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StAnza - Scotland's Poetry Festival

Held annually in the historic town of St Andrews, StAnza is the only regular festival in Scotland which is dedicated entirely to poetry.  While showcasing the best in Scottish verse, it has been from the outset an international and all encompassing festival - a celebration of poetry, in fact.

Poetry Boat arrives; Photo: Claire Maynard

The StAnza organisation was launched in 1998 by three St Andrews-based poets: Brian Johnstone and Anna Crowe - both of whom are still closely involved in the running of the festival - together with Founding Director Gavin Bowd. The first StAnza Festival opened on National Poetry Day that year, proving an immediate hit with audiences.

From then until 2003, the festival was held each October, but was relaunched in 2003 as a Spring festival, when Brian Johnstone and Anna Crowe became joint Directors. Since it started it has gone from strength to strength and is now recognised as the major poetry event in Scotland.  It is one of the UK's leading poetry festivals, attracting audiences from across the country and beyond.

One of StAnza’s main aims is to bring to audiences the best of Scottish poets, and over the years has featured a strong list of leading poets including John Burnside, Kate Clanchy, Stewart Conn, Robert Crawford, Carol-Ann Duffy, Douglas Dunn, Kathleen Jamie, Jackie Kay, Liz Lochhead, Aonghas Macneacail, Edwin Morgan, Don Paterson and Alistair Reid. Numerous poets from countries around the world have also been featured, including those from as far apart as Australia, Jamaica, Canada and Tunisia to name only a few. For more information about the numerous local, national and international poets who have appeared at past festivals, please visit the StAnza website.

From the start, the festival has incorporated talks, lectures, discussions and other interactive sessions involving editors, publishers, critics and academics, as well as a programme of workshops. This area has been further developed in recent years with a series of In Conversation events and Meet the Artist sessions and Masterclasses. Workshops are run for both adults and children, and poets and poetry tutors work in schools, colleges and with students in the University School of English.

2005 Festival

The 2005 festival - one of the organisation's most ambitious to date - was launched on Thursday 17 March by the American Consul in Scotland, Cecile Shea. The festival's Stateside Poets theme was inaugurated by two of the festival's distinguished visitors, Mark Doty and Jane Hirschfield.

In 2005 more than 70 poets and other writers from the UK and abroad took part in an exciting programme of events, which ran from Thursday 17 until Sunday 20 March. The themes of the 2005 festival were 'Body and Soul' and 'Stateside Poets', these elements running through much of the festival's programme. Kathleen Jamie reading; Photo: Claire Maynard

The 55 events included readings, talks, exhibitions, book launches, children's events, open mic sessions and late night poetry and jazz. Interactive sessions included an intruiging range of discussions - prize winning poets and competition judges consider 'Why Poetry Competitions?' while poets and translators debated the processes and pitfalls of interpretation in 'Version or Translation?' This, and a third discussion on setting verse, included time for audience questions and participation.

Ian Stephen workshop; Photo: Claire Maynard Masterclasses and workshops also formed part of the festival. One example of this is the public session with Jane Hirschfield - an in-depth masterclass on the poems of selected participants, featuring readings by participants, comments on each other's work and opportunities for audience involvement.

A chance to engage with Love Poetry when Eva Salzman led a thematic creative writing workshop, to explore bookbinding and artist's books in 'Containing Words' with Rachel Hazell or to 'break bread with the dead' in the company of American poet and undertaker Thomas Lynch. These are only three examples of the many workshops that took place over the festival's four days.

Readings, of course, played a prominent part and all of the poets already mentioned were featured in StAnza's extensive series of readings. Audiences saw quality performances by Sharon Olds, whose confessional, often shockingly physical poems about love and family have been described as 'fire in the hand'; from her fellow American resident in Britain Tamar Yoseloff; and from this side of the Atlantic Roger McGough, Douglas Dunn, David Constantine, Maura Dooley, Colette Bryce, WN Herbert, Tom Pow and many more. And for local or visiting poets the StAnza open-mic sessions took place on 17 and 18 March with a generous selection of open mic floor spots.

This is just an outline of the many events that took place during the 2005 Festival. To read more about the launch of the festival, its 78 participants from 9 different countries, its 55 events - of which 24 were free - in 11 venues around St Andrews; its wide variety of presentations designed to draw everyone into poetry and the festival's celebration of it, please visit the StAnza website.

I McDonough reading; Photo: Claire Maynard

Poetry events for children

This year, with seven events spread over three days, the Children’s Programme had almost twice as many events as in 2004.

Developed since the new directors took over in 2001, the Children's Programme can claim such breaks as Carol-Ann Duffy's first children's reading, appearances by leading children's poets like Kit Wright and in-schools work from the distinguished poetry teacher, Jill Pirrie.

Topping the bill for the 2005 Children's programme was Michael Morpurgo, the UK’s Children’s Laureate, who appeared at StAnza’s first ever children’s book launch on Saturday 19 March, where he and co-editor Jane Feaver read from their latest anthology of poetry for children – Cock Crow. Michael also appeared alongside Roger McGough in a performance specially designed for junior poetry fans while other children's writers such as Tom Pow and Diana Hendry ran workshops and participated in further celebrations at the StAnza Kids' Poetry Party on 20 March.

Other events for children included the Poetry Circus, a junior book-making workshop and a welcome return from the extraordinary musical performer John Sampson. For more information on events for children throughout this year's festival, please visit the StAnza website.

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Supported by the National Lottery through the Scottish Arts Council

See also
* StAnza
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