AS Scotland reflects on the outcome of one of the most intensely debated subjects in recent history it is fitting that we at StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, should be using our 2015 festival programme to examine a similar notion of existing together or alone.
For two years the nation has been split over whether remaining part of the union or becoming an independent country would be in Scotland’s best interests. With the ink barely dry on the ballot papers, the referendum will continue to dominate public and private debate, as the aftermath of an issue which motivated a staggeringly high number of the population to use their vote plays out.
StAnza traditionally focuses on two themes which interweave to give each of our spring festivals its own unique flavour. One of the themes for next year’s festival is An Archipelago of Poetry which examines, amongst other things, whether as poets, festivals or organisations, we exist not only as individual islands, or as John Donne suggested as a piece of a continent, but rather as part of an extensive, international Archipelago of Poetry. The theme will also embrace poetry which is coastal, tidal, maritime and “insular’ – in its lesser used definition, “of or pertaining to an island” – and the festival will feature poets with island connections, near and far.
Unfinished Business, again a fitting topic given the current climate, is the second theme which will allow our 2015 festival to explore how unfinished business is dealt with by the written word as well as ways in which poetry itself is often a work in progress, with a popular starting point for this discussion the well-known saying attributed to Paul Valery, that “a poem is never finished”.
We have recently unveiled some of the headline acts who will take part in next year’s programme, to consider these and other issues. In keeping with our reputation for being a truly international affair, our 2015 programme will not disappoint, featuring poets from as far afield as New Zealand and the US, as far north as the Faroe Islands, as well as others from France and across Europe, who will travel to join lots more from Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Many big names from the literary world will be coming to perform in St Andrews, including several major contemporary poets making their first appearance at StAnza, such as the American Carolyn Forché and Ilya Kaminsky, originally from Ukraine.
One popular headliner on the bill is Simon Armitage. The English poet, playwright and novelist is a professor of poetry at Sheffield University and in 2011 was awarded a CBE for services to poetry. He is also well known in judging circles having served as a judge for the Forward Prize, the TS Eliot Prize, the Whitbread Prize, the Griffin Prize, and in 2006 for the Man Booker Prize. Armitage himself has won numerous awards, including a Bafta in 2003.
Armitage will be joined by fellow UK poets Sinéad Morrissey and Ian Duhig. Morrissey, Belfast’s poet laureate, has received the Michael Hartnett Poetry Prize, was shortlisted for the Poetry Now award and was awarded the Lannan Foundation Fellowship. Most notably, she won the TS Eliot prize in January this year, which featured StAnza headliner Ian Duhig on the judging panel. Duhig has himself been shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize three times.
Among the international names in next year’s line-up are Bill Manhire and Alice Notley. New Zealand’s first poet laureate Bill Manhire is a five times winner of the New Zealand Book Awards poetry prize while American Alice Notley has been a finalist in for the Pulitzer Prize and has been awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for poetry.
With such a fantastic line-up of literary talent in prospect, we can only flag up a few of the 60 poets taking part over five days from 4-8 March in Scotland’s annual celebration of the spoken word in all its forms.
We are delighted that our festival hub will again be the Byre Theatre which re-opens this month. There will be around 100 events, exhibitions and installations in the Byre and other venues in and around the town centre of St Andrews. The full programme will be announced for St Andrews Day on 30 November.
• Louise Robertson is StAnza’s press and media manager. www.stanzapoetry.org