‘Ghost’ in Novi Sad (& Unique Mother Tongue)

Here’s a recording some kind person made of me reading the pome ‘Ghost’ in the Novi Sad Festival back in 2008. It was very well received, but I’ve forgotten who sent me this, so thanks and apologies!

Listen to beyond

The real reason I’m posting is because this reading is caught up for me with the whole idea of extended community I was warbling on about in a previous post. I remember this festival as being full of literary friends and acquaintances whose company, although temporary, affected me as much as visiting this complex place.

Øyvind Berg and Tone Hødnebø and I had both fun and fascinating conversations over too much rakia; Bernhard Widder and I discussed Scotland and, well, beer; Dan Coman sent me some great poetry (and possibly the recording?); Ide Hintz filmed me saying a single word for one of his video projects (see here for some of those).

I then went on to a festival in Durres in Albania, where I met another contingent of interesting writers, and, incidentally, ‘Ghost’ was read to a slightly more neutral response. It was a privilege to hang out with Arjen Duincker (who I already knew slightly) and his fellow Dutch writers Helene Gelens, Elma van Haren and Erik Lindner. It was great to talk to Claudia Keelan and Thomas Wohlfart. Now, I know many writers have had such fleeting intriguing contacts at festivals, and we’re very lucky to be invited. But that’s not what I’m interested in here.

The fact is ‘Ghost’ itself is by way of an elegy to Emran Salahi, the Iranian writer who I met in Xinjiang, who I liked enormously, but who died almost immediately after our trip. This had been strenuous in more than one sense — perhaps a little too much baijyoh was taken by the more sociable among our party, and perhaps a little too much vigorous dancing was done at too high an altitude.

But it also featured that contact between poets from very different cultures that Yang Lian describes as dialogue in our ‘Unique Mother Tongue.’

Again, I valued my times in China with writers like Arthur Sze, Odia Ofeimun and Murray Edmond, but the contact I’m describing is about more than sociability. It’s about the sort of dialogue which survives these momentary encounters, and carries on electronically, or through translation, or through publication or help with placing publications.

This is the sort of contact myself and three other writers from the North East have been maintaining with a handful of Bulgarian writers for almost ten years now. ‘Ghost’ was translated into Bulgarian by Nadya Radulova in January of 2009, and she and Georgi Gospodinov, Kristin Dimitrova and VBV are completing a book of translations of myself, Andy Croft, Linda France and Mark Robinson, hopefully to be published this year.

We already translated them (see here), and Andy published Kristin separately.

This is the sort of dialogue which we internalise over the years, which influences our own writing in terms of technique more than subject, encouraging us to write a poetry that travels, rather than a travel poetry. It’s the dialogue which changes our imaginations.

So here’s a small appeal to those writers I’ve mentioned with whom I’m not currently in contact: be the opposite of the ghost and say hello. Anyone I’ve not mentioned: remind me. Anyone who knows me but doesn’t know one of these other writers and would like to get in touch: ask for an introduction.

We’re not ghosts yet, so don’t be any stranger than you have to.

About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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