When you come to a nation that prides itself on maintaining almost 100% literacy for centuries, you expect poetry to hold a revered place. Strangely enough, in the last few decades it hasn’t. You can’t particularly blame Iceland for allowing poetry to fade, it is an international phenomenon.
Besides, as poetry stopped dominating discussion and serving as a source of national(ist) pride, thanks to writers like Einar Már Guðmundsson, it took to the streets and it took up a new set of influences. Bad as it is that Reykjavík had no place to properly exhalt poetry’s hauty qualities, at least this was one of the few towns where one could get harassed at a bar at 4 am to buy a book of poetry.
Somehow, out of this street, everyman movement, a group of poets, musicians, and writers with the aura of rock stars got together a few years ago to bring poetry back into the middle-to-higher establishments. Calling themselves the Nýhil group, they do things like hold international readings, travel the country, publish properly laid out and designed books, and their work is catching on. (In fact, in this issue, the Grapevine presents a translation of the rock star of poetry.)
Now, the Nýhil group has found a home for their work, taking over a sitting room in the Smekkleysa (Bad Taste) Record Shop and turning it into the poet’s sweetest dream. Perhaps surprising for people who have followed the group’s more gritty tendencies, the poetry shop is basically high end, featuring tome after tome, set into bookshelves and, in one of the salesperson’s own words, “The most expensive display case in the city.”
All as it should be. The Nýhil Poetry Bookstore, like the Culture House not too far away, is a place to worship the notion of the book, an activity not that much less fulfilling for not being able to understand what’s written in them.
We’re just waiting for the group to start hosting some more proper readings like those that earned them their fame. According to their representatives, their next large Reykjavík event will be this October, during their second annual international poetry festival.