Long-running Scotland-based poetry festival StAnza is usually a little beyond our reach, but this year we’re crossing borders and heading to St Andrews virtually as some of our local poets and presses fly the Manchester flag. Launched on National Poetry Day 1998, the StAnza festival has been offering online events since 2009 to create a dynamic mix of audio and digital, virtual and streamed formats, so they know what they’re doing.
It’s over to a couple of Manchester-based Carcanet Press writers for Poets at Home: Sasha Dugdale, moving away from bookcases, notepads and desks to wander the Downs, and Caroline Bird, winner of the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Collection with The Air Year.
One such strand is called Poets at Home, new for the virtual 2021 festival, with acclaimed poets inviting you into their personal spaces to sneak a peek into their writing processes and set-ups. First aired on the dates shown, these free events will be captioned and remain available to watch until 31 March. The series kicks off on Monday 8 March with Ella Frears, whose debut, Shine, Darling, was shortlisted for 2020’s Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry, followed by Felix Dennis First Collection Prize-winner Will Harris on Tuesday 9 March talking you through his notebooks. On Wednesday 10 March and Friday 12 March, it’s over to a couple of Manchester-based Carcanet Press writers for Poets at Home: Sasha Dugdale, moving away from bookcases, notepads and desks to wander the Downs, and Caroline Bird, winner of the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Collection with The Air Year, who’ll be chatting about the difficulty of writing poetry in lockdown. On Saturday 13 March, Malika Booker – winner of the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem, Manchester Writing School lecturer and one of the judges for the Manchester Writing Competition – will explain how a hammock features in her working day.
Bringing StAnza to you wherever you are, the annual StAnza Masterclass is this year led by Colette Bryce, on Sunday 7 March, while the StAnza Lecture: Access All Areas, complete with Zoom Q&A, sees Jacqueline Saphra talking form and revolution on Thursday 11 March. From virtual poetry walks along the Fife Coastal Path to Inspire Sessions and workshops, more than 90 poets will take part in 100 events. Poetry Please presenter Roger McGough leads Poetry Pie, a special event for children aged seven to 11, and you can join in Round Table sessions with the likes of TS Eliot prize-winner Roger Robinson (Thursday 11 March) and Imtiaz Dharker, holder of the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry and poet-in-residence and guest director of the most recent Chester Literature Festival (Tuesday 9 March).
With Poetry Centre Stage, you can enjoy readings from the likes of Raymond Antrobus and Inua Ellams, or – new for 2021 – unwind at the end of the day with some poetry at bedtime. Get Between The Covers with Rachel Long’s audio event on Saturday 13 March (recording available until 31 March) – “Narrative and surreal, immediate and sardonic, Rachel’s debut collection, My Darling From The Lions, appeared in 2020 with Picador.”
Also described as “sleepover style” is the annual late-night StAnza Slam on the last Saturday night, MCed by Hannah Raymond-Cox, a former StAnza slam champion and current Barbican Young Poet. You’re encouraged to “join us in your jammies and with a mug of cocoa or a glass of wine.” Other spoken word events include the Friday-night digital open mic Risk A Verse with slam talent including BBC Fringe Slam finalist Courtney Conrad and a Poetry Café reading with Desree on Sunday 14 March.
The StAnza programme always features performers from all corners of the globe and over the years has showcased poets from more than 50 countries worldwide, promoting readings in foreign and minority languages, including Gaelic and Scots. This year, Breakfast at the Poetry Café sees translators chatting about transposing poems from Slavic languages, while Russian poet Maria Stepanova reads alongside her translator Sasha Dugdale in one of the Poetry Centre Stage events. On 9 March, Manchester-based Tania Hershman (until recently the writer-in-residence of Southern Cemetery) joins the University of St Andrews’ Peter Mackay/Padraig MacAoidh and North Macedonian poets and translators Mitko Gogov and Katica Kulavkova to present new work and talk about the process of collaborating, in Found In Translation, supported by the British Council.
There’s even a virtual café bar where you can catch up with festival friends and you can have a little bit of the festival sent to you in the form of postcards or window poems, while the poetry hotline Dial-a-Poem is just a phone call away. Most of the events are free, or offered on a Pay What You Can basis to make it accessible to all, although you are welcome to make a donation. Books by festival poets are available via St Andrews indie bookshop J&G Innes. See the StAnza website for full details.