The Nordic Poetry Festival : Alesund and Bergen - September 2019
A concentrated poetry tour down the West coast of Norway with over a dozen poets from across Europe and local to the towns being toured. A beautiful, generous, spirited few days, with readings in Alesund and Bergen, with a boat ride between. A creation of the Nordic Poetry Festival almost entirely through the hard work and hospitality of Jon Stale Ritland, Bjorn Vatne, Erlend Nodtvedt and many others. Thanks to them.
Flying in late the night before the day, Harry Man and I get to stay with Jon Stale Ritland, our friends, a wonderful poet and a man of golden bones. Ask anyone who has met him ever. A doctor, a tennis player, an embodiment of Norwegian humility, decency and talent. We chat late into the night with him and his lovely family.
Harry and I spend the day awaiting the arrival of the other poets in this miniature festival by fighting and exploding. And table tennis. No one wins. We go then to the venue and meet people who are happy to see us. What more can be asked for. Maja Jantar, Christodoulos Makris, David Spittle, Maria Malinovskaya come by from all over, and Hilde Myklebust, Eli Fossdal Waage, Kaisa Aglen too.
An extraordinary evening. It is not possible to discern the strange transitory factors which make an event feel remarkable, nor is it possible to control them. A space can be made for them to happen, and we must’ve done that, for nearly 100 exceptionally attentive people came to Mottaket, the artist led commune gallery in the heart of Alesund, to watch 12 of us read our work. The audience led the poets into really singular readings / performances. Everyone was on. Our host Bjorn Vatne, was so hospitable and charming, he helped shape the aesthetic too, with the space, and the feeling that this was a project which was welcome, in its eccentricity and range.
We are told it’s a grand success immediately, we believe this too. Everyone decamps for a follow up event, a launch of Jon Stale Ritland’s new book. It is packed in a restaurant called Bro. Packed and rewarding and a great launch. We then all eat together, quite high class food and this is all strange and ethereal and dark autumn colours and rain storm outside but talking so easy and serious too.
We don’t go to bed after though. No, we get cabs into a thunderstorm to a big boat. The Hurtigruten. We board and have cabins and snuggle up in the belly of an ocean swell and that’s unusual and really special.
The next day the group is like a little family or team if you want me to pull back a bit. We just spend the day together, in the lounges, in the buffets, on deck.
We arrive in Bergen, have one hour alone, I go for a jog around Bergen and feel the city is a little more trendy and miss Alesund a bit but its Bergen, so pretty and nice. We are reading collaborations this night, a camarade. And we are in the huge shiny library, thanks to poet and librarian Erlend Nodtvedt. The room is the main café of the library so there is some contextual distraction but that’s a good thing to work with. The audience is a little reticent but a good crowd and I get to work with Dan Aleksander, basically bringing the lord back into these good peoples hearts and I get a chance to eat a croissant which is always nice. Maja Jantar finishes with a choral piece we all noise into and it’s probably freaked the audience out but in a powerfully poetic way.
We finish the diamond duo days in an Ethiopian restaurant and a skybar with injera and hot chocos and every person is genuine and generous and mindful of how lucky we are to do things like this and when they go so well it’s a fulfilling and meaningful nutcase around the scribbling we do.
To our Norwegian friends, forever thanks and a glass of water raised up in the air.
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.