Tasty treats awaiting Scots poetry-lovers

Byre Theatre in St Andrews will be transformed into 1950s New York. Picture: Neil Doig
Byre Theatre in St Andrews will be transformed into 1950s New York. Picture: Neil Doig
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2015 has something for everyone, says Louise Robertson

Launching the full programme for StAnza, Scotland’s international poetry festival, is one of the most exciting times of the StAnza year for me, coming a very close second, of course, to the opening night itself. As the “publicity person” it is with great pride that I get to reveal the fruits of my extremely committed and dedicated colleagues’ labour, who work tirelessly to put together a brand-new, exciting and ambitious festival programme year after year.

This year’s line-up is definitely not going to disappoint poetry-lovers and audiences who attend the 2015 festival.

On St Andrew’s Day the full programme was launched, revealing our plans to bring a little bit of New York to the Fife town of St Andrews. The festival, which takes place in March, will open with a performance of Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York. For one night the Byre Theatre will be transformed into 1950s New York as audience members are invited to enjoy a drink with the cast, in character as the legendary Dylan Thomas and friends, while being transported back in time to the bohemian world of Greenwich Village in the 1950s.

The idea of bringing a bit of NYC to St Andrews made me wonder if there’s a little bit of St Andrews anywhere in New York. I was delighted to discover New York’s only Scottish restaurant, and home of the kilted bartenders in the very heart of Times Square is called the St Andrews Restaurant and Bar.

This is particularly fitting, as next year is Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, a Scottish Government initiative led by EventScotland and VisitScotland to spotlight, celebrate and promote Scotland’s natural larder and quality produce. To embrace this year of celebration, StAnza has included a food and drink focus in its 2015 programme, including an all-day workshop in the Edwardian kitchen of the Hill of Tarvit mansion house on metaphors about food, and another in Kellie Castle, famous for producing organic fruit and vegetables.

Back to New York and our opening night show, which marks the start of the four-day festival with a line-up including internationally acclaimed poets from all over the world.

Among this year’s headliners are Simon Armitage and New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate, Bill Manhire, along with three poets on their first appearance at StAnza, American poet Alice Notley, Sinéad Morrissey, currently Belfast’s Poet Laureate, and Ian Duhig. Winner of the 2014 Forward Prize for best collection and Forward First Prize for best first collection Kei Miller and Liz Berry respectively are also included in this year’s line-up, along with Helen Mort, recent winner of the Aldeburgh First Collection prize.

Every year the festival programme focuses on two themes which blend together to bring something unique every year to StAnza. This year’s themes are Unfinished Business and An Archipelago of Poetry. The first theme examines how the written word deals with the issue of unfinished business as well as ways in which poetry itself is often a work in progress. The second theme embraces poetry which comes from islands and things coastal or tidal, while also considering how poets and poetry festivals or organisations exist not only as individual islands, but rather as part of an extensive international archipelago of poetry.

These themes are reflected throughout the programme in events such as The Shipwrecked House, Poetic Voyaging, Poetry Loops, Voices and Images of Islay and the digital installation Unfinished, among many others.

Other highlights in the programme include A Modern Don Juan in the steps of Byron, Karen Cairns exhibition of Places and Faces around St Andrews, jazz singer Lorna Reid, singer Kirsty Law, the Viridian Quartet who will be performing Steve Reich’s Different Trains, and the Black Cat Jook Band playing the festival finale.

More than 60 poets will be taking part at StAnza in St Andrews, along with musicians, visual artists and film-makers bringing the historic Fife town alive with poetry, music and art for five days from 4-8 March.

This year, the festival will return to its home and festival hub at the recently reopened Byre Theatre as well as other venues around the town, including St John’s Undercroft, Parliament Hall, the Town Hall, the Public Library and the Trust Museum.

StAnza’s full programme is available online at www.stanzapoetry.org and tickets will go on sale in January.

Louise Robertson is StAnza’s press and media manager. www.stanzapoetry.org