicely sums up StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival for 2018.
The aftermath of StAnza is one of my favourite times of the year. When the madness of festival planning is over, there’s time to enjoy a few shameless moments indulging in the wonderful reviews and enthusiastic feedback from those who attended the festival.
Last month StAnza brought dozens of poets from all over the world to St Andrews, the festival’s much-loved home since it began back in 1998, to celebrate poetry in all its forms.
This was a special year for us; not only was it our 21st festival but it was the second part of our StAnza 20:20 Vision project which celebrated the 20th festival in 2017 and this year being 20 years since the first StAnza festival.
The feedback and reviews we have received have been fantastic and they really are testament to the incredibly hard work of the festival team who work tirelessly through the year to programme such a wonderful event.
StAnza 2018 was described in so many lovely ways, it’s almost impossible to choose which ones to mention.
But some of my favourites include “it has been a festival of poetry at its best – diverse, surprising, contemporary – by writers at the height of their powers”, “it’s impossible not to be swept away by the talent and passion of the poets involved”, “the 21st StAnza Festival outdoes itself” and the best of all, “StAnzastic”!
Each year StAnza gets underway with a show stopping first night performance. However, to mark our special anniversary year we went one better, opening with a gala extravaganza featuring a selection of headline poets reading and performing, intertwined with music, film and art.
The festival was officially launched by a special guest, Fife singer-songwriter and Olivier Award winning actress Barbara Dickson, who captivated the audience with her beautiful singing.
The programme for 2018 included some of the biggest and most current names in literature, including former Belfast poet Laureate and recent winner of the prestigious Forward Prize for Poetry Sinéad Morrissey.
Also in attendance was Scottish poet and jazz musician Don Paterson, who was in conversation with Marie-Elsa Bragg, Gillian Allnutt, who was awarded The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry last year, Tara Bergin, winner of the Seamus Heaney First Collection Prize in 2014, and up and coming Scottish poet William Letford.
Other names at the festival included Douglas Dunn, Mark Ford, Rachael Boast, Miriam Gamble, Catherine Wilson, Martin Figura, Sara Hirsch, Michael Symmons Roberts and many, many more. All the usual StAnza favourites, Border Crossings, Poetry Café, Five O’Clock Verses and Poetry Centre Stage were as popular as ever, with many events selling out.
Some events were subsequently live streamed from the Byre Theatre auditorium into other venues to increase capacity such was the demand.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival was our focus on languages of the Netherlands and Flanders under the title Going Dutch. This involved Dutch, Flemish and Frisian speaking poets taking part along with other events with a Dutch connection.
As part of our focus on the Low Countries we had an interesting twist in the form of Geart Tigchelaar, StAnza’s guest blogger who spent a few days cycling around St Andrews and blogging about his exploration of the town and StAnza.
The Frisian poet and blogger was supported by local business Spokes, which provided Geart with a bike to use during his stay. As well as writing about his time in the Fife town he also raised money for the charity Cycling out of Poverty.
So now that our two special anniversary years are over we look forward to the challenge of creating a programme for StAnza 2019 which tops the last two years.
If you didn’t manage along to StAnza this year then join us in St Andrews next year in March to see what you’ve been missing. Everyone is welcome at the festival and in the words of one reviewer “even my not-into-poetry husband enjoyed it”.
Louise Robertson is the press and media manager for poetry festival StAnza.