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— Víctor Rodríguez Núñez

A tribute to Brian Johnstone

Posted by Tony Ward & Angela Jarman, 10th May 2021

We were extremely sad to learn of the death last week of the Scottish poet Brian Johnstone, whose latest poetry collection The Marks on the Map was published and launched virtually last month. His former colleague and close friend, the poet Anna Crowe, has written the following tribute which she has kindly allowed us to post here:

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the death on the 3rd of May of the Scottish poet, Brian Johnstone. Arc published Brian’s three full collections, The Book of Belongings, Dry Stone Work, and the last book, The Marks on the Map, appearing only weeks before his death.

Brian is of course known for the crucial role he played in the late nineties in establishing StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry festival, held every March in St Andrews, and it was my pleasure and privilege to work alongside him in planning a new Scottish Poetry Festival. From the very beginning Brian, who had a lot of experience in organising poetry readings throughout Fife, had ambitious hopes for what has become StAnza (the cunningly-spelled title was his idea). We were keen to make the festival international in scope, and Brian had the vision and energy to see how this could be achieved. He saw immediately that it would be crucial to the festival’s success to involve the newly rebuilt Byre Theatre, and to make it our hub, and he used his gifts of persuasion to convince the theatre management of this new idea, namely that poetry would in fact bring big audiences. Following advice to make the festival independent of the University, we were able to attract our own funding, and Brian had a tremendous gift for persuading people to back the festival. This was because he believed in it so strongly and funders recognised that commitment and were brought on board.

Brian was a man of great generosity and human warmth, with a gift for making friends. With his artist wife, Jean, he welcomed many visiting poets to their house in the Fife countryside. He was a dedicated poet with a distinctive, often melancholy voice and a passion for memorialising what others might overlook. His interest in music and art led him into fruitful collaboration. Brian will always be remembered as the man who made StAnza happen.

ANNA CROWE, Honorary President & former Artistic Director of StAnza