Poetry Book Society Recommendation
'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?
'For poetry I have WN Herbert’s latest collection Omnesia, which comes in two versions and has the most mind-alteringly brilliant cover imaginable' – Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday, Summer Reading feature.
'The very form of Omnesia is innovative and intimately related to his creative concerns. The “book” comes as two distinct books, dubbed the Alternative Text and the Remix...The two books aren’t halves of one whole. The real poem might be stranded in the limbo between them, ever out of reach (in some ways this aligns Herbert more with a poet like John Burnside). There is no “definitive” or “original” version. That seems to me to be an attitude and ideology worth taking forward into the 21st-century Scotland' – Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman.
'...Omnesia (Remix) and Omnesia (Alternative Text) are two different books...Each mirrors, interrogates and subverts the other. Each adds to and subtracts from the other. While one book contains poems satirising English ideas about Herbert's native Scotland, the other contains poems satirising Scotland's idea of itself' - Andy Croft, Morning Star.
'WN Herbert's Omnesia (Bloodaxe, £9.95) comes in an Alternative Text and a Remix, either of which could be the most ambitious, wide-ranging and formally accomplished collection of 2013. Herbert is interested in everything, especially the plurality of knowledge, spinning global connections from Newcastle to China and Somaliland, taking on the major forms of ode and elegy, adding satire, comedy and the ancient Scottish tradition of extended insult, as well as modes still undefined' – Sean O'Brien, The Independent, Books of the Year.
W.N. Herbert reads six poems
W.N. (Bill) Herbert lives in a converted lighthouse overlooking the River Tyne at North Shields. Pamela Robertson-Pearce him in December 2007 in his study at the very top of the house, the walls of which are criss-crossed with salvaged ship timbers. He reads six poems in this video taken from his collections Cabaret McGonagall (1996), The Laurelude (1998), The Big Bumper Book of Troy (2002) and Bad Shaman Blues (2006), all published by Bloodaxe: ‘Corbandie’, ‘The Black Wet’, ’To a Mousse’, ’Song of the Longboat Boys’, ‘Slow Animals Crossing’ and ‘Bad Shaman Blues’. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008).