Last night, while most of Reykjavík was in full Airwaves swing (some attending in Halloween masks, which I very much appreciated), I was enjoying a much different kind of cultural event: the ljóðarúta, or poetry-bus. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just go ahead and quote my own description of the event:
Under the guidance of poet Sigurlín Bjarney Gísladóttir, passengers will be driven around the city listening to the work of poets who board the bus at stops along the way and then “disappear into the evening darkness.”
Among the poets reading during the hour and a half journey are Gerður Kristný, Sindri Freysson, Þórdís Gísladóttir, Heiða Eiríks, Bjarki Karlsson, Kári Tulinius and Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir.
The poetry bus reading is the closing night event of the Reykjavík Reads literature festival, organized by the Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature office.
I decided on a whim to attend this event, even though all the readings would be in Icelandic. My thinking was that I would probably only understand a quarter—or if I was lucky, a third—of what was going on, but that the experience itself would still be really enjoyable and good practice all at the same time. All of these assumptions ended up being true.
The bus left from Harpa, and I was briefly worried that I wouldn’t find it (the parking area in front of Harpa is rather big, there were a lot of people out, and there wasn’t really a big HERE’S THE POETRY BUS sign anywhere, not to mention that I was looking for an actual Strætó city bus, while we ended up being on a tour bus). But seeing me wander about, one of the people from the City of Literature office took pity and gave me a holler before I turned around and gave up.
I’m hoping that the City of Lit office will publish a full list of the participating poets, because while I didn’t understand all of what was being said, I understood enough to be interested in tracking down the work and spending some time reading and understanding the poems in earnest.
The first poet who read for us, got on at Harpa—she was about to go play a show for Airwaves, we were told—and she read two poems about riding the bus. Then, she hopped off and we headed toward the Viðey ferry dock, listening to our “guide” read us poetry that was about/was set in Reykjavík, often corresponding with our exact location at any given time. In the parking lot of the Viðey ferry, singer-songwriter Myrra Rós got on the bus and sang us two lovely songs from her first album, which came out last year (and which, nicely enough, I knew pretty well).
After that, we drove out of town (I think we may have gone through Garðabær and later Breiðholt, but I am not sure) picking up a poet named Þórdís, who read a poem about (I think) starring in her own romantic comedy. Judging from everyone’s responses and her reading style, she was very funny and I should look her up for sure. She got off in a dark neighborhood (there was someone waiting to pick her up), and on came Bragi Ólafsson, an author whose work I really enjoy and was pretty excited to hear read. He read several poems, one about someone whose neighbor just died (also, apparently, very funny), and one about the coming of spring.
Bragi departed at a spot out of town (again, there was a car waiting for him), and we waited a few minutes for the arrival of Kári Tulinius and Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir, who collaboratively edit and publish series of single- (or two-) author poetry books called meðgönguljóð. They read from the first title in the series, their own Þungir forsetar, or “Heavy Presidents,” which they co-authored—each poem in the collection was written collaboratively—as well as reading some of their other recent work. I have a copy of Þungir Forsetar, although I still haven’t understood all of it, so it was nice to have another moment of recognition and familiarity, and also to hear them both read the poem together.
We dropped Kári and Valgerður at the Mjódd bus depot and picked up Sindri Freysson, who seems to have been waiting outside for quite awhile and was a bit flushed and out of breath when he boarded. I believe he was reading poetry about his own family history. He gave a long (funny?) introduction about his great grandparents and their families and again, I wish I would have gotten more of it. As he read, we picked up another poet from a bus stop on the highway back into Reykjavík. This poet, whose name I didn’t catch, boisterously read two long, rhyming political poems, which I caught just enough of to laugh occasionally and understand why the woman a few seats in front of me had her hand—semi-shocked-semi-amused—over her mouth for most of the reading.
We were nearing the end of our time when the bus turned down Suðargata, passed the university and…started driving me home? Sure enough, we passed the airport, drove down by the sea, and passed right by my street before pulling up at the end of the number 12 bus line. As it turns out, the poet, novelist, young adult author, and playwright Gerður Kristný, is my neighbor. Her first poem was about our neighborhood (so I’ll have to find that now), and then she read a number of shorter poems while we drove back to town.
Pulling up at Harpa, a woman in a red cape and costume makeup got on and read us four poems by an unidentified author. Everyone on board was given a slip of paper to guess the author, and two people who guessed correctly won the book of poetry that the City of Literature published especially for this year’s literature festival. (I didn’t guess…)
I got off the bus feeling, perhaps expectedly, a bit brain-tired and a little regretful of my still not-fluency, but mostly just happy to have participated in such a unique literary event in the city. And then I headed home, sat down with Mark with a big bowl of candy (previously collected at the self-serve Nammi (Candy) Bar in town), and watched a bunch of Halloween cartoons.
Not a bad night!