Getting ready for StAnza

Tomorrow I’m flying to Edinburgh, where a taxi awaits my arrival to bring me to St Andrews, where StAnza – Scotland’s International Poetry Festival is taking place. Yes, I’m going to StAnza. As a poet and as this year’s Guest Blogger! You can imagine that I’m quite excited!

Everything, absolutely everything, the cab, the hotel, the flight is arranged for me. All hail to the organization who make me feel like a VIP.
So for this trip I’ve packed my backpack and not my panniers. No tent, no stove, no sleeping bag, no sweaty cycling clothing. I’ve written down my schedule when a reading or workshop is taking place, and not the towns I’ll be cycling through. Although the coming blog posts will be more concentrated on literature and on poetry in particular, the organization has hired a bicycle for me at Spokes (yes they arranged that as well). On Wednesday I will be spending the day to have a look around the city of St Andrews and its nearby surroundings. I am very excited to try out how it is to be cycling in Scotland (yes I know I have to ride on the wrong, I mean on the left side of the road), since next time I’ll be crossing the Channel I would like to go there with my own bike, and have more than just a week. And I wouldn’t mind if my girlfriend is joining me then.
But I’m trailing off. The coming days I’m writing about my experiences at StAnza. At first about the festival and St Andrews in general,. Later on it’ll be more specific about the translation session I’m attending on Saturday. My Frisian colleague Sigrid Kingma and I will translate two Scottish poems by Rachel Plummer and Stewart Sanderson into Frisian, and they will translate two of our poems into Scottish. On Sunday we have to talk about that process. Where were the difficulties, where the joys of translating etc.

On top of that comes the fact that I’ve never been to StAnza, but I have heard of fellow poets that it’s pretty awesomesauce and from what I’ve seen on the internet I believe them at once. Actually I have to confess, that I’ve never been to a poetry festival before. Of course I did quite a few performances and stuff like that, but I even have never been as a spectator at such a festival. I suppose that StAnza is a good one to start with.



Biikebrennen in Fraschlönj

Last Wednesday was Saint Peter’s Day. In North-Frisia they celebrate this day by lighting beacons with the so-called Biikebrennen. Does the tradition declare the end of winter with fire or are the beacons relics of lighthouses? Nobody knows the origin exactly, but since it’s a bit of a happening and it’s traditional for North-Frisia we went over there for the fire, the theatre afterwards and a bit of sightseeing the next day.


This time I did not go by myself as you’ve noticed since I used ‘we’. The ‘we’ were thirteen people and we didn’t go by bicycle, but by car. Two vans to be precise.
What I want to state here, is that it was again affirmed for me how relaxing it is just to get on your bike and cycle wherever you want to go. You can stop whenever you please, you have no time schedules, nothing planned, nor have an appointment with anyone. You know exactly what you need to take along. You pack the stuff, check if your tyres need a bit of air and then you go. You’re whistling and rolling along with the sun on your head and the wind in your back. For the organisation of this trip however, you need to do more preparing, and yet you’re still dependent on many factors. It is quite some work even before you have left for the trip: you have to buy groceries, hire transport, make all appointments for the visits, and to plan the whole schedule, make sure that everybody is on schedule to the next point on the program.

Now a bit more about that program we had. The walk to the beacon was a bit further than I thought. But my co-organiser and me made it up by getting the van. In that way we missed out a bit of the fire, but that’s how it is. The walk was nice, fresh and wintery after driving whole day. In the evening there was North-Frisian theatre, which was fun although we didn’t understand everything. The drinks and talks afterwards made thát up.
The next day we visited the school where we stayed (we slept in the gym room) and got a nice presentation by some older pupils after we did a lot of singing with the younger ones. Afterwards off to Friedrichstadt where we had a tour guide, who spoke Platt, which most of us could better understand than High German. Ilse Johanna recommanded that we would go to Husum as well. It was on the route back. First stop was the Biike, which was still burning. We got a stripe of charcoal for good luck. In Husum itself we had some free time to go shopping or having a Fischbrötchen or just a cup of coffee. After dinner a selected few wanted to go the evening organised by Et Nordfriisk Teooter. We were a bit late, but still very welcome. Had a few chats and returned back to the gym for a bearenburch and a card game.
The children of the school wanted to say goodbye with a round of handball. It was lovely in the morning sun. On our way homewards we had a talk by Claas Riecken of the Nordfriisk Instituut in Bräist/Bredstedt. He told us more about the instution and Fraschlönj itself. The sun accompanied us all the way safely back to Ljouwert.


Although the organisation took a heavier place on my mind than I had wanted, we had a lot of fun. And everything went well, apart from two broken jars and a cup. Now I know better what to expect would there be a next time. The important thing is that people enjoyed themselves, learned many things and that we got home safely. It’s of course also satisfying that everything worked out just well. But for now, I’m looking for a trip of my own. Funnily enough, organised by someone else who will take care of the stress. Next stop, St Andrews. Stanza Poetry Festival!


