I hadn’t been to the StAnza Poetry Festival before and had no clear idea what it was going to be like.
I missed the opening two days, and so missed readings by Thomas Lux, Michael Longley, Jo Shapcott, Fleur Adcock, and Michael Schmidt’s keynote lecture, amongst many other good things.
On Saturday, I arrived with my wife and daughter and spent most of the day on the beach, wrapped up against the wind, so that Alyssa could play in the sand. They left in the late afternoon, and I just missed Tony Curtis’s reading, which I now wish I’d seen. Everyone was saying what a great reader he was.
In the evening I saw readings by David Harsent, (whose book, Legion, a collection of mainly war poems, won the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2005) and Eilean Ni Chuilleachain, one of Ireland’s foremost poets. David Harsent was brilliant. His delivery was measured and unshowy, but not flat, and allowed the words to sound with real power. I’ve read excerpts from Legion, but I really must get hold of a copy and read it properly. Eiléan Ni Chuilleanain was also good, but I was getting tired and found it hard to concentrate.
Afterwards there was an open-mic in a small, impossibly crammed bar that lasted from 10.30pm until 1am. The short, barbed material and the funny performance pieces worked best in that setting. It was good to see a few of the billed poets joining in – Tony Curtis (the Irish poet, not the Welsh one of the same name) recited an excellent performance piece called something like “I drink for Ireland”. Also a guy called Rab stood out with a lengthy but very funny satire in the style of Burns, and Jim Carruth’s ode to the kisses of old aunts was excellent.
I felt that poets who (like me) write primarily for the page could have learned a lot from the performance poets on how to deliver poems in public in a setting like that. Tony Curtis and Jim Carruth (both primarily “page” poets) showed how to take the best of what the performance poets had to offer on board.
On Sunday morning, I saw another reading from Richard Price, Siriol Troup, and Andrew Philip.
Andy read very well, some poems from his excellent Tonguefire chapbook and a new sequence written to accompany a set of paintings.
Siriol Troup, a London poet, was a new name to me. Her poems were well-crafted and I was impressed by her endings. The poems all seemed to lead somewhere, which isn’t always the case even with published and highly-touted poems.
I had heard of Richard Price, but hadn’t read any of his poems. His book Lucky Day had been shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize for Poetry. His poetry was very interesting. He had a voice that was very much his own and a delivery that seemed to quieten as each poem went on, so I had to listen hard to catch his drift. His opening poem on sleep deprivation was original and compelling. I found it harder to get into his sequence of love poems towards the end of his reading, but I’d maybe need to see them on the page to appreciate them.
In the afternoon, I visited the Poetry Pamphlet Fair and bought Jim Carruth’s Bovine Pastoral, which though the unpromising theme of dairy farming, manages to touch on a whole range of social and personal matters. I’m still reading it and have found it fascinating so far.
I thought about staying on for Sheenagh Pugh’s reading, but awkward train times persuaded me to make the journey home instead.
Of course, the performances and events are only half the story. The people I met and the conversations I had would take up another page, as I met a lot of people there. At least next year I’ll recognise more faces when I arrive.