The Artists Formerly Known as Nýhil [Icelandic Culture]
This is another guest post by Amanda De Marco. Quick correction to her bio: She’s actually not currently in Iceland. But she was. Recently. Now she’s in Frankfurt enjoying the awesome that is the Book Fair.
The seventh annual Reykjavik International Poetry Festival just took place last weekend. Thor Steinarsson co-runs the organization that sponsors the festival, and I had a chance to ask him (and Angela Rawlings) some questions about the organization and event. Why haven’t I named the organization yet? Well, because it’s changing its name, and its focus too. It was formerly known as ‘Nýhil,’ a poetry collective and publisher known for supporting new and innovative writers. Now? Well, Thor doesn’t give it a name yet, but he does give a peek into its new mission.
Note: The change came as a surprise to me too, which is why my questions are addressed to Nýhil.
Tell me a bit about the history of Nýhil, as well as about your structure and mission now. I’ve heard Nýhil was a bit dormant in the past few years, but that things are picking up now; what accounts for the change?
Nýhil has been in operation since 2004, when a group of young poets decided to form a collective to publish and promote cutting-edge work of emerging writers in dialogue with international peers. In 2005, the first international poetry festival was held in an abandoned factory with poets such as Christian Bök and Anna Hallberg. Since then, Nýhil has published close to 50 titles and invited over 40 international guests to the poetry festival.
Nýhil has taken on many forms over the past seven years dependent on the interests of the primary organizers for each year-long period. Organizers who have been involved at various points in the Nýhil collective have recognized that the shifting desires and urgencies of the local community now render the project as “complete”, and a core collective of folks previously involved are now in the exciting stages of closing Nýhil as a project while verging into a new collective that carries with it as a foundation the important groundwork Nýhil laid during its existence. The new collective will have a stronger focus on events, arts education, and translation.
Stylistically Nýhil is experimental/post-avant-ish . . . right? Are there any American or European organizations you would compare yourself to to help non-Icelanders understand what you publish?
Our collective supports hybrid, experimental, post-avant, radical, innovative text (often under the broader definition of poetry). Similar sister organizations to the previous manifestations of Nýhil (particularly as a publishing collective) could include Coach House Books in Toronto; Nokturno.org in Helsinki; BookThug in Toronto; Le Clou Dans Le Fer in Paris; and the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver. In terms of our festival and arts education activities, sister organizations might include Krikri Polypoetry Collective in Ghent; Stichting Perdu in Amsterdam; Toronto New School of Writing; and the former Scream Literary Festival in Toronto.
I was told that in Iceland it’s typical for writers to first publish a book of poetry, then later move to novels; does this mean that Icelanders read more poetry than other people? Or take it less seriously?
Young Icelandic authors tend to write poetry at first, before they commit to literary projects with higher word counts. I don’t have an explanation; it might be of cultural reason or economical. The Icelandic grant system might have something to do with it, where you have to show some published works to be more likely to get the government grant. But I don’t think that Icelanders read more poetry than others or take it more seriously.
Is any Nýhil poetry available in English?
Some poets affiliated with Nýhil have had selected poems or books translated into other languages — notably Eiríkur Örn Norddahl. We are actively developing plans for future multilingual anthologies that will feature Icelandic poetry in translation as well as poetry from other languages translated into Icelandic.
How has the festival developed over the years?
The festival began with significant inclusivity (anyone who wanted to could perform), which offered a wonderful marathon of poetry. Over the years and dependent on the shifting interests of the organizers, the festival has taken the form of an opening night, two full evenings of performances (usually featuring between twenty to thirty local and international poets) intercut with musical performances by local musicians, a panel discussion, and a private day trip and dinner that extends the discussion amongst the performers and organizers.
This year, we shifted the structure of the panel discussion to a round-table format in order to provide a non-hierarchical space for everyone in attendance to converse on pertinent socio-poetic issues. We also shifted the focus from people actively identifying their works as “poetry” to consider textual experimentation in a variety of formats (highlighting specifically new media work; cross-, multi-, and interdisciplinary work; and non-conventional publishing translated to performance). We were pleased to witness a performance collaboration by foreign guest Anne Kawala and local poet Elías Knörr which came swiftly after they met in Iceland; it is our hope that collaborations of these kinds will be an exciting component of future festivals, when there is interest between the artists to work together.