My first vlog

In one of my previous blogs I mentioned that I wanted to do more with video. Actually I’m already back home in Fryslân. I had to figure out how I had to do the editing, subtitles, etcetera, so it took a while before I finished my very first vlog!

It’s far from professional, I know, but it’s the story that counts. The story of the people who were so friendly as to invite me into their home as I rode from Ljouwert (NL) to Kattrup (DK).


The wintery way back to Groningen

After having stayed in Kattrup, Denmark, for almost two months, I thought it was time to cycle back home again. It’s true that riding in shorts and a T-shirt is more comfortable than donning everything you’ve got, because it’s the month of December you chose to go back home.


I saw that as a challenge. It was a big advantage that I didn’t have to use my tent, because the hosts I had on my way up to Denmark where happy to welcome me in their cosy and warm houses again. I knew the way, just the other way round this time. All I had to do was keep on cycling.
And keep on cycling is the best thing (it’s always the best thing, since there is no greater joy than cycling) you can do when the temperature is just hovering above zero degrees Celsius. When you’re in motion, you get warm, and therefore you get sweaty. And that is where the danger lies. When you have a stop to eat a sandwich and a lukewarm cup of coffee from your thermos, you have to be sure to be out of the wind. Nonetheless you get chilly quite fast and need to swallow your dry bread and get going again so that your sweaty body doesn’t freeze. Busshelters are always the best options to have a stop, but during wintertime even more.


When I woke up in Osten-Isensee after spending again a lovely evening with the Warm Shower family over there, I didn’t feel quite well. Not really sick, but far from fresh. I hoped I would make it about sixty kilometers to Bremerhaven, go to the other side of the Wezer to Blexen/Nordenham and then take a train to Varel to get to Bockhorn to my last hosts or if I would be exhausted I would go further by train to Leer.
After waving the family goodbye I already felt after a few kilometers that Bremerhaven was far too ambitious. Hemmoor was more likely. I got there, bought a train ticket, texted my girlfriend that her rest would be over a day sooner than expected, because I reckoned I could get home already that day. And I could indeed make it to Groningen.
The local trains in Germany were great. No steps in the train, plenty of space to park the bike. Only the train from Bremen to Hamburg was shit. A little stairway to get in and to get down to the bike department. I didn’t feel the strength to haul the bike down and I especially didn’t like the idea to haul it back up again when I needed to get out in Leer.
Just before I had to leave the train a grumpy conductor mentioned the fact that the front train compartment had no stairs and that I needed to go there or get my bike down where I was. Either way, I wasn’t allowed to have my bike in the little hall where people had to get in and out. Luckily she wasn’t grumpy enough, so I was granted to stay there for the last ten minutes.
I arrived in Leer later than scheduled. I had to bike to Weener, since the bridge between Leer and Groningen is still out of business (a real pain in the ass!). I couldn’t quite find the station, it was dark, I was tired and I was late, so I missed the 17:00 train and had to wait three quarters of an hour for the next one. It was cold, windy and lonesome. My girlfriend texted me before arriving in Leer that I wouldn’t make Weener in time, so I had to stay in Leer in a refreshment room or something like that. Next time I will listen to her…


In the end I arrived in Groningen and was offered a warm meal and a bed. Although I didn’t have the strength to cycle home, it still felt a bit of a failure to take the train back home. But why? Is it not wise to do that? What is the gain to push yourself even more and maybe get even sicker than I already was? Why do I get that notion inside my head that I failed myself? I think my sister-in-law put it down very nicely:

It’s not cheating when your health is involved. It’s not winning if you ignore your body even if you reach your goals. Have a nice trip and take care!

But why did I get ill in the first place? What can I find as an excuse? My first host in Fjelstrup, Denmark, didn’t feel great that evening, but he assured me he wouldn’t breathe on me, as he told me with his usual sense of humour. Nonetheless, did he infect me? Or wasn’t I up to the task of cycling during winter? Can’t believe the last thing to be true. It had to be him, right?
I guess the most important thing is that I was feeling a hundred times better when I woke up the next morning. Fresh to think about new adventures!


My literary experiences in Århus

On the 10th of October I went by bike to the little village called Kattrup on Danish Jutland. It lies between Horsens and Århus as you might have checked out on Google Maps already. I was over there for two months, I just came back before the holidays. I worked on my new novel as I wrote about in my previous blog. I wrote as well that the subject of the blog might shift a little towards a bit more of a literary character. But you might have guessed that by reading the title.


The house of the family where I stayed.

