Nicola Simonetti, our Culture Editor, reviews the first Centre Stage of StAnza Festival, featuring poets Matthew Sweeney and Thomas Lynch in a sold out reading of some of their best compositions. 


You do not get to sit in a theatre and listen to a transatlantic meeting of two renowned poets on a daily basis. Let alone when it is Matthew Sweeney and Thomas Lynch that we are talking about. StAnza Festival, an international poetry festival running in St Andrews March 2nd-6th, closed its first night with a moving sold-out reading of two well-known intellectuals who skilfully stole the audience’s attention for a couple of hours. With a 15 minutes break in-between the two readings, Sweeney and Lynch marked both a light-hearted yet intense night of traditional and innovative poetry.

Despite my disappointment at the low rate of young people in the audience, every one attending seemed to enjoy the poets’s performances. First up was Matthew Sweeney, poet of Irish roots, whose voice has been a revelation since his first collection published in 1981. Telling of igloos and red helicopters, he ended his reading with a powerful poem ‘The Parrot’s Soliloquy’, discussing the current affairs of today’s society and the barriers we humans impose on ourselves. Making a poetry driven by image rather than sound, Sweeney delighted the audience reading some of his latest and older poems, including some from his most recent collection Inquisition Lane. His compositions, weirdly populated by a fellow-citizenry of animals, are deeply steeped in humour, as the constant laughing of the people from each corner of the theatre could vouch for. Humbly driving the audience into his personal life, referring to his daughter and grand-daughter, his travelling around Europe, and his getting old, he surely marked a great first half of the night.


Second up was Thomas Lynch, travelling all the way up from America. Both a poet and an essayist, Lynch is the author of five collections of poems and three collections of essays. Laughing at Sweeney’s love for Fish & Chips, which he claimed to share since he was a child, Lynch opened his performance reciting a poem about a fish market back in America. Writing a very forward kind of poetry, as he himself stated, he often draws upon other poets’s work, whose meaning he twists by the replacement of a single word. Reading some of his best known poems, such as ‘Refusing at Fity-Two to Write Sonnets’, some elegies and some more irreverent compositions (‘The Pope’s Penis’), Lynch’s humour was well received by the audience, which seemed enthusiastic until the very last minute.

As one of StAnza’s most appreciated shows, Centre Stage proved to be a first-class poetry reading, which also ran thanks to the collaboration of the School of English of the University of St Andrews. Being the first event of this kind in the 2015-2016 Festival, Centre Stage was a success, as the audience’s smiling faces showed. Sweeney and Lynch’s participation set the stakes high, but I am sure that the following poets —among whom Don Paterson— will know how to fight back, and deliver incredible readings which will make of the 2015-2016 edition of StAnza one of the best ones so far achieved.



Nicola Simonetti