Thank you StAnza, that’s a wrap. I am going to write the poetry version of this blog for InterlitQ later this month, full of thoughts about the complex multi-layered nature of identity and how poetry can open up the two-dimensional focus we can get from news, social media and television, assumptions about women’s poetry, diversity and neurodiversity, and a lot more wonderful stuff, but this blog is about the other thing – the experience of StAnza.
This year was a very good StAnza for me. I was in a very comfortable B&B on the other side of town, where I could see trees from my window and hear blackbirds and mallards on the river more than seagulls. It was quiet there, and I didn’t have to deal with the beer festival. There were fish suppers and fruit scones, and plenty of bookshops to browse in, and I went to more events than I think I’ve ever got to before.
I bought more books than I’ve ever bought before too, and even at that I didn’t get Jay Bernard’s or Caroline Forche’s – which I can see I will have to remedy as soon as I can. The poetry was as good as you would be led to believe by the brochure, and the Byre now sells ice cream in the intervals of the Centre Stage events, so boxes ticked there.
But the big thing that StAnza does is something I don’t think you get so much elsewhere. It doesn’t feel like a series of separate events, so much as one long poetry party. Poets don’t come, do their gig and disappear, they come to a lot of things, and hang about and chat in the Byre and the coffee shops. Because the Byre is not just the auditorium, it is genuinely a hub where you meet everyone (it’s a bit like Lisdoonvarna for that). And people come back every year, so you can look around the audience and see loads of people you know and find out what people are writing and who is being published this year, and projects are set up, connections made and faces you know from Facebook become actual people.
For a poet, if you don’t work in academia or publishing, there was also something else you don’t get everywhere. It was really important to spend several days with people for whom poetry is not a marginal activity, not private or sentimental or eccentric, but a subject of enormous range and importance, worthy of proper professional attention to technique and subject matter. It is important to see how poets take on the important issues of the world, and how practice in the arts relates to other aspects of life. And beyond that, it was very good to see women talking about their work, and claiming the right to take it seriously and to have it taken seriously, in the way men do, and women often seem to apologise for.
StAnza is a gift to poets, at every level, and we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Board, all the volunteers – most of whom come back every year too, and the team – especially Eleanor Livingstone and Annie Rutherford, who take care of every detail, who seem to know everyone and remember all the names, who keep calm in the face of every crisis that blows up, from cancelled gigs to venue switches, corona virus to pens for poets to sign their books. Thank you all, and see you next year!