Gerður Kristný [Fabulous Iceland]
Another thing I want to do this week (in addition to a special post about Icelandic cuisine) is highlight some of the as-yet-untranslated authors featured on the wonderful Fabulous Iceland site.
First up is Gerður Kristný, who I had the honor of meeting last time I was in Iceland. (Facebook friends go first! Besides, Gerður and her husband, Kristján Jónasson, are two of the nicest people ever.) She’s the author of 18 books, mostly poetry, but also novels, short story collections, and children’s books.
As mentioned on the Fabulous Iceland site, 2010 was a kick-ass year for Gerður. Over the course of 2010 she won three prizes: the Jón úr Vör Poetry Prize, the Guðmundur Böðvarsson Poetry Prize, and West Nordic Children’s Literature Prize. She has a new book of poetry out—Blóðhófnir (Bloodhoof)—which is based on an ancient Eddic poem and has been receiving a lot of praise. And that comment about being one of the nicest people ever? She also spent some time in Uganda recently working with the Icelandic branch of Save the Children.
Fabulous Iceland has a very nice interview with Gerður, which is where the following is pulled from:
Your newest book draws on ancient Nordic literature: The Lay of Skírnir in the Poetic Edda. Sixteen years before that, you dealt with the exact same work in the poem “Til Skírnis” (“To Skírnir”), which appeared in your debut. Did the material for Bloodhoof stay with you for all those years?
As a child, I fell in love with Norse mythology. I thought the stories were terrific. The tale of my namesake, Gerður, the daughter of Gymir, was an early favorite, so I lent her a voice in my first work, the poetry book Ísfrétt (Ice Report, 1994). Later, after turning in the manuscript of my first novel, Regnbogi í póstinum (A Rainbow in the Mail, 1996), I decided to celebrate by getting a tattoo. I had an old friend, the late tattoo-artist Helgi, tattoo Freyr’s sword on me. I’ve gone around armed ever since. I would later write a poem about Helgi, which appeared in Höggstaður (Weak Point, 2007).
The new book undermines the traditional reading of The Lay of Skírnir as a love poem. Instead, it highlights the coercion brought to bear on the giantess Gerður. Tellingly, equal rights have been a persistent theme in your work. There is a special kind of impact in subverting old traditions like this, isn’t there?
Equal rights are often mentioned in the pieces I’ve written for the newspaper Fréttablaðið during the past five years, but not in the poetry you are referring to. Scholars have covered The Lay of Skírni_r very well in the past few years, and no wonder – it’s a captivating poem that lends itself readily to interpretation. I find the coercion in _The Lay of Skírnir to be plain as day. Gerður Gymisdóttir has no more choice than the young girls I recently met in Uganda. Just like her, they were snatched from their homes and forced into the service of men. Skírnir bullied Gerður with threats, the worst of which was the threat of eternal loneliness, that she will only have death to look forward to. It’s understandable that this threat sways her. When I was little, I read that Gerður was counted among the Æsir – the Norse Gods – after arriving in their midst. At the time I thought that this must have been a great honor to her. However, if you read the poem you’ll see that she doesn’t want to leave her home and only gives in under extreme duress. The lay comes to a close when Skírnir informs the god Freyr that Gerður is on her way. I wanted to continue the story and relate what happened when Freyr and Gerður meet. And that’s what I did in Bloodhoof.
There is a strong element of horror in your poetry. Does fear fascinate you?
My world of poetry has always had very strict border patrols. However, fear was an early settler, settling into its deepest crevices. It’s stayed there ever since; I don’t think I’ll be evicting it by now. In any case, there has to be room for the whole spectrum of emotions. [. . .]
18 works in 16 years. Is more on the way?
There sure is! In late January, my musical Ballið á Bessastöðum (The Bessastaðir Ball) will premier on the main stage of the National Theater. It’s adapted from two of my books: The Bessastaðir Ball (2007) and Prinsessan á Bessastöðum (The Bessastaðir Princess, 2009). After that, there are at least two novels waiting to be finished, and I have quite a bit of unpublished poetry. In December, I’ll be heading off to a poetry festival in Bangladesh, and no doubt some of the things I’ll see there will find their way into poetry. I’ll bring a notepad along, sketch down ideas, and when I get home I’ll see if they’re worth anything.