Saboteur Spotlight: Best Literary Festival 2021, StAnza Poetry Festival

Congratulations on your recent win at the Saboteur Awards Festival 2021! How did you feel when you found out that you’d been shortlisted this year?

Thrilled! Over the past year, we’ve really missed seeing people’s joy and excitement at the events we put together, so it was a particular delight to see how much the festival had clearly meant to folk. There are so many fantastic festivals out there who’ve responded to lockdown with creativity and resilience – we were genuinely moved to be named as one of the best of these.

Do you feel the pandemic has impacted your work at all; made it harder, or perhaps even easier, to reach people and to promote what you’re doing?

It’s certainly been different… We always knew that we wanted to make the most of going digital, and not just shift our usual “analogue” events into a digital format. This meant we got to have fun commissioning poets like Hannah Raymond-Cox and Calum Rodger to create interactive poetry games (you can still play Calum’s game here), as well as asking poets to introduce us to their writing set-up and process in our popular ‘Poets at Home’ sessions. We also knew that we wanted to offer poetry to folk for whom online events aren’t easily accessible, so we had some great one-on-one readings by phone as well and a poetry trail in St Andrews’ botanic gardens. We even offered postcard poems and poetry window stickers!

It was a learning process – captioning videos and facilitating Zoom events is a very different task to booking travel and taking tickets on the door. Going digital did give us the chance to work with partners, so as to reach new audiences who might not have been sure whether StAnza was for them – and it was wonderful to see audience members joining from as far away as Ghana and New Zealand!

Are you working on anything at the moment that you might be able to tell us a little about?

Absolutely – it’s all go! What was particularly lovely about this award was how it coincided with the end of our Festival Director Eleanor Livingstone’s 16-year tenure. It was such a timely recognition of everything she has achieved and given to StAnza over the years. Yet there are also exciting times ahead. Our new Festival Director Lucy Burnett has a range of innovative plans for taking the festival forward from here, which build upon what the festival has already achieved to date. Key amongst these is the idea of situating StAnza as a cultural intervention at the cutting edge of poetry debate. Watch this space!

Of course, one of the real shortfalls of not being able to run a live awards show is that people miss out on the opportunity to share an acceptance speech. While you’ve got the platform to, is there anything you’d like to share with readers about your win?

While StAnza itself is over, you can still check out our YouTube channel for the filmpoems we’ve commissioned, as well as watching writing prompts from a range of leading writers. Or if armchair travelling is your thing, you can roam across Scotland in our online poetry map.

Most importantly though, we can’t wait to welcome people back to our festival next year (believe you me, we’ve got everything crossed that it might be possible!) Whether you’re already a StAnza stalwart, or if this is the first time you’ve come across us, we would love it if you joined us in St Andrews in March 2022!

You can keep up with the StAnza festival team on their social media channels, including Twitter (@StAnzaPoetry), Facebook (/stanzapoetry) and Instagram (@stanzapoetry), and by visiting their website. For now, though, a huge congratulations to the entire StAnza Poetry Festival team for winning Best Literary Festival 2021!

Make sure you tune in for the release of our next spotlight on Wednesday, June 9th.