Douglas Dunn, acclaimed Scottish poet and previous professor of English Literature here at St Andrews, read out his inspiring poetry to a live audience at the Byre on Saturday night. Nearing the end of his reading, he took from his blazer pocket a little gold pocket watch, remarking that he had time for just one more poem. Behind him, an audience from New York City sat listening intently, projected onto a screen, from just about 3000 miles away.
‘New York Calling’ wasn’t your ordinary gathering of poets. Two live audiences connected by a Skype call, watched as both a Scottish and American poet recited their work, a lot of which was inspired by our little seaside town. The American poet, Jay Parini, attended our University from 1968 to 1975 and held the first ever Poetry festival here in the 1960s. This helped encourage the creation of our much-loved StAnza festival, which is now in its 15th year. Chatting casually to the St Andrews audience between readings, he pensively remarked, “The sights in St Andrews, the pier, the spires, west sands… they stay with you forever”.
Amongst the readings were poetic anecdotes of Dunn’s time as a Professor here, and Parini’s experience as a student. The night ranged in emotions, from the deliberately amusing but unfortunate fears of Dunn becoming a boring lecturer, to Parini’s poignant recollection of what a lecturer once told him: the present and future are set, it is only the past that you can change. As we expected, great poetry was read, tugging our emotions back and forth and challenging our pre-conceived views of the world, as good poetry should do.
How apt, that it should be Dunn and Parini to speak from Scotland and New York. Both poets, having past association with the University, could not be better suited to representing the strong links that St Andrews has with the United States. These strong relations add greatly to the unique experience of being a student in St Andrews today. To see it amongst the older generations and recognise these kinds of friendships, however, made me feel a part of something quite a bit bigger and much longer lasting than just my four years here.
For Dunn to check his time keeping with a pocket watch rather than a digital device, while on a Skype call, summed up quite nicely for me what this whole evening symbolized. It said coherence, connection and continuation. How far we’ve come: from the traditional oral beginning when the first humans bore speech, up to the present day technology-driven world that we live in. Despite these changes, poetry still matters. Technology only aids us in strengthening its message, and gives us the ability to share the beautiful simplicity of the spoken word farther than we ever could before.