Monday, March 23, 2009

StAnza: Repetition, Surrealism and Hestiation

St Andrews was bathed in glorious sunshine this weekend past for StAnza, even if there was a bit of a chill to the wind. It certainly brought to mind Alastair Reid's "Scotland", famously burnt by the man himself two years ago. Reid was there in spirit, as you can hear in the podcast exerpt of Jay Parini's lecture (recommended). However, this year, Rabbie was doing the burning, what with it being the year of homecoming. Now that inevitably brings to mind Bill Herbert's "Rabbie, Rabbie Burning Bright". But I digress.

Anyway, I had a fantastic time at StAnza, despite the stressful lead-up on Friday trying to get my books to arrive at a time and place convenient for Saturday's poets' market. Somebody at the distributors -- not at Salt, I stress -- had cocked up, and the books I'd ordered in ample time had spent the whole week sitting in a warehouse in Eaglesham, I believe. Frantic Facebooking and phoning eventually sorted it out. Suffice to say that my box of The Ambulance Box made it to the Byre Theatre on Saturday morning after a Herculean effort of persuasion and, I imagine, plenty choice words from Tom and Jen at Salt. A huge thank you to them both.

As if that wasn't enough, when I got home from work I had no wallet. I was pushed for time as it was, but I had to phone up and cancel my cards and report it missing to the police. (I discover now that was in my desk at work. Numptie!) Still, without being a danger to myself or other drivers, I managed to check in to my B&B on the extreme southern edge of St Andrews and make it to the Byre with only moments to spare before Eleanor Livingstone walked onstage to introduce Bill Manhire and Simon Armitage.

I'd never heard Manhire before and the last time I'd heard Armitage was way back when I was a student. I particularly liked Manhire's "Hotel Emergencies" and "The Oral Tradition", which seemed to me to go places the other poems he read didn't touch. With Armitage, nothing stood out quite so strongly. The narrative poems he read sounded quite prosy, but I'd like to see how they read on the page. The more formal pieces came over better for me, though his use of repetition in some of them got too much. Sally Evans lampooned it quite sharply in the open mike. Armitage certainly overdid it, and I say that in full consciousness of how often I use repetition as a structural device.

There was quite a crowd in the Byre bar for the open mike, which followed the Manhire/Armitage event. As is often the case at these things, the bulk of the writing was comic verse, but there was plenty more serious stuff too. The standout readers for me were Allan Gillis, Rob A Mackenzie (whose choice of "Scotlands" was perfect on a number of levels), Kevin Cadwallader (whose line about the surrealist coppers I loved, though every time I saw him the rest of the weekend I forgot to tell him) and Judith Taylor. It was also good to hear Sorlil, who read much better than she seems to think, and Ross Wilson in particular. I read "Pedestrian", which went down well.

After the open mike, Rob, Ross and I headed pubward with Roddy Lumsden, Adam O'Riordan and a friend of Roddy's whose name, shamefully, continues to escape me. I fell into discussion with Adam and Ross about the SNP, devolution, independence, the West Lothian question and the lack of brilliant young left-wing politicians. That among other, more literary things, like. There were dark mutterings from StAnza student volunteers about a party of the fun kind, but the less said about that the better. Not that there is anything to say about it, because it didn't happen, due to misunderstandings, miscommunications and somebody deciding to stay in the student union. Just as well, really: it meant I could roll into bed by 2 am and be relatively compus mentus the next day.


Rob said...

Roddy's friend's name was Mark.

And that party! Anyway, it was very nice of them to invite us, but probably a good thing it didn't happen...

Andrew Philip said...

Mark, of course! (Sorry, Mark.)

It was nice of them to invite us, and there was genuine embarrassment when it didn't happen.

Sorlil said...

Thankyou, very nice of you to say so! Sounds like you had a nightmare of a time getting to StAnza, glad it all turned out well in the end. I know what you mean about the Armitage reading, there was one refrain in particular that I was begging him in my head not to read out again, lol.

Rachel Fox said...

I think perhaps Armitage was really wanting to go off to the land of Gawain. He read nothing but that at the intimate reading thing on the Saturday and it was really, really great! I've written about it at my place if you're interested.

Ross Wilson said...

"That party." Aye, a very good thing it didn't happen. I seem to recall three bottles of wine being placed on a table and "that" wouldn't have mixed well with the lager in my system.

Great meeting up with you and the others Andrew, and congratulations on the The Ambulance Box reprints. They've sold pretty quickly, eh?

Andrew Philip said...

Interesting observation, Rachel. I've not read his Gawain translation yet, but I've read very good things about it.

Andrew Philip said...

Aye, Ross, I'm fair chuffed about that.

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