An oddity of this year's StAnza is that one of the most defining events for me was something I wasn't at. I refer, of course, to the poetry breakfast on the Friday, on the topic "Where are all the Scottish poets under 40?" I was dying to hear about it and asked one or two people on the Friday -- Colin Donati and Claire Askew, to be precise -- what had been said and what they'd thought of it.
However, it was Bill Manhire who really turned it into to the defining event. Towards the end of his masterclass on the Saturday morning, he referred to having been at an event "where people were saying there were no Scottish poets under 40". Ahem, 'scuse me. This is a Scottish poet under 40*.
After the masterclass, Rob A Mackenzie, Ross Wilson and I asked Manhire about his comment. He said that everyone on the panel for the breakfast seemed to be in agreement that there were no Scottish poets under 40. I was, as you can imagine, pretty exercised by this. However, I was also sure the poetry breakfast discussion was more nuanced than his memory of it. It was about the dearth but not absence of Scottish poets in my generation. In fact, the panel included a Scottish poet under 40: Christie Williamson (although Christie, being a Shetlander, would hesitate to define himself as Scottish). And I already knew from my conversations the previous night that Cheryl Follon and I had been mentioned in the discussion.
But if what came over to Bill Manhire was that we don't exist at all, what did others hear? You can hear a bit of the discussion for yourself on the Friday podcast, but all it does for me is leave me itching to hear the whole thing, which will be possible at some point in the coming weeks. I don't want to rehash the recent discussion on Rob's blog, but if anyone has anything to add to that, comment here by all means.
I'm particularly interested in where we go from here, and am glad to see that Colin Will is taking that tack on his blog. Maybe we need to start by making a greater effort to celebrate and encourage the poets we do have in my generation and below, whatever stage they're at, and Colin W's suggestion of a pamphlet series akin to the tall-lighthouse Pilot one is good in that respect.
I reckon we also need urgently to bolster and co-ordinate the opportunities for learning (and, therefore, teaching) poetry writing outside the university creative writing MScs. These courses are, of course, good in themselves, but they seem to have had the unintended consequence of narrowing opportunities beyond the academy. They simply aren't affordable to everybody, for one thing. Informal networks can be great, but have they shrunk too? It's great for individual writers to start independent workshops, but perhaps we can do more for one another by working together. Maybe we need to see whether a Scottish Poetry School or a Scottish curriculum for the Poetry School is possible.
Much as it might satisfy the dour and dreich side of our national character, let's not have our visitors going back to their countries telling everyone that Scottish poetry is doomed by a lack of young(er) blood**.I'll post separately about the masterclass and other events from the Saturday at StAnza.
*The grey hair, folks, has been gradually colonising my scalp since I was 12.
**Happily, our friends in Turin obviously don't think that.