StAnza International Poetry Festival is the shot in the arm I need at this time of year when it’s still not Spring. The themes of the festival this year were Borderlines, The Self and Going Dutch; I attended about 13 events over 3 days. I should have taken notes, but I didn’t so these are some of my lasting impressions. My highlights are always discovering poets I’ve not heard, or heard of. That being said I’m also intrigued now to read these poets to see how the sound translates to the page.
Ester Naomi Perquin, the current Dutch Poet laureate, created a warm and witty presence on the Thursday night centre stage. The audience clearly enjoyed her funny introductions, but it was in the poems which drew on her experience of being a prison guard that her humour was deployed most effectively to make the dark subject matter more striking. Unfortunately the few books that were available in English (The Hunger in Plain View: Selected Poems, translated by David Colmer, White Pine Press) quickly sold out, but I’ve since found that they’re available online (in the UK from Wordery).
Poetry Breakfasts always gets my brain whirring, once the coffee kicks in and the panel members lean-in and connections start to spark. At the Borderlines breakfast poet Miriam Gamble expressed her aversion to black and white choices as a result of her upbringing in Northern Ireland. While poet Iggy Mcgovern, a Fellow Emeritus in physics, considered the importance of clear borders in his profession and expressed the difference between science and poetry as being in their diametrically opposed stance on clarity i.e. that the aim of scientific work was to eliminating all dubiety, while poetry embraces dubiety. The often separated entities of art and poetry opened up their borders in this discussion and their fluidity was examined in the work of Julie Johnstone and Lies Van Gaase. Johnstone’s exhibition at The Preservation Trust Museum was strangely calming, letters appeared breathed onto sheaves of white paper, minimalist books opened their lungs and instructed you in the art of breathing: the word became object d’art.
Doris Kareva, an Estonian poet, read at a Border Crossings event. Kareva’s long poems felt elemental, sweeping vistas that encompassed the collective and the personal in their wide-angled lens, they seemed to their examine the very nature of the human spirit. Kareva’s selected poems: Days of Grace will be published by Bloodaxe in April this year. While Chinese poet Cai Tianxin read shorter poems, some addressing journeys, nature, Isaac Newton and geometries of space; Tianxin is a professor of Mathematics. The poet stated at the beginning of the reading that he had chosen shorter poems to enable more to be read as Anna Crowe read an English translation of each poem. It made me wonder how representative this was of his work as a whole, and again interested to read more (it too is available on Wordery).
Another poet I hadn’t encountered before was Mark Ford who headlined the centre stage on Friday night. His poems took us on journeys through scenarios that became obscure, surreal and without resolution; he claimed most if it to be true. Ford read the poems in a deadpan, almost informative manner, so it seemed that he couldn’t help but be funny. Nearing the end of his reading Ford said that he was really enjoying himself and this really came across in his performance. His new collection Enter, Fleeing is out soon from Faber.
There was of course so much more poetry to enjoy, poets to revisit, great exhibitions, the poetry book fair where I picked up some book from some new Scottish small presses: House of 3 and Tapsalteerie and my annual copy of The Dark Horse (its a ritual now). Now I need a week off work to catch up on all this reading.