I dived into the Danish literature as much as I could. I’ve learned the language in the years passed on such a level that I can have a conversation and I understand most of what is written down. But I don’t know a lot about the literature.
Even more I would like to get into contact with fellow poets and writers to gain knowledge about the literature through them, so to speak. That’s why I wrote an e-mail to the Aarhus Literatturcenter with the question if they could help me with that. And they could! I got a mail by the prose poet Carsten René Nielsen that he would make a hike on the coming Saturday and if I wanted to join him.
And that I did. We had lovely weather and chatted non-stop during our walk of twenty kilometers around Århus. He would like to help me with translating some poems of mine into Danish. He knows other people in the literary field he would like to introduce me to. Already I’m working on some translations of his work into Frisian.


Carsten René Nielsen

Quite soon afterwards I met Tomas Dalgaard, who’s organizing an open stage at Løve’s Bog- og Vincafé in Århus. I had the pleasure of performing there two times. Both evenings were very different in terms of the performing poets. Super hyggeligt between all the books and the mood lights. Tomas has the dream that everybody has to have something with poetry. If you are attending such an evening, you already have the idea that he is fairly far in realizing that dream.


Tomas Dalgaard

I’ve got another gig coming Sunday. In that way I meet some more poets. I would like to interview and film some of them in order to make short introductions to Århusian poets. I’ve already had a veteran from the Danish literature, Annemette Kure Andersen, and the young, fresh but very skillful poet, Mads Mygind, in front of the lens.


Mads Mygind

There is happening a lot literarywise in the city, which is just still Cultural Capital of Europe before Ljouwert will take over next year. I’m curious to find out how it will turn out with us and how many projects will be left over in the years to come. Carsten René Nielsen is positive about this year in Århus. It did the city good and there have been a couple of great projects. It brought something in motion that will still echo long after Århus isn’t Cultural Capital anymore.

So I’m sucked into a for me completely new literature in which I knew only Hans Christian Andersen and some crimewriters. It’s very interesting to expand one’s borders to a new language and to discover a new literature.

Writing and no cycling

The mind is a strange thing. Why did I get in my head that I wanted to ride in only four days from Groningen to Kattrup? Was it because I actually wanted to leave sooner than I did? Was it because I wanted to have as little overnight stays as possible? Was it because I wanted to prove myself? I think a bit of all of that.


The harbor of the border city Flensburg/Flensborg.

I always think of myself as not-competitive. But every time I have to confess that there is a competitor in all of us, so in me as well. My mind just won’t seem to bend in that way to accept that I am. When I wanted to ride to the Nordkapp last year and would get some visitors either there or just where I would be at that moment, I cycled my arse off to get as far as possible. Nobody demanded that of me, it was just because I had that idea stuck in my head.


I didn’t have the best of weather, but at least I had mostly the wind in the back.

I didn’t make it to the Nordkapp before my visitors arrived. I ‘stranded’ in Alta, 200 kilometers from the most northern point of the European mainland. Now again I realized on the very first day I wouldn’t make it in four days to cycle just under 600 kilometers. Five days is already quite an effort when you have some winter clothing, Danish dictonaries and ‘hagelslag’ in your panniers.
But thanks to the never enough praised community called Warmshowers I could leave my camping gear at home, which saved me a lot of weight and hassle. All four stays were simply terrific. In that way you meet a lot of awesome people who let a sweaty cyclist into their home, provide him with a warm shower, warm meal and warm bed. Great to have such shelters in between the rainy and windy days.

And thanks to those wonderful people I could make it in five days to Kattrup. Otherwise it probably took me a day longer. In a next blogpost I’ll give them them a voice themselves in my very first digital story, which will be online in the near future. I’ll see how things will go, but it could well be that this blog will become more visual and less written, so to speak.
But there has to be done a lot of writing now that I’m here, since that is what I’m here for. I’ll have to skip cycling for the coming months, as I need to work on my novel.


My home for the time being with the lovely family at Kattholt.

Danish retreat

On the 10th of October a new adventure will begin for me. Not really a new one, since I’ve been in Denmark before. And I’ve been there by bike before. And I’ve done some writing before.

Maybe not all that exciting, but also familiar roads can take you down to a new adventure, and writing a new book is always a new adventure. Alright, enough of the clichés. There ís something new. Apart from the fact that my top one priority is that I will be starting on my new novel, I would like to explore the Danish literature a bit more, since I’m quite a layman on that subject. Armed with a slightly better camera than my smartphone I would not only like to do more with photography, but with interviewing and filming as well. So I hope to be able to get into contact with preferably poets and more preferably poets of more or less my age. What drives them to write poetry, how do they do it, what are their themes. And to translate a poem of theirs.

But writing remains number one, so it won’t be that adventurous as my previous trips. I’m living comfortably in a house, at the lovely family where I did some WWOOF’ing a few years ago. They are very welcoming and joyful people and you can’t find more hygge than in their heartwarming house.

The updates that will follow after I arrive in Kattrup – a small village between Horsens and Arhus – will therefore be of a bit less cyclinglike character.