I got back from Stanza at 10.30pm – about an hour ago and am severely regretting not writing this blog over the weekend. I even dragged my laptop all the way to St Andrews but it did not come out of its case once. I’ve had a really good weekend but I’m absolutely knackered. On Wednesday night I got to St Andrews at about 9.30pm which was strangely disorientating – to arrive in the dark I mean. I’d been teaching till 3pm and then caught the train after work so all I wanted to do was go to bed, but my stomach wouldn’t let me. I didn’t feel quite confident enough to go in search of somewhere to eat at night in a strange place and I was longing to get back to my room and just sit in bed in the lovely dressing gown that the B and B provided.
I was staying at the Glenderran Guest House and it was a really lovely place to stay – I’ve heard people say in the past that they’ve struggled to find somewhere to stay in St Andrews – I’d really recommend the B and B – the breakfast was really nice and Ray and Maggie, who own the B and B were very friendly and welcoming.
Anyway, on the Wednesday night I walked down to the nearest supermarket and got a banana, a bag of crisps and an Easter egg and then sat in bed and scoffed them all with a cup of tea. The next morning I went for a run down the beach by myself – 7k this time – I thought I could get away with putting on a bit of distance as I was running on lovely soft sand. My tendon was complaining a little bit but not too much.
On Thursday I did a school session at Madras College in St Andrews which was good fun and then later that afternoon I did my reading with John Dennison. It seemed to go down quite well. It was nice to get my ‘bits’ over and done with as well and be able to spend the rest of the weekend doing whatever I wanted.
I’m quite tired so I won’t go through all the things that happened this weekend but when I think back to my highlights they are a strange mix of things.
The most obvious one – the highlight in terms of reading terms was hearing Carolyn Forche who I’m ashamed to say I’d not heard of before, or at least I thought I hadn’t heard of her, until she read her famous ‘The Colonel’ poem, which I have read because I think it has been anthologised before. She cast a complete spell for the whole of her 45 minute reading. Unless a poet is amazing, I can get a bit fidgety, but it was only after she had finished and I got up to move and immediately sat back down again because I had pins and needles that I realised I hadn’t moved a muscle the whole time.
Her reading and performance were as good as my other favourites – which in case you’re interested are in no particular order – Clare Shaw, Kei Miller and Billy Letford.
These next favourite things might sound a bit strange and the people I’m talking about may be a bit concerned to find themselves on my favourites list, but I’m thinking about things that I will carry away with me and it will have to be the conversations I’ve had with three lovely blokes – Gerry Cambridge who edits The Dark Horse, Rob Mackenzie, the reviews editor for Magma and Ilya Kaminsky who also gave an amazing reading and talk during the festival. I met Gerry on the Saturday at the Book Fair and I immediately felt like I’d known him for ages, so much so that later on I got a bit confused, and thought maybe I did know him and had just forgotten. I even checked and asked him if we’d met before but no, apparently not! I only had the chance to have a longer conversation with Rob today but he is a great laugh and I think we have the same sense of humour. Again, I felt like I’d known him for ages – I suppose I have, in an online sense through social media. And lovely Ilya, I had met before at Poetry Parnassus, but it was nice to get to know him a bit more. I’ll never forget going to the bookshop with Ilya, which was like having a crash course in 20th century poetry. He is partly to blame for my ridiculously large (and we’re talking two bags full) of poetry books that I lugged back from St Andrews. One of my other favourite bits of the festival is going for 5k run with Helen Mort along the beach – it was nice and slow, which was good for me and we talked all the way down and all the way back. It was also lovely to have the chance to spend time with Paul Stephenson and Antony Christie this weekend as well. These things might not, on the outside, seem to have much to do with poetry, but to me they do. I think a good festival is made up of the bits between the readings, the conversations in the bar, the runs along the beach are just as important as the poetry. There were lots more people that I met who were lovely as well – Nigel Thompson, Kat Langton, – too many to list.
There is lots more I could say about the festival, but I’m going to stop there because I’m tired and I want to go to bed! But Fiona Moore is the blogger in residence and is doing a great job writing about her time at the festival over at her blog if you want to find out more about what has been going on at Stanza.
Here is Jennifer Copley with ‘When a Voice Moved Across the Water’ which is a trademark Jennifer Copley poem. It presents the reader with an unlikely situation, then proceeds to fill in the details in such a way that the surreal becomes completely logical and believable. The biblical tone of the title is carried on by the use of the language in the poem, with the little nod to the ‘blind leading the blind’, but she is also playing with myth with the mermaids and Icarus, who flies into the poem at the end. Myth, fairytales and biblical langauge are often mixed up in Jenny’s poems, so you start to forget where the boundaries are.
Jenny doesn’t need an introduction, but I will give her one anyway! Jenny has numerous books published: Ice, a pamphlet by Smith/Doorstop, House by the Sea and Unsafe Monuments by Arrowhead, Beans in Snow by Smokestack, Living Daylights by Happenstance, Mr Trickfeather by Like This Press and most recently Sisters by Smokestack. If you would like to find out more about Jenny’s work, have a look at her website
WHEN A VOICE MOVED UPON THE WATERS – Jennifer Copley
all the drowned, knowing it was their time,
kicked up from the ocean floor through mermaids
and shoals of fish, till they reached forgotten air.
Gathering themselves into groups
they struck out for dry land:
the blind towed by the un-blind, the limbless
clinging with their teeth to the ones in front,
bones being pushed ahead by bones.
It was dawn when they reached the shore,
shook salt from their hair, made fires,
dried those who could not help themselves.
And I saw my cousin and my aunt,
and I saw Icarus, heat steaming from his feathers,
and I saw my lover, still young, flicking water from her lashes
but I turned away so she would not find me.