Poetry for all at Stoney Festival

By bellmannews / July 27, 2022
Shot of Bellman's Head from Downie Point

From Neil Young, festival director –

Poets from across Scotland will converge on Stonehaven on Friday and Saturday for what is billed as the country’s “most democratic poetry festival”.

“The Wee Gaitherin” will build on the popularity of last summer’s inaugural event, which was the first post-lockdown poetry festival in Scotland.

The festival on July 29 & 30 will draw in more than 60 poets from across the country, and beyond, to give readings in English, Scots and Gaelic.

It will also include readings of poetry written by Mackie Academy students during workshops hosted by visiting poets Charlie Gracie and Hugh McMillan. Those poems are currently on display in a Wee Gaitherin exhibition at Stonehaven Library.

The festival format includes indoor and outdoor readings, plus music ranging from folk, jazz, rock to an award-winning soprano. The hub for events will be Stonehaven Bowling Club, with free workshops taking place the town’s library, and a big outdoor event at the Tolbooth Courtyard.

The Tollbooth with its distinctive craws step gable -taken in a day of bright sunshine
Tolbooth courtyard is a festival venue

The line-up features renowned poets such as Hugh McMillan from Dumfries and Galloway, Sharon Black who is now based in France, Scots and Doric champions Sheena Blackhall, Jo Gilbert and Lesley Benzie, and Gaelic writers such as Ceitidh Campbell and Marcas Mac an Tuairneir.  Special guests will include visiting poets from Ireland Jessamine O’Connor and satirist Kevin Higgins, who has been hailed as Ireland’s most widely read living poet.

vising Irish poet, Jessamine O’Connor

Other well-kent faces taking part include Stirling and Caithness makar and George Gunn, alongside writers’ groups ranging from the Blue Salt Collective, Aberdeen’s Lemon Tree Writers, and Mearns Writers.

The festival will also include book launches and a books fair featuring publishers Drunk Muse Press, The Poets’ Republic, Rymour Books, Red Squirrel, Dreich and Seahorse Publications.

‘turn up, tune in, take part’ in free event

The organisers stress the unique inclusiveness of the festival among poetry events in Scotland.

Stonehaven poet and festival director Neil Young

Stonehaven-based poet and publisher Neil Young, one of the festival directors, said: “Most poetry festivals have a fairly prescriptive format in that they cherry-pick and book the poets, but we have thrown open an invitation for any poets to take part.

“We emphasise that all poets, from the renowned to the unknown, beginners to old-timers, take part on an equal footing. Our motto is ‘turn up, tune in, take part’ as we want to include as wide a range of people as possible, and are especially keen to offer a forum to young or burgeoning poets.

“The festival is also exceptional in that it is entirely free to attend – we do not charge at the door. We’d like to see as many people from the town at the bowling club – just turn up and soak up the entertainment, come and go as you please.”

The Wee Gaitherin has been generously supported with a grant from the Hugh Fraser Foundation, as well as by a crowdfunder. All the funds go towards the basic costs of the festival and visiting poets’ expenses.

Neil said: “No-one’s making any money out of this, and poets do tend to be the arts world’s poor relations, with an excess of good will. They’ll travel almost anywhere to read aloud, but we would like to help towards people’s basic expenses of travelling here by car, bus and train and staying in hotels and B&Bs.

“The festival is run on a shoestring, but we think we can do a lot with just a little, and continue to build the festival as an outstanding annual event for Stonehaven and for Scottish culture more generally.”

For more information, please see The Wee Gaitherin page at poetsrepublic.online