Robin Robertson, StAnza 2013
Poetry Centre Stage: Paula Meehan and Robin Robertson
The final event of StAnza united the reflections of an Irish Catholic upbringing and the memories of a Scottish son of the manse. Playwright and poet Paula Meehan and Aberdeen-bred Robin Robertson both gave sombre readings uplifted by touches of humour, and their postures suited the day’s intermittent snow. Meehan was first to read and her silver hair glowed in the blue-lit auditorium. Starting off rather shyly in front of an attentive audience, she gradually opened up about her underprivileged childhood, being raised by her grandparents and learning to have a relationship with her father. She prefaced the poem ‘Would you jump into my grave as quick’ by saying that this poem features on GCSE exams and students have expressed their appreciation of the work. Initially flattered, Meehan later figured out it was because ‘it’s only eight lines’. Her poem about quitting drinking was incredibly poignant, especially the lines: ‘You’re a warder in your own ward’. As she selected poems that were mostly about her family, Meehan’s reading flowered in depth and left the audience moved by her openness and sincerity.
Recovering from a flu caught in Sweden, a visibly strained Robin Robertson took the stage in slim trousers and a dark jacket. After slipping on rather hipster specs, he spoke in an uncharacteristic hoarse voice which seemed appropriate for his dark poems. This was something Robertson was aware of, as he said gruffly ‘It has been pointed out to me that all my poems have sex, death and drinking.’ Gulping water frequently, Robertson didn’t look up from his work very much but managed a captivating presence. He read from a selection of his books, including his latest collection Hill of Doors. Perhaps due to Robertson’s ailing state, it was the poems about sickness that seemed to resonate the most, especially the one about Robinson’s own heart surgery ‘The Halving’. He closed with ‘Crimond’, a poem about Jessie Spencer Irvine who wrote the music for the 23rd Psalm, and who once lived in the same manse as Robertson. This was a nice touch, since though we couldn’t hear the music, its suggestion acted as a coda to a sensitive event and a smoothly run festival.