Robbie Martzen; Credit: Françoise Glod

Luxembourg’s first English-language publishing house, Black Fountain Press, recently released a collection of travel writing entitled A Pint of Fish Fingers - Tales of a Wonderer, by local writer Robbie Martzen.

Robbie Martzen was born in Luxembourg and currently resides here, although he pursued studies in modern languages and literature in Brussels and Dublin. He has published several poems and short stories in anthologies and journals, both in Luxembourg and abroad. He has also been long- and shortlisted in various competitions, such as the Blue Nose Poet-of-the-Year Competition in London ("Highly Commended Poet" in 1999) and the Concours Littéraire National in Luxembourg (shortlisted in 1996). He is an ‘emerging writer’ within the framework of the Associatioun Lëtzebuerger Literatur (A-LL) and a member of the Black Fountain Press reading committee.

His new travelogue deals with questions many Luxembourg residents are familiar with: “Why do we travel [...] so much?” – for some, it may be a sense of claustrophobia, for others the ease of multilingualism may open many doors to other places and cultures, the work suggests. However, ultimately, other motivations may also play a role. This is what Robbie Martzen sets out to investigate in his newly published work, in 26 “letters”. He reflects on his travel experiences and on the ability to compare home and abroad, shedding a different light on home through the contrast. He also discusses modes of travel, notably making a difference between travellers and tourists.

Anne-Marie Reuter, the publishing director, noted: “It's the first collection of travel writing that Black Fountain released. It can easily be read alongside Jeffrey Palms's "I'm Having a Knippchen – an American View of Luxembourgish Culture". Robbie's work takes the opposite perspective: a Luxembourger's view of other cultures.”

She also shared a quote from the book that highlights the work’s explorative nature: 'Perhaps it's healthier to have a question mark in your head than a full stop.'

Talking to, Robbie Martzen discussed his inspiration for this travelogue as well as his experience with writing. He explained that he started writing in the early 1990s and that his writing normally focuses on poetry and occasionally on short stories.

Most of the time, a small occurrence will have struck a chord within me and ask to be put down on paper. This can be an encounter with nature or people, a headline, or simply some inner restlessness or questioning process,” he said. He shared that this book emerged from an anecdote he jotted down on one of his travels, which later turned into prose instead of poetry.

I love travelling, as it somewhat paradoxically allows me to both clear and fill my mind with new impressions. That anecdote turned into a second one, then a third one, then more half-forgotten roadside encounters popped up in my memory, and suddenly I had an entire book. I discovered that this process of setting down in writing things that have touched me helps me to move on towards whatever comes next by laying the past to rest. I also wanted to share my fascination for the inherent weirdness of this planet and this life,” Robbie Martzen explained.

When asked whether he writes while travelling, he said that if he does, he will not usually write about the trip he is currently on. “ [...] Almost as a rule, I don’t write about a journey I’m in the middle of, as I’m afraid it will take away from the magic or, worse, I might end up deliberately hunting for extraordinary events or encounters. It’s with the benefit of hindsight that the writing process works best for me when it comes to travel writing. Poetry is, of course, a different story,” he concluded.

(c) Timothy Lone