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‘Poetry is life distilled,’ declared writer Gwendolyn Brooks. And that’s exactly what StAnza – Scotland’s international poetry festival – sets out to prove. Taking place every March in the seaside town of St. Andrews, poets and poetry-lovers from around the world come to celebrate the beauty and enduring importance of verse, as well as explore some of the most pressing issues in our society today.
Conceived in 1997 by St. Andrews-based poets Brian Johnstone, Anne Crowe and Gavin Bowd, the first iteration of StAnza included poets John Burnside and Paul Durcan. Since then, StAnza has hosted Poet Laureates from the past and present, such as Irish luminary Seamus Heaney, and major contemporary artists from over 50 countries. In over two decades StAnza has grown from an endeavour between a trio of friends, to a major European festival.
With over 100 events each year across the four-day programme, StAnza truly has something for everyone. For passionate consumers of verse, there will be readings and performances from the best established and up-and-coming poets around the world. And for the aspiring poet, StAnza offers workshops on different topics, as well as open mic nights and ‘Inspire Sessions,’ which offer writing prompts to inspire participants to take up their pen.
With a mission to ‘bring poetry to audiences and enable encounters with poetry,’ the organisers of StAnza are out to refute common dismissals of poetry as arcane and outdated. Poetry can, in fact, be a potent vehicle for confronting some of the most fraught subjects of our day. In light of the current political climate surrounding nationhood and identity, a central theme of the festival this year will be ‘Borderlines‘ – how poetry and art can inspire empathy across divisions, both geographical and personal, and how the blurring of distinctions can lead to new fertile ground for creativity.
Indeed, StAnza has no intention of staying in its lane and conforming to traditional conceptions of what poetry is or should be. Determinedly cross-disciplinary, StAnza invites visual artists, theatre and digital practitioners to engage with poetry in their chosen medium. One of their most famous projects is the digital Poetry Map of Scotland, an interactive map that catalogues poetry written about specific places in Scotland. The hope is that one day, every inch of the country will be covered with poetry – every firth, town, loch and munro.
Not only are words a focal point to this festival, but language is as well. As a Scottish festival, StAnza shines a spotlight on traditional as well as new writing in Scots and Gaelic. Highlighting the importance of showcasing poetry in a diversity of national languages, as well as regional and dialect tongues, StAnza has a different language focus each year. This year the theme is ‘Going Dutch,’ which will showcase poetry in Dutch, Flemish and Frisian, as well as film and art installations celebrating the poetic history of the Low Countries.
Having recently unveiled a 2018 programme that promises to be bigger, deeper and more electrifying than ever before, the only question that remains is – what are you waiting for? Tickets go on sale 17 January, so there’s no time to waste. As the poet e. e. cummings once shouted at an indifferent audience: ‘Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.’