StAnza International Poetry Festival 2012 - round-up

Events at St Andrews festival encourage debate across artforms

One of the two themes for this year’s StAnza International Poetry Festival in St Andrews was The Image, and on the last day of the festival this theme was pushed in very different directions to explore poetry’s relationship with classic film, seventeenth century art and beloved children’s TV.

The Split Screen event was the launch of a new anthology of the same name, published by Red Squirrel. Twenty poets from the book read poems they had written inspired by film, TV and advertising, with subjects as diverse as Tom & Jerry, Doctor Who, and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The first of the poems, written and read by anthology editor Andy Jackson, was a loving vignette to The Clangers, read first 'in the original Clang' (a series of mournful whistles) and then 'in translation', while Dunbar poet Colin Will’s gung-ho impression of Yoda’s topsy-turvy syntax in his reading was one of several writers revealing a devotion to classic cinema. Probably one of the only StAnza events with a commercial break, the event also featured poems inspired by adverts, and finished appropriately enough with Sally Evans’ poem ‘Closedown’.

After this celebration of the joyful and inspirational power of cinema, Lyn Moir explored the depths of the still image in a poetic tour of Velázquez’s Las Meninas. Half poetry reading, half art history lecture, Moir’s poems included character monologues from the minds of the depicted figures, with ‘When I am Queen’ as a soliloquy from the luminous princess in the centre of the image, and ‘All done by mirrors’ figuring Velázquez as a Victorian stage magician boasting of his skills of artistic misdirection.

Moir’s poems opened out the painting to make audible the thoughts and conversations suggested in the faces of its characters, but she was also interested in the dialogue created through later artists’ responses to Las Meninas, and Picasso in particular. Moir’s mission to explore every angle of this painting was similar to Picasso’s own in her attempt through poetry to step inside the image and look around.

There was a return to film in Psycho Poetica, a poetic reworking of Hitchcock’s Psycho performed by Simon Barraclough, Isobel Dixon and Joe Dunthorne. Like the film’s twelve vacancies at Bates’ motel, Barraclough has split the film into twelve sections each assigned to a different writer to inspire a poem in response.

First performed at the British Film Institute in 2010, this pared down version for StAnza had each poem accompanied by a projected still image from the corresponding part of the film – a shower head from below, an eye, a crack of light in a doorway – and a specially commissioned score by Oliver Barrett and Bleeding Heart Narrative. The effect was a parallel universe version of Psycho, with poetry that read like woozy psychological reports and fragmented witness statements, the film’s subconscious articulated through a score of deeper, crazier strings than the original.

The last day at StAnza held an overwhelming sense of poetry as a collaborative process; whether responding to favourite films or ancient paintings, the poets at these events were far from the stereotype of the lonely wandering bard. Very much in the spirit of an international festival, poets were responding to other writers and artists in these events to illuminate the familiar and see it from new camera angles, with effects that were by turns haunting, affectionate and bizarre.

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