Bjørnson Festival, Molde and Bergen Bibliotek: Norway - September 2016
An eclectic and frequently glorious tour of Western Norway in the late summer of 2017 saw me fortunate to travel with friends and poets Endre Ruset, who was responsible for the venture, and Harry Man. After flying to Bergen and reading in the cities Bibliotek, thanks to the brilliant poet Erland Nødtvedt, I read at the Bjørnson festival in Molde, celebrating the work of Arne Ruset. A chance to further my relationship with contemporary Norwegian poetry, which began in 2010, and more than that, share some extraordinary fjords, mountains, seas and times with great folk.
Bergen is famed for its rainfall, but we were fortunate, flying in from London, to have a day to acclimatise in beautiful sunshine, and I was able to roam all over the city, across the university campus, the old docks and up into the hills around the harbour. The first time I had spent time in Bergen since 2002, when I lived in Oslo for many months for a very different reason than poetry. Endre travelled to meet Harry and I from that city, overnight, after a translation deadline encroached on his always intense schedule. That made all three of us pretty much sleepless, which was a theme for the trip, and added the often creative, underwater quality to the journey. We then linked up with local poet Kristian Heggernes,a really fine poet, and prepared our reading, which would see us present new collaborations in revolving pairs, in a sort of miniaturised Enemies project. The Bergen library is so beautiful, and we were so well treated, spirited out of the rain after a guided tour of the city, that the experience felt more personal, more intimate than a normal reading.
As soon as the reading ended we had to take a taxi to the boat awaiting us, an old model ship that hugged the west coast, quite an institution in Norway for tourists and locals, all the way to the arctic circle, had we stayed on it. We made our ship, cabins and all and watched night fall over the north sea and we again barely slept and rolled into Ålesund docks the following morning. Endre’s father, a great poet himself, Arne, picked us up from the harbour and drove us through the stunning landscape of west Norway to Molde, picking up another ferry before the longest city in memory came into view, surrounded by epic mountains. I was popped in an amazing hotel, experiencing really humbling hospitality at every possible turn and Endre showed us around the town he grew up in.
Losing tack of days we then had our reading at the Bjornson festival, a secret denouement to an event launching the selected poems of Arne Ruset. Harry and I both wrote new poems responding to one of Arne’s in translation and was invited on stage by Endre, who had been in conversation with his father to a rapturous response from a sold out audience, to read them to the crowd. People were so faultlessly generous, it felt like a homecoming.
The following day, for the first time, we had an open day of sorts, I was able to sleep and then take on one of the mountains for a run, having eyed them up since we arrived. After a labourious, at times agonising run, I managed to scale Varden, half jogging, half crawling, and beheld one of the most stunning views I have ever seen, stretching he length of the city, the fjord and the mountains ranges that lay in all four directions around me.
A wonderful, vigorous communal experience, rare for a poet, to work so closely with peers, to tour, to write on the road, to see so much in such a short space of time, and hopefully, as the exchanges between Endre and I, my Norwegian brother in poetry, have gone on so many years now, not the last time we undertake such a trip.