It is time for an interview with a poet from Iceland and this time I talked to Gerður Kristný, who is one of Iceland’s most beloved authors.
Gerður has published books in various literary genres; children’s books, novels, short stories and journalism, to name but a few. Her works can be counted by the dozens. She is best known for her books of poetry.
Hello Gerður, how is life on Iceland?
– Life is excellent in Iceland. I would never admit otherwise. That is why, as surveys show, Icelanders are among the happiest people in the world.
How did it happen that you began to write poetry? What is so special with this genre in literature for you?
– We had to learn poetry by heart in school when I was a child. We stood behind our chairs and recited the work of manly men born in the 19th century. I loved it! The rhythm, the old vocabulary and how they manage to put complicated thoughts or feelings into only a few words was fascinating. I decided to try myself.
You have written everything from novels, books for children and your last book is a poetry book called Reykjavik Requiem. Can you tell us a little about the book?
– I was a magazine editor when a woman contacted me and offered me to publish her story. She had written it herself and it was about her difficult youth. Her oldest brother of four had sexually abused her when she was 7 to 14 years old.
We met to talk about her article and fill in some details. In January 2003 the story was published. A few days before the woman committed suicide. Talking about sexual violence was dangerous at the time and I received the harshest criticism for the publication from the ethics committee of the Icelandic Association of Journalists.
I didn’t stop me though and two years later I wrote a biography of Thelma Ásdísardóttir who had been sexually abused by her father as a child, a man that prostituted her. Thelma explained to the Icelandic nation how that makes a child feel and she also told us how she became that strong person she is now.
The patriarchy went quiet and two years after the harsh criticism I got the Icelandic Journalist Prize for the biography. It is available in Swedish on Storytell if anyone is interested, called Bilden av pappa.
I thought about this dramatic times for 15 years before getting a residency in a Scottish castle and writing about Reykjavík Requiem. I had to find out who I thought the woman that killed her self was and who I thought I was.
There has been the Icelandic literature festival recently on Iceland, how was the event for you?
– It was such fun being able to meet my colleagues again. The Icelandic poetry scene is very interesting at the time. We have many new poets that have stuff to tell. It was an honor to be invited to read with three of them at the festival and I was also in a panel about the darkness with Helene Flood from Norway and Monika Fagerholm from Finland. The fun we had!
The last evening of the festival we all went dancing down town. The volcano eruption in Geldingadalur had started again after a short pause so the sky was red. Books, dancing, Monika Fagerholm and an eruption … what more can you ask for at a festival?
What is your relationship with Finnish and Swedish poetry? Any poets that you like to read from those countries?
– I am a big fan of Scandinavian literature and always have been. I live near the Nordic House where there is an excellent library. I just brought Lars Saabye Christensen latest book home. When corona virus hit the world and we couldn’t travel I finally had time to do radio programs and I chose to tell about two of my all-time favourite; Per Olov Enquist and Tove Jansson.
I read Kapten Nemos bibliotek every few years and Boken om Blanche och Marie and Enquists biography are also brilliant. During Reykjavík literature festival, that we just mentioned, Sophie Jansson visited Iceland. I was a moderator at an event at the Nordic House where she talked about her aunt, Tove and then we read from Det Usynelige barnet with other readers in a few languages. It was interesting to meet Sophie and get to listen to her.
When it comes to finnish and Swedish poetry I happen to admire the poetry of Tapio Koivukari who both can write in Finnish and Icelandic. That is something!
Which of your books are translated into Swedish or Finnish?
– Savukeidas published Verikavio or Bloodhoof as it was called in English. Tapio Koivukari translated it. The book got the Icelandic Literature Prize in 2010 and was nominated to Nordic Rads Literatur pris. It has been published in Swedish too, called Blodhov, but also in Norwegian, Danish and Spanish. Enostone Kustannus published Sumarvirsi two years ago. It was also published by Tapio Koivukari and is about a murder of a 27 year old woman in 1988. Her husband
strangled her at their home. He want to prison and shortly after he got out he was stabbed to death in that very same apartment.
Soon my childrens book Hautausmaa will by published by Enostone Kustannus. Marjakaisa Matthíasson does the translation. I am really looking forward to seeing it in Finnish.
Whats next on your writing schedule?
– I have just written a sequel to a children’s book called Iðunn og afi pönk. It is about an 11-year-old girl and her granddad who is a punk that still talks mostly about The Ramones and has no idea why we have to follow rules.
In the new book I am sending the whole family to a music festival. The granddad is still blacklisted there since he behaved like an idiot there when he was 14 years old. It will be a struggle getting past the guard.
(Photo: Sigtryggur Ari)