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Voices Distant and Proximate

16/11/2009

Surprise, surprise: St Andrews was damp and cold when I arrived there yesterday for Distant Voices. How many StAnza memories are wrapped in that grey mizzle? Still, the Byre Theatre was as inviting as ever. After the five or six festivals I’ve been to, it’s becoming something of a home from home. A small crowd was gathering when I walked in the doors, a mix of StAnzistas, readers and pure audience. Over the course of the three or so hours I was there, the faces and numbers fluctuated at the edges, but remained steady at a respectable number for a wet afternoon in a corner of Fife.

The poets from Tbilisi kicked off the readings entirely in Georgian. A bold move, and good on them, if a bit tough on the St Andrews audience! They came through loud and clear without a technical hitch to speak of but, unfortunately, the same wasn’t true of Geneva. The Skype call to Peter McCarey and co kept dropping, so we were cut off — twice — in the midst of a sound poem, replaced with the blip-bip-dip-a-dipp-a of the Skype dialing tone. That was a huge shame, but at least the next slot was St Andrews, so Lyn Moir, Anna Crowe and I could step into the breach and read a little more than planned.

I opened the extended Byre reading with “Summa” and “Tae a Lousy Piper”, a Burns pastiche and diatribe against the dire busking bagpipers of Edinburgh, who seem far greater in number than the capable busking pipers. Then came Lyn, reading from her new, freshly launched pamphlet, Easterly, Force 10 and Anna, reading one translation from Catalan and one of her own. After that, I was back for my full set. Here’s the list:

  • In Praise of Dust
  • The White Dot
  • Cardiac
  • Berlin/Berlin/Berlin
  • The Invention of Zero
  • Lullaby
  • Dream Family Holiday
  • Breathing is the Place to Start

Lyn and I did a partial swap of our publications. I haven’t had a chance to read her pamphlet yet, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s very nicely produced by Colin Will’s Calder Wood Press.

I thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the Byre. Sadly, I had to head home very shortly after my reading, but I picked up bits and bobs of the webcast through the evening. Apparently a number of people had problems accessing the stream before 3.30, but it was functioning beautifully when I logged on. I caught bits and pieces of the readings from Vicenza, Skye, New York, Ghent (wow!) and Sacramento.

It was a bold and ambitious project. Whatever the technical hitches, Eleanor Livingstone and her international team are to be congratulated for that and for creating such a wide-ranging feast of poetry and reaching such a broad audience. They’ve proved the concept, so here’s hoping we’ll see it repeated sooner rather than later.

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