StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival kicked off last night with a inaugural address from First Minister Alex Salmond, and the immolation of sculpter David Mach’s Robert Burns match stick head – Rabbie burns… Rabbie burning… Rabbie burnt. Now,the 12th annual festival is well under way…
Taking cues from this year’s government incentive the theme is ‘Homecoming2009’ and a selection ofScottish poets have taken their own nostos back to Stanza including the first NewZealand poet laureate Bill Manhire, Oxford-dwelling Kate Clanchy, StephenScobie from ex-pat haven Canada and Peter McCarey who currently resides in Switzerland. The events are as varied as the countries from which the poets are ‘returning’, today I’ve taken in readings, discussions, a film and the unique,brilliantly perplexing ‘The Syllabary’ project by Peter McCarey (I doubt myability – or that of anyone but McCarey himself – to explain it in any detail so see for yourself at www.knot.ch).
An odd undercurrent ran through last night’s opening speeches, especially when considering the national pride that an event like can embody: self-deprecation.Scots have never been adverse to having a laugh at their own expense, but combining this sentiment with the burning of the national bard – could you imagine a burning effigy of Wordsworth? – seems to establish this as a Scottish characteristic. Which poses the question: why? A humour addiction could be one answer – we’ll inject it anywhere and everywhere – and given the weather and our football side this is definitely plausible, humour as a defense mechanism:’if you don’t laugh you cry’. Or is it ‘little nation syndrome’ that gives every sip of pride this aftertaste of modesty?
Self-deprecation can act as a safety net against failure. Going by what I’ve seen at Stanza this precautionary measure is redundant. We need appreciation not deprecation. Myknowledge of the world of poetry here and now is shamefully lacking so my time here’s given me the chance to sit back and appreciate what I’ve been missing.Peter McCarey’s re-affirmed my faith in a contemporary avant garde, the turn-out has shown that there’s an interested audience and the discussions tellof an assured, questioning conscious in poets and punters alike. Whilst Homecoming might be the word on everyone’s lips, the past day and a half has been a discovery of what that home contains. And I find that idea much more exciting.