About W N Herbert
W. N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961 and educated at Brasenose, Oxford, where he published his thesis on Hugh MacDiarmid (To Circumjack MacDiarmid, OUP, 1992). He is currently Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University.
Herbert has published eight volumes of poetry and six pamphlets, and his poems have been widely anthologised. His second collection, Forked Tongue (1994), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot and Saltire prizes. Cabaret McGonagall (1996) was shortlisted for the Forward and McVities prizes; The Laurelude (1998) was a PBS Recommendation. All three won Scottish Arts Council book awards, and Cabaret McGonagall also won a Northern Arts award. Bad Shaman Blues (2006) was a PBS Recommendation, and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot and Saltire prizes. He was selected as a ‘New Generation’ poet in 1994. In 2000 he edited the bestselling anthology Strong Words: modern poets on modern poetry with Matthew Hollis, and in 2006 he contributed to Creative Writing: A Workbook (Open University/Routledge), which was expanded into Writing Poetry (Routledge, 2010).
An energetic collaborator and translator, he has frequently worked with composers, most recently with Evangelia Rigaki on ‘The Pregnant Box’, a series of mini-operas performed in the streets of Dublin. He has translated a selection of contemporary Chinese poetry alongside the prominent Chinese poet Yang Lian, and edited an anthology of translations from contemporary Bulgarian poets, A Balkan Exchange (Arc, 2007). With Martin Orwin, he translated the Somali poet Gaarriye for Maansooyin (Enitharmon, 2008); he also worked on translations of the major Somali poet Hadraawi with Said Jama Hussein (Hadraawi: The Poet and The Man, 2013). Since 2001, Herbert has been lead poet for Westpark in Darlington, an award-winning public art project. A recent piece, ‘Pentad’, is positioned outside the Robinson Library on Newcastle University campus. In 2013 he became Dundee's first Makar, or city laureate.
His recent most publications are Three Men on the Metro, written with Andy Croft and Paul Summers (2009), the pamphlet Murder Bear (2013), which won the Saboteur Pamphlet Award, and his latest collection, Omnesia, which appeared in two volumes from Bloodaxe in 2013 and was a PBS Recommendation. In 2014, he received a Cholmondeley award from the Society of Authors, and in 2015 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
The three poems selected here from Herbert’s extensive recording session for The Poetry Archive go some way to representing the range and the distinct modes available to him as a poet: ‘Talking Water Blues’ is a Scots blues riff: folktale, ribald comedy and bar song in one. ‘A Lament for Billy MacKenzie’, meanwhile, is a formal elegy for the tragic life of the popular Scottish singer. ‘Metaphor for Malchik’ imagines the voice of a dog speaking in all its obscene and unrestrained exuberance: “I have been licking my own soft chestnuts: here they are.” Herbert’s spirited and persuasive readings perfectly emphasise the comedy and solemnity of these poems, and form an ideal introduction to the works of an ambitious, versatile poet, who, in the legacy of inventive Scottish poets such as Edwin Morgan and Thomas A Clarke, is not only working within but actively widening traditions and forms.
W.N. Herbert's recording was made on 13th September 2013 at The Soundhouse and was produced by Andrew Branch.