StAnza Poetry Festival: St.Andrews, Scotland - March 2016
StAnza is one of the UK’s principal poetry festivals, respected around the world, and drawing in a really admirable range of poets and events and audiences. It’s a remarkable achievement, bringing so much energy and enthusiasm to so many different notions of what poetry is and can be, through events, workshops and all manner of innovative programming. I was very pleased then, having had many friends attend and perform, to be part of the festival in 2016, and could not have been better treated or had a better time sharing my work through readings, performances, discussions and workshops. http://stanzapoetry.org/festival/poets-artists/fowler / www.theenemiesproject.com/stanza
I arrived with the festival in full swing, on Friday March 5th, just before the main weekend of events. I had a chance to explore the gothic architecture of St.Andrews, having never visited the place before, walking the length of the famous West Sands. StAnza has a great impact on the town and most events seemed sold out. People in the audience had travelled from around the world to attend. Saturday was my intense day of events, involved in four different activities, alongside some really brilliant poets and thinkers..
I began as part of a panel discussing the body and poetry, one of the themes of this year’s festival. I had the chance to talk about collaboration and the history of poetry and its alignment with overarching trends in Western thought, and the Cartesian mind / body separation (myth) and its connection to the equally pernicious myth of singularity and theological inspiration which pervades poetry still, before destroying one of my books and handing it out to the audience to read, in an act against these old ideas. It seemed to be enjoyed, not an act of destruction really, but hopefully, one of dissemblage, community, sharing, thankfulness for hospitality, and it was great to be alongside poets and artists I admired uniformly with Aase Berg (who I interviewed back in 2010 and met for the first time) , Andrew McMillan (whose work I've followed for sometime, admire and met for the first time), Justin Stephenson (who I'd share an event with the following day), Clare Best (who spoke brilliantly, honestly and whose poetry was a grand discovery) and Eleanor Livingstone (the director of the festival, to whom I owe my very presence). They all of showed a genuinely considered and sophisticated notion of their own work and the ideas surrounding our discussion, it was as good a space to talk that I could've hoped for.
A quick lunch and then over to the Town Hall from the Byre Theatre, to lead a three hour workshop on collaboration with a practical end, a Camarade event, to take place in the midst of the festival’s lively bookfair. 15 poets attended, able to do so on the day or via application beforehand. I enjoy being able to engage people so immediately and work with them on a practise which is complimentary to whatever their normal writing method is. In the end 5 pairs of poets read brand new works to the audience, not a word having been written just 3 hours before they did. I wrote a piece with my friend and poet in residence Harry Man, where we both introduced each other with slightly edited bios, just slightly. All the videos - www.theenemiesproject.com/stanza
Then to the foyet of the Byre Theatre, where Eleanor Livingstone introduced a large communal reading performance she had commissioned me to lead, after seeing me do something similar in Berlin. An anthology of poetry dedicated to the refugees of the current crisis in Europe was respectfully dissembled and then all those, poets and audience alike, who had assembled for the evening’s events were given a page each and en masse, read. This cacophony, and the private experience of reading, and not just listening, amongst the tumult, was a symbolic act of solidarity and great intervention in the space of the festival I was pleased to be a part of. These things are gestures, metaphors, they are not intended to produce literal effect, but to bring the subtle energy of attention to issues that might make everyone, collectively, reflect on our fortune and our responsibilities from that position of comfort. It was a political act in its happening, not necessarily in its content, and this is something I'm passionate about - that political engagement through poetry must be voluntary, supportive and accessible. I hope this was that. An excellent article about the performance was written by Rebecca Monks for The List https://www.list.co.uk/article/79072-opinion-stanza-2016-shows-poetry-and-politics-are-necessary-bedfellows
The following day allowed me further time to explore St.Andrews and catch up with old friends from across the world, before I had the privilege of hosting a discussion with the Canadian film-maker Justin Stephenson, who had become a new friend, and the force behind a wonderful film exploring the life and legacy of bp nichol. I've taught nichol and his work is really important to me, for his range, his prolific productivity and his reputation for blending challenging content with a sense of humour and outward friendliness and affability. nichol is one of the key figures I aspire to follow, and so to see that Justin's film would be on at the festival, I jumped at the chance to be involved. You can watch the trailer here, and the full film really does great justice to nichol's legacy, embodying his work rather than merely documenting it. Justin and I proceeded to discuss how it came to be and his long standing connection to nichol's work and the access Ellie Nichol provided for the film to happen. A really wonderful way to end my activities with the festival.
The following day I departed, travelling back to London accompanied by other poets including my friend Harry Man, the poet in residence of the festival. Such occasions are always bracketed off from one's usual routine, and normally infused with pace and energy for those who seek that, as Harry and I do. Rarely are they so brilliantly organised, carefully balanced and curated, and so full of generous and affable poets, artists and audiences.