Where to begin...!
A brilliant weekend, so much packed into a couple of days, so much to take in. I left home at 11am on the Friday and got to St. Andrews at 5.30pm, which seems a ridiculous amount of journeying time for the distance between here and St.Andrews but such is the joy of boat, train and bus connections! Found the B&B which was about five mins walk from the bus station and the centre of town was a further two mins walk from the B&B, so fantastically handy!
By the time I had settled in and grabbed something to eat it was time to get to the Byre Theatre for my first event which was a reading by Paul Farley followed by Marilyn Hacker. Two very different poets, it was nice to have the contrast. I hadn't read much of either before the reading so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Farley was hilarious, a Liverpudlian, great at introducing his poems and telling stories between the poems. My favourite poem from his reading was 'Liverpool Disappears for a Billionth of a Second', a funny yet strange, surreal poem with a sinister edge. You can hear him read it on youtube here, worth listening to.
Marilyn Packer is an American poet who now lives in Paris. It was hard to take in her reading without being familiar with her work on the page. Having looked at her poems since I wish I could go back and hear her read again, the language and imagery is densely packed and in tightly controlled forms. I'm glad to have come across her and I'll be watching out for her work.
After the readings I stayed at the Byre theatre bar for the Open Mic session. It was good to catch up with folk like Ross Wilson who is being published by Calder Wood Press next year and blab on about poetry into the small hours. Also funny to meet familiar internet names in the flesh and realise just what a small community this poetry lark is!
I read a couple of poems at the open mic, I didn't make any effort to practise them beforehand foolishly thinking that after doing two proper readings I was somehow an old hand at it. Big mistake, the nerves took hold when I stepped up to the mic and I mumbled through my poems. Some folk afterwards said I did well but I think they were just being kind. Anyway there was a great range of folk reading at the open mic from songs to poems in Scots, poems in French and poems in Arabic!
The next morning the first event for me was the workshop with Claire Crowther which I had been so looking forward to and I wasn't disappointed. It was on a 13th century form called the Fatrasie and its later development into the Fatras. A kind of nonsense poetry, playful, energetic with talking animals and flying objects etc but also in a tightly controlled form. There were, I think, thirteen of us at the workshop. Apart from the Douglas Dunn masterclass a couple of years back I've never really been to a poetry workshop so it was slightly scary seeing who the other participants were including Sarah Howe whose poems I've admired when I've seen them in literary mags and Paula Jennings whose Happenstance pamphlet I picked up last year and thoroughly enjoyed. Claire Crowther herself was lovely and I was pleased to pick up a copy of her new pamphlet, a series of fatrasies on the theme of body fat (!!) which I'm really enjoying. By the end of the workshop we had all written a fatrasie and read them aloud to the group. I think everyone did really well, I loved the general idea of the form especially the introductory distich/couplet which consists of the first and last lines of the poem. It's kind of revealing seeing where you started in a poem compared to how you ended up and I found it really interesting bringing both of these parts together, it's something I'm certainly going to be thinking about incorporating in future poems.
The next event I went to was the Hugh McMillan reading which was fantastic. This was the first time I'd heard Hugh (shug!) read, though I've been following his blog for years now. Absolutely hilarious, he read some of my favourites of his poems and the audience was in constant guffaws. As a history teacher, history (esp, Scottish history) makes a constant appearance in his poems, his own humourous take on it anyway which as he rightly pointed out, goes for all of history - it all comes down to someone's take on it. The funny, clever poems gave way to quieter, personal poems with beautiful imagery and wry humour. Definitely a highlight of the week-end!
After that I went to a 'Past and Present' event to hear Helena Nelson talk about Ruth Pitter and Carrie Etter talk about Barbara Guest. I had picked up Pitter's 'Persephone in Hades' a few years back when it was produced as a pamphlet by Happenstance and really enjoyed her nature imagery so it was interesting to hear a little more about her and her life.
The Carrie Etter talk, however, was one of those little miracle moments. I knew next to nothing about Barbara Guest, the name is familiar so I know I've come across her but really couldn't tell you anything about her. When Etter spoke about Guest's poetry it was as if she was talking about all the things I've been mulling over in my head about poetry over the last while such as "viewing the poem holistically (as one lived experience) as a painting rather than trying to decipher it line by line" and "having a tension-filled balance between sound and the visual, between the music and the imagery". It was a kind of a relief to hear someone talk about this, confirm for me how I want to push my own writing.
Then I went to the round table reading with artist Jila Peacock reading Hafez and showing us her gorgeous illustrations of his poems in a Persian script, similar to Arabic script, shaped in the form of a different animal for each poem. It was as just as delightful as it sounds, plus it was in a 16th century room in St. Mary's College, one of the oldest parts of St. Andrews University where in the quad there is a giant holm oak which bloomed in a perfect circle like some kind of weird archetypal image and which frankly gave me the heebies!
That left the main Saturday night reading which was by Philip Gross and Selima Hill. Gross talked about obsessions inbetween reading his poems. How his TS Eliot winning collection The Water Table came out of an obsession of writing about the changing landscape of a body water as he commuted across it when his real intention was to write a collection of poems about the Welsh countryside. He read lots of water poems, imagining watery gardens, which I enjoyed.
I found Selima Hill's reading slightly uncomfortable, read a lot of poems about neglected babies which, as a mum to a one year old, I could hardly bear to listen to. Excellent poet, though she seemed incredibly uncomfortable herself during the reading which, for me, was begging the question ought we expect our poets not only to write poetry but also to get out there and perform it for us? Anyway, she told us the last reading she gave was to a room full of Harvard students whom she likened to reading to a pack of racehorses, "they were so beautifully immaculate and sleek". Couldn't get this wonderful image out of my head for the rest of the night!
After this I avoided the slam and went for a late night walk (in true west coast style with a bag of chips and a can of irn-bru) by the shore, such a beautiful still night and the moon lighting up the cathedral ruins.
The next morning my final event was the Ciaran Carson Masterclass. My poems weren't picked so I could relax in the audience and enjoy it. Most of Carson's advice could be summed up in 'precision, precision, precision' and beware of abstractions etc. He also said
"All we write about is accuracy. Not what you have in mind but what you arrive at through poetry"It's something I've been pondering on since.
I've come home to, excitingly, find Colin arranging my pamphlet. I've picked the cover picture and now I've got to work out acknowledgements, biog etc etc so if anyone has a wonderful sum-up quote about my poems then pass it on to me ;)