Popping in at the Reykjavík International Literay Festival

Aðalsteinn Ásberg Sigurðsson, Gerður Kristný and Markéta Hejkalová – photo by Markús Már Efraím Sigurðsson via the Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature website.

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of festivals and conferences and such here in Iceland. One of the ones that I was particularly excited about is the biennial Reykjavík International Literary Festival, which this year coincides with the PEN International Congress. The festival kicked off last weekend, but due to a confluence of circumstances, I haven’t actually been able to go to many events or readings. Mark, however, did volunteer a bit, and was asked to recap some of the events for the Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature website.

His first recap—that of the “Pass the Word” reading at the City Library’s featuring authors and poets from Iceland, Germany, The Netherlands, and The Czech Republic—is online here. I was able to catch the very last reading of this event, but unfortunately missed Gerður Kristný, whose story “The Ice People” was in the 2012 edition of Best European Short Stories, and which I enjoyed very much. (Here’s an interesting interview with her in 3:am Magazine.) Luckily, although I missed Gerður’s reading, Mark has a nice recap:

Rather than alternate between Icelandic and English, as others readers did, Gerður Kristný, the Icelandic poet, novelist and children’s author, introduced herself in Icelandic and launched straight into a selection of her Icelandic poetry, before switching abruptly to English and introducing a selection of her work recently printed in Modern Poetry in Translation, in an issue dedicated to the 2012 Parnassus poetry festival. Holding up the journal, Gerður noted dryly: “I even got to be the back cover girl, isn’t that an honor?” She nodded, forcefully.
Gerður set up the the poem “Skagafjörður” with a little personal history: “One of the arguments I had with my husband was over where we are going to be buried. It’s one of the few arguments I’ve lost to my husband. So I’m going to be buried in Skagafjörður, which is… (She waves her hand, vaguely, in a northerly direction.) … It’s very cold. I don’t know a lot of people there.” So the poem’s narrator discusses what she will do for her children, so that they will visit her grave and tend to her memory; in this way the poem also becomes an earnest evocation of motherly love. “Triumph,” also set around Skagafjörður, describes a hunter tying a recently slain arctic fox to his jeep: “No one mentions Achilles or Hector, and I know to hold my tongue.”

I’ll post his other recap, for a reading featuring a really exciting lineup of authors and poets, including Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason, and Australian poet Judith Rodriguez, when it is available. I got to go to that event, and can tell you first hand that it was a good one…

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