More than Eliot or Pound, the career of Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid reflects the restless nature of the modern age. From his early opposition to poetry in Scots to the triumphant use of dialect in "Sangschaw"; from these exquisite lyrics to the long dynamic poems "A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle" and "To Circumjack Cencrastus"; from the abandonment of Scots to the glacial, "scientific" English of the unassembled "Mature Art" - most critics have limited themselves to a single phase of MacDiarmid's career. This study attempts, in his own phrase to "circumjack" or "fully explicate" a troubling but brilliant author. Examining his earliest work, Herbert posits a symbolic structure which governs all MacDiarmid's periods, as well as explaining his need for ceaseless change. MacDiarmid emerges as a modernist of international stature, but also as a radical experimenter whose work anticipates post-modernist concerns.
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.