George Szirtes’ Masterclass – six poets presented poems and the full text of each was given to each member of the audience. I liked the lack of nit-picking. Instead, GS invited the writers and audience to identify the heart of each poem. This often involved a moment when the poem moved up a gear, when something happened – a line, a phrase, an event – which inaugurated a shift, a reach for something greater than what had come before. Poems stand or fall by how well these moments are brought to fruition.
Reflecting on the poems with this in mind was instructive. Plenty of other ideas came up in the masterclass, but this is the one that has lodged most in my mind.
Film – a loop of films was shown throughout the festival. And other films were included in the official program. Some of them were avant-garde: a burst of strange images and words. Others were beautifully artistic. A few were funny, particularly a spoof film featuring a poet talking, with marvellously-timed pretension, about his work. Some films succeeded in being genuinely pretentious themselves. But showing the films was a great idea.
The Sing Song – some famous poets decided to celebrate St Patrick’s day by having an impromptu, wine-fuelled sing-song round their table in the Byre Bar. I missed a lot of it, as I was enjoying the performances of Matt Harvey and John Hegley in the Byre Theatre, but what I heard was quite funny. Some poets can sing and others definitely can’t. And no, I won’t name names.
Poetry Pamphlet Fair – this took place on the Saturday afternoon. Tables were laden with pamphlets/chapbooks, and I went off with a few. The quality varies wildly of course, but events like this are vital to give a profile to these poetry collections that the chain-stores won’t sell and can all too easily remain invisible.