StAnza poetry festival earns words of praise

Journalist Lesley Riddoch.
Journalist Lesley Riddoch.

AS befits an acclaimed international poetry festival, this year’s StAnza delivered a five-day extravaganza of words to St Andrews, with around 80 poets and more than 100 events.

After averting a potential disaster at the eleventh hour with the closure of the Byre Theatre, which was to be the festival’s hub venue, this year’s festival is being hailed as the best ever.

As well as bringing together the country’s top poets, the event attracted more than 30 artists, writers, actors, filmmakers and performers.

Poetry was taken off the page and into the streets in ways that were impossible to ignore.

Models were out and about in ‘poetry dresses’, with embroidered lace panels hiding special sensors which played audio poems on being touched. A pink-wigged poetry postie, Sally Crabtree, cycled through the town delivering poems and vinyl panels of verse were on display in shop windows.

Another new initiative was the launch of a digital poetry trail, which celebrated the poetry of place by enabling walkers, via smart phones, to hear poetry being read by contemporary poets at locations throughout the town.

StAnza also made its mark on the ‘Twittersphere’ after its opening event when guest speaker and journalist Lesley Riddoch continued to talk poetry with her followers on Twitter.

Speaking at the launch, Lesley said: “While journalists must tackle political and daily realities with workmanlike prose, poets can and must soar. They can make connections other wordsmiths cannot. They can damn or inspire – and help us consider aspects of life beyond the humdrum.”

Highlights of the festival included appearances by Liz Lochhead and Gillian Clarke, national poets of Scotland and Wales respectively. Humour and wit were to the fore with work by John Hegley and Jacob Sam-la Rose, while Canadian poet Erín Moure and Singaporean poet Alvin Pang added to the international reputation of the festival. There were also Poetry Breakfast sessions which were webcast live.

Festival director Eleanor Livingstone said: “With the closure of the Byre Theatre, the first question was whether we could hold the festival to the standard of excellence that we intended.

“But we really have gone one better, producing a festival that audiences have been saying is the best ever. We have enjoyed enormous goodwill from our funders and supporters, and partners and friends in St Andrews and beyond.”

StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival is held every March but also runs one-off events throughout the year. It had attendances of more than 14,000 in 2012.