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  • Writer's pictureNeil Young

Turn up, tune in, take part – again

The third Wee Gaitherin poetry festival will take place in Stonehaven from August 10-12 (Thursday-Saturday inclusive) and once again we’re calling on poets to ‘Turn up, tune in, take part.’ It’s a risky mantra in one respect, as it could be taken as an invitation for chaos, but so far – with a few hiccups – our events have run close to schedule. Given the truism that poetry readings and revolutions always start late, that’s not bad going.

It’s also in keeping with the freewheeling and democratic ethos that underscores the festival. By democratic, we mean we really do want everyone with an interest in poetry, as a writer, reader and listener to take part. We don’t select and book the poets according to who or what we think is worthy – we throw out an invitation, this year via our submissions window, for poets to take part and aim to offer a platform for as many as is practicable. You could say the poets book us, rather than the other way round – we are not prescriptive; it’s your shout.

We want poets, of whatever demographic, well-kent or unknown – or somewhere betwixt both – to read and perform on an equal footing. There are no hierarchies here.

By freewheeling – let’s keep this event entertaining. We’re flexible, which is why we will ensure there’s an open mic, music, intervals, and we opt for unfussy, hospitable venues. We’re particularly keen to break down economic factors that preclude so many people from poetry events, which is why we do not charge for our events and readings. Who, after all, can afford to pay £6-£8 per reading or workshop, repeated over a full day of events, or two days of events – especially in the current climate?

For those of us who grew up in a culture and society in which poetry was widely regarded as ‘belonging to others’, or to have been colonised by people whose lives functioned at a large remove from our own - and ran the venues and festivals, ran the publishing outlets, determined the critical values (and mostly still do) - that is a running sore. Working-class poets have often struggled to gain the recognition or access to readings and publishing forums that has come more readily to their middle-class or up-middle-class contemporaries. Being working-class combined with being BAME, having a disability, being from other disadvantaged groups and crucially being a women poet, then even more so. Our collective purpose as the four directors of The Wee Gaitherin (Lesley Benzie, Cait O’Neill McCullagh, Hugh McMillan and Neil Young) is to remove those obstacles.

That’s why we’ve been at pains to keep The Wee Gaitherin free. This does also create a dilemma, of course, in that we need to find the money to cover the cost of the festival. Our answer to this has been to concentrate our efforts on fundraising and on our own resourcefulness. Our message to any organisation or individual who might consider throwing a few pounds our way is that you get a lot for your money – everything goes towards our work to expand the audience for poetry, encourage new talent, cover participating poets’ costs, and towards essential, basic expenses of the festival.

Stonehaven, Scotland.

Last year, as a community interest company (C.I.C), we did well as a very new venture in attracting funds. This year, after recently converting to a charity, we have already surpassed ourselves. At the time of writing, we are delighted to have been the recipients of over £13,500 - this sum is made up of the Big Lottery’s Awards 4 All Community Fund £10,000, Aberdeenshire Council’s contribution of £3,526 from Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee Budget 2023/24. We also await the outcome decisions of other applications to Scottish and UK funders.

We appreciate we’re not alone in this respect: The Wee Gaitherin is one of several grassroots poetry happenings scouting for a wee pot of cash, but the encouraging thing is we’re not on competition with these – on the contrary, they are fellow travellers and collectively we help to form a network of supportive events.

For this year, we’ve absorbed much of the feedback from poets and audiences at the 2022 WeeG and will be tightening things up a bit. There will be more intervals, closer staging and, crucially, and we will be adding in open mics and kick-starting events on a Thursday evening to allow for more breaks on Friday and Saturday without losing too many opportunities for poets to perform. Publishers, stalls, book forums and music will, of course, feature prominently.

In the build-up to the festival, we’re also running a series of monthly evening readings in Stonehaven, accompanied by daytime workshops in the secondary schools and at the town’s library. The aim here is to encourage involvement and progression with a friendly exchange of ideas and feedback. Last summer, the library hosted an exhibition of work produced by Mackie Academy’s students as result of workshops run for the festival by Hugh McMillan and Charlie Gracie. Once again, we’re grateful and much enthused by having the library as an ally: it will be a focal-point for a lot of our activities. Though, the primary venue for the festival may still be the bowling club. More on that later. Get the dates in your diary for The Wee Gaitherin - and tell yer mates!


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