'Omnesia' is Bill Herbert's melding of omniscience and amnesia, the modern condition of thinking we can know everything about our world but, in actuality, retaining dangerously little. This doubly impressive new collection – published in twin editions, the alternative text and the remix – approaches and evades such flawed totality.
For the past seven years Herbert has wandered from the Turkic west of China to the barrios of Venezuela; from Tomsk, the ‘Athens of Siberia’, to the heat of Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland, an unacknowledged country. These are travels to translate and, in more than one sense, to be translated; brief encounters with poets and poetics outside the Eurocentric norm; looking-glass meetings, omnesiac pilgrimage.
Along the fracture lines between east and west in the Balkans, Greece, and in Jerusalem, across the cultural gaps that mark the north and south of the British Isles, Herbert teases out, through tensions between lyric and satire, English and Scots, formalism and experiment, what it is we hope to mean by home, integrity, or authenticity.
Herbert's Omnesia is riven by the anxiety of incompletion: it is two variations desiring to be one theme; doppelgängers haunted by the idea of a whole neither can embody or know. Which one are you reading?
‘W.N. Herbert’s poetic prescription is kill or cure. Herbert specialises in big, spine-burstingly various and formally eclectic books, in both Scots and English, that are always in the end unified by the energy, wit and intellectual adventurousness of their author… several books in one by a writer who should by rights count as several poets in one’ – Patrick McGuinness, Poetry Review.
‘This antithesis of the slim volume bubbles and seethes with wit and polysyllabic adventurousness’ – Edwin Morgan, The Scotsman.
W.N Herbert has twice been shortlisted for many awards including the T.S Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize. He established his reputation with two English/Scots collections from Bloodaxe, Forked Tongue (1994) and Cabaret McGonagall (1996). His practical guide Writing Poetry was published by Routledge in 2010. He has co-editied Strong Words: modern poets on modern poetry (Bloodaxe, 2000) with Matthew Hollis and Jade Lader: Contemporary Chinese Poetry (Bloodaxe, 2012) with Yang Lian. He is professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University. He has recieved four Poetry Book Society recommendations, including one for Omnesia.