Louise Robertson: StAnza brings the greats to a little corner of Fife

Poetry festival may have drawn to a close but here's to the same success next year, says Louise Robertson

Poet Lemn Sissay performs at StAnza 2016
Poet Lemn Sissay performs at StAnza 2016

StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival is over for another year, and what a festival it was. Just a few weeks on we’re still reeling from it all and feeling a bit bleary eyed from the effort which goes into delivering one of Europe’s leading literary festivals.

As we catch our breath before the cycle of planning for 2017 gets properly under way, we’re enjoying the bubble of loveliness which comes from reading all the fantastic reviews of StAnza 2016, and the realisation that once again we have created something truly special in a small corner of Fife.

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In the words of The List, “StAnza has firmly established itself as one of the most significant literary festivals in Scotland, and it is particularly commendable for bringing the elite of the poetry world to St Andrews”. Each year we endeavour to create a programme which is fresh, diverse and exciting, bringing together new, aspiring talent with some of the big names from the literary world and we are truly indebted to the poets, performers and artists, not forgetting our loyal audiences, friends and supporters, who travel to St Andrews from every corner of the globe to make StAnza the success it is.

This year’s programme included Don Paterson, Andrew McMillan, Jo Bell, Lemn Sissay, Pascale Petit, Sean O’Brien, Harry Mann, Brian Johnstone, John Burnside, Rebecca Sharp, Katie Ailes, Kevin Mclean, Kirsten Luckens, and Em Strang, to name but a few. Joining us from overseas was Nora Gomringer and Odile Kennel from Germany, Swedish poet Aase Berg, Jane Yolen and Thomas Lynch from the USA, Justin Stephenson from Canada , Matthew Sweeney from Ireland, Australian poet Sarah Holland-Batt and many more, making it a truly international affair.

It is all these wonderful people who make our festival what it is and for a few days in March bring the “streets alive with the sound of poetry” and create “a diverse and vibrant celebration of all things poetic” according to The Scotsman critic Susan Mansfield. StAnza as a festival has a strong desire to celebrate the spoken word in all its forms but also to make poetry accessible to everyone, even those who think they have no connection with poetry.

This year’s was launched by special guest James Yorkston, a singer-songwriter from Fife and one of the original members of the Fence Collective. His light-hearted poetry offering on the evening had everyone laughing, reminding us that StAnza covers practically everything on the literary spectrum. The festival swung fully into action with the beautiful performance of Sea Threads: comings and goings / Sea Treeds: comins an gyaains. This unique performance is a collaboration between Tommy Smith, award winning saxophonist and director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and his celebrated group Karma together with acclaimed Shetlandic poet Christine De Luca.

As well as all the usual StAnza favourites, Border Crossings, Poetry Cafes, Five O’Clock Verses and Poetry Centre Stage, we had a particular focus on poetry in a digital era, most notably with Clive Birnie’s fantastic Instagram cut-up poems for HashtagPoetry#. In this innovative installation, Clive Birnie updates the experiments of Tristan Tzara and William Burroughs to the era of the smartphone to explore the hidden poetry of Twitter. Taking random screen grabs of the Twitter app on an iPhone he redacts, erases and paints over them in photo editing apps before posting to Instagram. The prints of his Hashtag Poems were posted around festival venues in St Andrews for the duration of StAnza.

StAnza traditionally focuses on two themes, this year’s ‘City Lines’ kept us current with Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, connecting St Andrews with various cities worldwide, including Berlin as part of our focus on German poetry.

The German focus also included a special Five O’Clock Verses in association with poesiefestival berlin and the VERSschmuggel (verse-smuggling) project. Three of the poets from the project come together at StAnza to read a selection of their poems.

Onwards to 2017 now and if any of the above takes your fancy then do come along and be part of our gig next year. It’s the first week in March and there really is something for everyone.

• Louise Robertson is press and media manager for StAnza, www.stanzapoetry.org