Sammy Says: StAnza Poetry Festival 2018



StAnza, StAnza, StAnza Poetry Festival. It is only part of the reason that I moved back to the UK. I love it. Going to St Andrews for StAnza is returning to my poetic birthplace. I read at my first open mic at Zest and I received my first paycheck for performing poetry at StAnza.

It was such an honour to be invited back as a participant liaison. Quite a different job than previously, much more calm. Usually, I ran from venue to venue organizing box office volunteers and poetry actors and student open mics and student press. This time, I helped poets get to their venues. And that was it. Other than appreciate and enjoy the magical time that is StAnza Poetry Festival.

This year was the Year of Young People, and I was so very excited to have two of my friends in the programme: Morag Wells and Hannah Raymond-Cox.

StAnza began for me with Morag’s Poetry Walk around St Andrews. I forgot how beautiful St Andrews is, and nearly wept on the pier as Morag read a poem by Robert Crawford. And when she read Fidan Gasimova’s poem, “In May” – ah! Elation. I published the poem with my friend Vera Linder in our journal Poesia Poetry because we loved it, and to hear it read aloud at a poetry festival!

After the walk, STV came and filmed us about StAnza. It was rather surreal, going back and forth pretending we were still on our walk. If you saw it, you’d think the only people who like poetry are young, beautiful, intellectual women, which is very very true!

This year, as I am no longer a student, I found the Past and Present lectures sponsored by the School of English particularly interesting. I have decided to give John Ashbery another chance after hearing Dr Oli Hazzard speak, despite how annoyingly pretentious I found “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror“. Jess Orr’s talk on Olive Fraser had me itching to read more about this woman who either “charmed or alarmed” and Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri’s talk on Faiz Ahmed Faiz inspired me to find out more about this radical leftist activist poet! The more I live in London the more poetry for poetry’s sake makes me sick.

The Poetry Cafés are always fantastic, especially with a wee half pint and a macaroni pie. Nothing goes better with poetry! Except perhaps red wine. Catherine Wilson, of the Loud Poets group, was fantastic from her Irn Bru earrings to her surreal dream swimming pool poem. And of course, Hannah Raymond-Cox! She performed part of her one-woman spoken word show Polaris. Ah, it was an emotional narrative of personal introspection. How I recognized her poems throughout the years, a line here, a line there. It really came together, and I wish I could have gone to see it during the summer.

And then, thank you Eleanor and Annie – I was assigned to be the participant liaison for Sinead Morrissey. I get so fangirly around rather strange people, and she is one of them. I didn’t really know what to say, so I just took in the soft way she walked, the timbre of her talk, and babbled on about Newcastle. Her reading was intimate and friendly. She asked the group to request poems from her latest collection On Balance and, how they came alive. She shared with us her belief that poetry is architecture, that poetry is 3D and explained how she builds her poems on the page. Such precision! I left in awe.

She also said right near the end:

“I remember the exact moment when I was 24 – I thought poetry was an utterance, that if you just listened it came to you, and you let it out on the page. But at 24, that voice stopped and so I had to be creative in a different way.”

24! I am 24. What was it Sinead? I need to know!

The nights came together with the Poetry Centre Stage. A full forty-five minutes with each poet, the length of a coffee date. Pippa Little was so sweet and warm and Mark Ford was lefts and surreal. Both great poets, and yet so different in style, tone, and topic.


And the final night, the Slam! I attended every year while studying at St Andrews, and there I was again sitting in the Byre approaching midnight. Every year I look forward to the Slam, and every year I hope Sally Evans wins. She was there, and her poem about two women chatting on the train was hilariously real. Yet, it was Jo Gilbert who took our hearts and wrote them out on the stage! It was quite the night, and ended as tradition with a pint at Aikmans.

Ah, StAnza, every year, new questions, new thoughts, new poets!  StAnza truly brings together an eclectic and international community of poets; it is poetry perfection. I can’t wait for next year.


StAnza Poetry Festival took place on March 7th – March 11, 2018 in St Andrews, Fife, Scotland.

If you are interested in coming next year – follow them at @StAnzaPoetry