'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. Neither the alternative text nor the remix is the primary text. They are two variations, doppelgangers haunted by the idea of a whole neither can embody or know. Readers can read either or both versions. Booksellers can stock either or both. Only the literary prize judges will have to read both in order to shortlist either or both as one. 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; doppelgangers haunted by the idea of a whole neither can embody or know. Which one are you reading?
W.N. Herbert is a highly versatile poet who writes both in English and Scots. Born in Dundee, he established his reputation with two English/Scots collections from Bloodaxe, Forked Tongue (1994) and Cabaret McGonagall (1996), followed by The Laurelude (1998), The Big Bumper Book of Troy (2002), Bad Shaman Blues (2006) and Omnesia (2013). He has also published a critical study, To Circumjack MacDiarmid (OUP, 1992), and co-edited Strong Words: modern poets on modern poetry (Bloodaxe Books, 2000) with Matthew Hollis and Jade Ladder: Contemporary Chinese Poetry (Bloodaxe Books, 2012) with Yang Lian. Born in Dundee, he is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University and lives in a lighthouse overlooking the River Tyne at North Shields. Twice shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, his books have also been shortlisted for the Forward Prize, McVities Prize, Saltire Awards and Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award. Three are Poetry Book Society Recommendations.