StAnza: an extreme sport


Poetry is hard work. No, not just the writing of it, the listening. And if StAnza poetry festival is an extreme sporting event – a marathon no less– I’m proud to say I completed a half marathon. It took concentration and stamina, a year of planning and training. I did my best to cram in 10 events and managed to get a snooze in on the Saturday too. I feel proud of my achievement. I made it to the end and saw the Northern lights at 1am on the final day – yahoo. I’m exhausted, no idea how Eleanor Livingstone and her team manage to pull off such a feat every year.

The stars of the poetry world were there and I enjoyed hearing the fine poetry of Jo Shapcott and Pascale Petit, adding a new dimension to what I knew of their work. I also heard Lemm Sissay for the first time, a fantastic performer: honest, funny and dynamic, he had the audience hanging on his every word.

Discovering new poets is always a quest at StAnza and I found Nora Gomringer’s playful poetry performance, accompanied by percussionist Philipp Scholz, was aurally, visually and cerebrally inspiring.

I also enjoyed hearing up-and-coming writers I’m familiar with, reading new work: Em Strang, Sam Tongue and Lindsay MacGregor in particular. Clare Best and James Arthur were other new names to me, who gave excellent, moving performances.

The breakfast discussion sessions are always interesting and ‘Body of poetry’ with Andrew McMillan, Clare Best, Aase Berg, S J Fowler and Justin Stephenson was a thought provoking exploration of the idea of bodies in the widest possible sense. I left wanting to seek out the work of Stephenson, who showed a short extract from his film The Complete Works, celebrating the poetry of bpNicol, and S J Fowler: a talented polymath.

For the first time this year I noticed the particular skills needed to introduce and chair events and was impressed by Annie Rutherford’s idiosyncratic enthusiasm.

Now I need to get in shape for Aye Write, the Glasgow book festival, which is only 2 weeks away. Poets: Helen Mort, Rebecca Perry, Sinead Morrissey, Andrew McMillan & David Kinloch are all reading. I’ll need to start carb loading soon.


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