Louise Robertson: Poetry, music and art collide at StAnza

THE annual festival in St Andrews brings words together with other art forms to surprise audiences, writes Louise Robertson

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Square Peg Contemporary Circus was a highlight of the 2014 StAnza festival. Picture: Contributed
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Square Peg Contemporary Circus was a highlight of the 2014 StAnza festival. Picture: Contributed

There is no doubt that working on a festival is one of the best jobs ever. There may be times when you feel like your life has been completely taken over by festival madness, but despite this the buzz of being part of something brilliant enjoyed by thousands of people more than makes up for it.

One of the most exciting parts of the StAnza calendar is revealing the full programme for the forthcoming festival. It’s so rewarding being able to tell everyone which poets and performances will be on the bill. For 2016, in among the usual mix of ­rising stars and established poets, we’re lucky to have a number of award-winning artists making next year’s programme particularly vibrant.

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Among these is this year’s winner of the Fenton Aldeburgh first collection prize, Andrew McMillan. His collection, entitled Physical, was described by one of the judges as “a dazzling meditation on contemporary masculinity … intimate and performative”. The collection was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize. Andrew said he was “honoured and delighted” to be performing at StAnza next year.

Andrew is also one of four poets shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award along with fellow StAnza headliner Don Paterson, the Scottish poet and jazz musician who has twice won the TS Eliot prize.

Another prize-winner featured in next year’s StAnza programme is ­Fiona Benson, joint winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for her first full-length collection, Bright Travellers. This previously won the Seamus Heaney Prize for a first ­collection and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.

Other big names from the literary world to perform at next year’s festival include English poet Jo Bell, winner of the Causley Prize and the Manchester Cathedral Prize in 2014, and Lemn Sissay, recipient of an MBE for services to literature and the first poet to write for the London Olympics.

The British headline names also include Pascale Petit, Sean O’Brien, Brian Johnstone and John Burnside. They will be joined by Nora Gomringer from Germany, Swedish poet Aase Berg, Jane Yolen and Thomas Lynch from the United States and Australian Sarah Holland-Batt.

One of the highlights of StAnza each year is the opening night show. The people who put together the programme for this never fail to create an event to get the festival off with a bang. This year will certainly not ­disappoint as we present the premiere of Sea Threads: Comings And Goings (Sea Treeds: comins an gyaains).

The performance is a collaboration between Tommy Smith, the award-winning saxophonist and director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and his celebrated group Karma, together with acclaimed Shetland poet – and current Edinburgh Makar – Christine De Luca.

Poets Alex Cluness and Christine De Luca, commissioned by Smith ­created a loose kind of sea chronicle, with each poem in some way referencing the sea and movement. From this seascape of themes in words Smith has composed music that captures the mood and the poetic feelings of the poems to create an unique collaboration.

Architecture will also feature strongly in StAnza’s programme of exhibitions and installations, including Building With Words by Lucy Jones who is the festival’s artist in ­residence. Edinburgh-based Jones has produced a series of collage works which feature iconic St Andrews buildings rendered in text.

Elsewhere in the festival poets will debate how poetry engages with the green impact of our built environment. And our focus on German includes an exhibition from Berlin entitled What’s the point of poetry, and an event based on a recent Scottish/German VERSschmuggel (“verse-smuggling”) project.

Other highlights in the programme include To the Lighthouse, a concert inspired by Virginia Woolf’s famous novel; and A Potter, A Painter and a Poet, an exhibition of the collaboration between artists Paul Tebble and Anne Gilchrist and the poet Elizabeth Burns. She died in August 2015, but her poem Spiral is currently ­finding an audience via on a banner on the capital’s Royal Mile. A film of the collaboration by Sitar Rose will also be screened as part of StAnza’s film programme for 2016, along with The Complete Works, Canadian ­film-maker Justin Stephenson’s feature length film on the avant-garde poet bpnicol.

More than 60 poets will be joining us next year in St Andrews to take part in StAnza, along with many musicians, visual artists and film makers bringing the historic Fife town alive with poetry, music and art for five days from 2-6 March.

Tickets go on sale in January and the full programme can be seen online at www.stanzapoetry.org.

• Louise Robertson is press and media manager for StAnza