"Bad Shaman Blues" are what we sing in middle age, when our visions and our virtues seem far away. They also lament the role of contemporary poetry: reached for in trauma, otherwise ignored. The poet as shaman cuts a reduced and comic figure - which immediately suggests W.N. Herbert. Packing his medicine pouch with classical lyric and barbarian spell, the Scot explores his border territories. Hadrian's Wall becomes a mirror through which to embark on an absurd shamanic flight to - naturally - Siberia. "Bad Shaman Blues" is a Through the Looking Glass book, in which the familiar and the foreign confront one another. Sofia and Novosibirsk, Crete and Kolkatta, are all distorted in its hall of mirrors. In the textual underworld of the Scots tradition, literary ghosts are stalked by critical machines. Herbert's latest book presents the conventional poetry volume with its doppelganger - dark, destabilising, daft. 'This antithesis of the slim volume bubbles and seethes with wit and polysyllabic adventurousness' - Edwin Morgan, "The Scotsman". 'A weird mix of Desperate Dan, MacDiarmid and Dostoyevsky...a rare and fantastic voice' - Fiachra Gibbons, "Guardian". 'One maverick genius compatriot' - Don Paterson, "Guardian". 'This multi-layered fantasising could be disorientating, but it ain't. Instead it is very funny and the reader is swept along' - Keith Bruce, "The Herald".
W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, and educated there and at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he published his thesis on the Scots poet Hugh MacDiarmid (To Circumjack MacDiarmid, OUP, 1992). He has published seven volumes of poetry and four pamphlets, and he is widely anthologised.
His last five collections, all with the northern publisher Bloodaxe, have won numerous accolades. Forked Tongue (1994) was selected for the New Generation promotion, 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; and The Laurelude (1998), written whilst he was the first Wordsworth Fellow at Grasmere, was a PBS Recommendation. All three books won Scottish Arts Council book awards. The Big Bumper Book of Troy (2002) was longlisted for Scottish Book of the Year and shortlisted for the Saltire Prize. His most recent Bloodaxe collection, Bad Shaman Blues (2006), was a PBS Recommendation, and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot and Saltire prizes.
After holding several Scottish residencies he moved to Newcastle in 1994 to take up what was then the Northern Arts Literary Fellowship, and has remained there ever since, holding residencies with Cumbria Arts in Education and the Wordsworth Trust. He taught in the Department of Creative Writing at Lancaster University (1996-2002), and is currently Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University.
He has engaged in numerous public art and cross-media projects in the North-East and Borders, making a film in Berwick, originating sculptures and stained glass pieces in Ambleside, Dumfries, Sunderland and North Tyneside, and wrote a poem for a strip of stainless steel set into the pavement in Graingertown, Newcastle. He has produced libretti for the composers Keith Morris, Naomi Pinnock and Evangelia Rigaki. He edited the interactive CD-ROM Book of the North (NWN, 2000), featuring prominent writers and artists from the region. Since 2001 he has been the lead poet for the award-winning Westpark development in Darlington, a text-led public art project.
He was co-editor with Richard Price of the Scottish cultural magazine Gairfish (1989-1994), culminating in the anthology Contraflow on the Superhighway: an Informationist Primer (Gairfish/Southfields, 1994). In 2000 he edited the bestselling anthology Strong Words: modern poets on modern poetry with Matthew Hollis. In 2006 he contributed the poetry section to Creative Writing: A Workbook (Open University/Routledge), which appeared from Routledge as a separate volume, Writing Poetry, in 2010.
In 2007 he edited an anthology of translations from contemporary Bulgarian poetry and original poetry by the translators called A Balkan Exchange (Arc); and with Martin Orwin he translated the Somali poet Gaarriye for the Poetry Translation Centre, published as a pamphlet by Enitharmon in 2008.
His latest creative publication is Three Men on the Metro, a collaborative volume of verse about the Moscow Metro written with Andy Croft and Paul Summers (Five Leaves Press, 2009). He is currently working with the prominent Chinese poet, Yang Lian, and the translator Brian Holton, on Jade Ladder, a book of translations from contemporary Chinese poetry.
He lives in an old lighthouse in North Shields with the novelist Debbie Taylor, and their daughter Izzie.