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Poems from Stanza 2006

This page, like the Festival itself, is a celebration of poetry. We are delighted to present here some of the poems
written at, or about, StAnza. Your comments, as always, are welcome. Please contact the Webmaster.

In the first tranche, Valerie Gillies, Edinburgh Makar and StAnza's 2006 Poet-in-Residence, is joined
by Eleanor Livingstone, Artistic Director, Colin Will and Anne Connolly.

Monk’s Well, St Andrews

On a spot looking out over the surf
grows a grassy knoll with a round roof,

this is the wellhouse a monk built,
whaleback of slabs and a flag lintel.

Stone steps are leading spiralling down
where water still trickles within the mound

oozing out to a widening ripple
promising healing and renewal

till its mouth is choked by a gag of litter:
irnbru cans, plastic bottles, fag-end fritters.

Who comes here to the holy well?
Three students arrive for a smoke, they tell

how they thought it was just another tomb
used by truants as a smoking room.

Thank you for letting us know what it is.
All three in long black overcoats, St Cainnech’s

new community founded beside the well.
It drips once or twice in its simple cell

dissed-dissed, dissed-dissed.
It needs help, to be cleaned out and rinsed.

Between virid walls that stink of smoke
here is the spoilheap of our hopes:

somehow fresh water will flow to us yet,
two drops at a time, res-pect, res-pect.


Copyright © Valerie Gillies 2006

As a postscript to this poem, Valerie writes: Good news from St Andrews, where Fife Council plus schoolchildren have cleared out the well and arranged for a sign to be put up to inform people of what it is. The power of poetry!


A St. Andrews Cross
of crocuses standing proud
of the year's first snow.

Copyright © Eleanor Livingstone 2006


Held back

Spring’s too wound up.
A sequence of chill easterlies
has drafted in from the continent -
where they were northerlies -
flowing downslope
from a piled Arctic high,
a landmass of fridge air.

And the wind still whirrs,
spits rain in the eyes,
catches breath in the throat,
chafes ears, stiffens knuckles.

A spade is powerless
to cut the hard earth.
Each bang of the boot
transmits a jar
from arch to whipsting
in the heart of the calf muscle.
Best pick mattock
or demolition bar
to crack the crust.

Seeds, dry in packets,
will come to little harm.
Sadder are the potatoes
sacked in the cool dark,
chitting silently,
putting out white wormy shoots,
thirsty root hairs that must soon
touch warm soil, moisture.

They triggered early, switched
by a gene’s prediction of light-time.
No leeway for wintergrip,
this stiff white counterpane
on the barren beds of March.

Copyright © Colin Will 2006

Praise Song
(Hugh  Lupton, Storyteller and Chris Wood, musician)

The teller cried the horses one by  one
as tall and spare he took the Stanza  stage,
the fiddler set to haunting with his tune  
and sang a slow lament that he had  made.
Through the hypnotic mantra of his  voice
the story conjured roan, piebald,  grey
whose nostrils flared to snort the morning  frost
and we could share the scent of new-turned  hay
that filled the early life of Jenny  Wing.
She charged those horses with her girlhood's  dream
so soon destroyed as life in service  gnawed
the hope out of her soul or so it  seemed
until he told of how she rode with joy  
through the familiar meadow of her death.  
Her century ended and our silence spoke.  
In All Saints Hall we held our breath.  

Copyright © Anne Connolly March 2006  


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For the current festival site, go to