The first of a series that will become a Blog-Fest!
My Writing Life
Ok, I am still slightly dizzy after two days at Stanza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival at St Andrew’s a week ago. Now I have had time to digest and feel able to share some of the highlights over the next two blog posts. The festival itself was five days and I packed as much poetry as I could into less than half the time. I felt quite proud at the end of Thursday having heard 8 poets in a day.
The themes this year were ‘Roads’ and ‘Heights,’ so there were lots of ( usually quite hairy) mountaineering and rock climbing poets and many travellers from as far apart as Iceland and Syria. Since returning I have been reflecting on the way that poets often have another activity that they devote a lot of time and energy to as well as their writing and which they often seem to find a wellspring of imagination and inspiration for their work. It is not so much that mountaineering poets write about mountains, although they do, but also that they find the act of climbing the mountains a source for the energy needed for their work and the way they approach it.
I garden as well as writing and for me gardening is an opportunity to empty my mind and do physical things quite routinely after which I can return to my desk refreshed.
The first reading I went to on Thursday was the first in a regular Stanza series, Border Crossings and featured the work of David Wilson, a climber and Janette Ayachi, a traveller. I bought David’s book Slope but unfortunately Janette had run out of copies, or I would have bought it as well. I loved Janette’s excitement about travelling to new places, and David quiet humour linked with metaphors of mountains. A really good beginning to the day.
The lunchtime session that came next could not have been more of contrast , with the noir of Steven Watt up against the lyrical gay love poetry of Katherine McMahon and both of them contemporary and immediate in their concerns. They are two young poets of contrasting ideas and presentation and both a joy to listen to. Their session was poetry lunch with a pie and a drink included in the price of the ticket.
Thus sustained I went on poets five and six of the day. I another very different session of Border Crossings. We heard from Maram Almaasri from Syria and Paul Stevenson who is British but lives in Paris. Both these readings reduced me and most of the audience either to tears, or certainly to feeling very choked up. Paul’s pamphlet was an account of the days after the Paris attacks and Maram’s poems reflecting the sad and desperate situation of her country.
Last and the highlight of the whole day, and for me of the whole festival, was the evening reading by Alice Oswald. Sold out as you can imagine, she held two hundred people listening in gripped silence for 45 minutes and wanting more at the end. I have struggled with her latest collection Falling Awake which I was given for Christmas, on the page, but from listening to her reading from it I learned that I should read it slowly and not too much at a time, as a kind of meditation. Truly wonderful!
You will all have to wait until next time for the second day of Stanza and for the booklet launch of my autumn writers group. So watch this space
My reading week
I finished Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On while still in St Andrews and particularly enjoyed his collected essays about his plays and their productions included in the second half. I am afraid it is detective stories now as the holidays approach!
Hare n the Headlights
I chickened out of reading at the open mic. at stanza, but got my courage together for the April poets this week, of which more next time.