SUPPORTED CONTENT Top: Matthew Caley, (credit: Iris Hobson-Mazur), Alex Finlay (credit: Tom Mannion) Middle: Suzannah V. Evans / Bottom: Nancy Campbell (credit: Annie Schlechter), Jim Crumley
0 2 0 2 We speak to some poets appearing at this year’s StAnza about poetry and activism, the climate emergency and the power of poetry to stimulate change
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Matthew Caley: Any poetry festival – even one as good and engaged as StAnza – can only do so much; provide a space for the imagination to roam across these subjects and issues. StAnza has a beautiful, rugged coast on its doorstep, a good deal of environmental research being pursued at the University of St Andrews to draw on and a long, poetic tradition that includes politics. So it’s well-placed to bring the science and art together in unusual and stimulating ways. Jim Crumley: I’m not sure action and resolution of the climate emergency is the job of poetry and literary festivals. But what they can do, and should do, is provide a platform and a mouthpiece where poets can articulate nature’s case, and hopefully do it better than politics, using original and creative language that can persuade people to stop and think about what is happening. That is the poet’s job. ■ StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry y r t e o Festival, St Andrews, Wed 4–Sun 8 Mar. p
With their innate ability to observe and scrutinise the world around us, poets are well-versed in holding a mirror up to society, responding accordingly to key issues in their own works. As we veer further into the climate crisis, writers are increasingly using their poetry and prose to draw attention to the ecological crisis, helping others engage with the threat of climate breakdown and how it’s reshaping our very existence. Continuing to bring together internationally celebrated poets and emerging performers, Scotland’s international poetry festival StAnza (Wed 4–Sun 8 Mar) offers the perfect forum to raise awareness and understanding of this global threat through its many events, installations and exhibitions. With ‘Coast Lines’ being one of this year’s main themes, we caught up with a handful of poets taking part in the festival to ﬁ nd out how they’re inﬂ uenced by our coasts, seas and rivers and to get their thoughts on the connection between climate activism and poetry.
On taking part in StAnza 2020 and why it remains such a vital festival in the Scottish cultural calendar
Suzannah V. Evans: I’m delighted to be part of StAnza this year. The international nature of the festival is a cause for celebration – it builds bridges between people, cultures and languages at a time when, politically, it can feel like these connections are being lost. Jim Crumley: StAnza is a shining light that reﬂ ects great credit on St Andrews and Scotland. It’s an honour to be involved, particularly with the emphasis on climate change in this year’s festival. On poetry’s enduring power within society, both for poets and readers
Suzannah V. Evans: I think poetry, like other kinds of literature, helps to build empathy: it 18 THE LIST 1 Feb–31 Mar 2020w
immerses us in lives, stories and words which are not our own. For poets themselves, I think poems can act as talismans, protective spells that can be learned by heart and carried around always. Alex Finlay: Poetry and art can seek to represent experiences which culture obscures and, in doing so, offer the complexity of experience. The poem depends on and extends the different meanings that words contain, which is a characteristic that suggests generalised opinions ﬂ atten reality. Nancy Campbell: The present state of the world shows that we urgently need to imagine a new way of being, and while poets can’t directly make policy, they can certainly be part of a drive to imagine – and communicate – better or alternative futures. the names contain can be useful in adapting to marine renewables. Jim Crumley: Coastlines have coursed through my work for more than thirty years. Whatever the nature of the landscape, the place where the edge of the land and the edge of the sea meet is incredibly fertile for a nature writer. And right now it is the front line of the climate crisis. Nancy Campbell: I’m keen to document how coastlines are changing, and explore how this affects the communities living beside them. Writing these stories has taken me from living with hunters who work the shifting sea ice of Greenland’s north-west coast in my book Disko Bay to a new book, Beachcombers, based on my childhood in Berwickshire.
On whether poetry and climate activism can go hand in hand On general hopes for the wider poetry scene in terms of action and resolution as we move further into the climate emergency
Suzannah V. Evans: Poetry can play an important role in articulating this grief, in reaching outside the facts and ﬁ gures to a more human, felt understanding of the crisis. Matthew Caley: Poetry affects people at a micro-level – profoundly sometimes. As Kafka said, art should ‘take an axe to the frozen sea within us’. I guess we should try to do that whilst keeping the polar ice-caps frozen. There’s many ways to put your shoulder to the wheel.
On interpreting StAnza’s theme of ‘Coast Lines’ in their own works Alex Finlay: I’ve written three books on renewable energy and culture and one of these, minnmouth, is a mapping of the sea and coast, exploring the meanings of place-names which describe skerries, tides, bays and mouths. I found that the names were a way to reveal and test whether the knowledge of the past that