Being There

In early March, the StAnza poetry festival takes place in St Andrews. I’ve been going for at least five years now. It’s an easy half-hour bus trip, although I’ve previously stayed over so I can go to late shows without worrying about missing the last ride home.

While it would be inaccurate to say there is a ‘house style’ of poetry, it does tend towards the contemplative and wistful, more Carol-Ann Duffy than Brian Bilston. In this relatively quiet town, save for the transient student population, it’s a mood that fits well.

In 2020, the in-person festival narrowly escaped cancellation, so the events were held in venues across town as normal, predominantly the Byre Theatre or the town hall. The challenge this year is to convey its essence through a screen for the first time.

The ones I’ve been to so far this year certainly fit what I expect to see from StAnza: these include the two-hour launch event, a meditation session, and a poets’ feedback group.

But what I enjoy most are the breakfast panel discussions where the audience is served with a pie and a cup of tea. On Sunday, I tried to recreate this at home, and it was somewhat successful:

A Twitter update showing a pie and other food on a plate, and an online event on a projector.

It’s not too late to grab many of the tickets. The festival is on all this week, and there are plenty available free of charge.

What a So-and-So.

I once heard digital information compared to a greasy pig. You can hold on to it for so long before it slips from your grasp. Despite this, I’m unable to find a recording of the BBC Breakfast news item about the use of the word, “so,” at the beginning of sentences. I can only find their Twitter update from Friday:

Nonetheless, I’ve found a great example from last year, when the boss of BlackBerry failed to explain adequately how the company lost direction. Stephen Bates uses the conjunction at least four times at the beginning of answers, and several more throughout.

I think we all know people with verbal tics. I probably have one I’m not aware of. I once had a conversation with someone who kept saying, “He/She turned around and said…” By the end of the conversation, I imagined the other party with a nail in one foot, frantically turning round and around with the other.

On the page, a fictional character with a pet phrase can be a useful device in dialogue. If they always start with, “Well, the thing is, you see,” or call everyone, “love,” it eliminates the need for an identifier when multiple people are speaking. Even a gesture can be effective. I have a novel where a character shrugs when he doesn’t know an answer, and that’s a lot of the time.

But, well, the thing is, you see: balance is key. It’s enough to, like, give a flavour of the character’s go-to words. Including it in every, like, sentence or clause will only, like, annoy the reader.