Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl is surely one of Iceland’s finest authors/experimental poets/literary translators. Although Eiríkur spends most of his time in Finland (when he’s not travelling the world, relentlessly marketing his experimental poetry at fancy conferences, clinking glasses with the glitzy superstars of modern literature), most of what he writes is in Icelandic. Aside from some anthologies Eiríkur edited and various collaborative projects—many under the banner of now-defunct poetry collective Nýhil, which he co-founded—he has thus far published three novels, five books of poetry and a meditation on copyright and piracy in Icelandic (with a fourth novel forthcoming this fall).
Through it all he still somehow found time to get married, conceive and raise a child and write dozens of awesome poetry columns for Reykjavík Grapevine—most of which have now been collected in an omnibus of his English-language writing. We wrote him some emails to ask about it.
Hi Eiríkur. We hear you’ve compiled in a new book some of the many fine columns you wrote for us back when we were younger and more innocent. Is this true?
What is it called?
‘Booby, Be Quiet!’
Is this an attempt to boost sales by passing your work off as pornography? Why/why not?
It’s an allusion to W.H. Auden’s translation of the Elder Edda: “The ignorant booby had best be silent / When he moves among other men, / No one will know what a nit-wit he is / Until he begins to talk.” Booby also means fool, but for marketing reasons I don’t tell people that until they’ve bought the book.
Where can we get it?
You can get it online—for instance on norddahl.org (go to the English part of the site).
SADLY, NO IRON MAIDEN
Did you include that five thousand-word Iron Maiden live review of yours we published on a spread back when? Why/Why not?
I did not. That was an oversight. I am an ignorant booby. I will include it in my upcoming nostalgic metal review book—when I’ve gone to enough metal concerts. But it does include my seventeen thousand word insightful rant on Icelandic literature and the crisis.
Does the book include all of your columns that we published? Or just some? How did you choose?
At around the same time I wrote said Iron Maiden live review I also wrote a few bad columns for the Grapevine and got fired. Later, with a new editor in charge, I was rehired (the new editor may not have read my bad columns). I did not include any of these bad columns, only my excellent columns about poetry. Except the first one, about the mad poet Tobbi—that one ended up cannibalized in a larger essay that’s also included.
What else is in there?
Essays and lectures about poetry and literature written for a foreign audience. I travel quite a lot to festivals to perform sound poetry and sometimes they ask me to talk or contribute an article for some publication. Most of these have been written in English (and then translated to Polish, Danish, Faroese etc.)—but one was written in Icelandic and translated to German and I translated it to English myself (fucking personally!) for the book. It’s a book of poetics, aesthetics—about the art of word. There’s stuff in there about sound poetry, about Nýhil, about politics and literature—about half of the book is the short Grapevine columns and the other half is the longer essays.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY HIM OR ANYTHING
Can you get it as a DRM(Digital Rights Management)-free e-book?
You can totally do that—and you can choose to donate a few euros to me through Paypal if you like. If you’re broke you can pay me later when you’re rich. Or not. This is not really a moneymaking scheme. I should add though that the printed book is really pretty and has great texture! My friends at poEsias (my publisher) have done a great job. So maybe you just download the e-book and then buy a copy of the printed book if you like.
Will you be upset if it gets pirated all over the place? Can we send a copy to our friend Einar?
Yes, of course, I would love it if Einar read the book, I’m sure he’d like it. If you tell him about the donation thing, that’d be good too.
You’ve written about the subject of piracy and copyright quite extensively. What is your conclusion?
A) Readers should not steal books because writers and publishers need to eat too—even when they don’t like the books and are never going to read them again, they should pay for them (e-books distributed on a donation scheme, like ‘Booby’, are an exception—it is the right of writers and publishers to make these exceptions; these rights are not for the reader to take).
B) Publishers should not overcharge for books or lock them up with useless, expensive, socially restrictive, geographically absurdist and undemocratic DRM mechanisms and laws.
C) Information should be free and it should be the job of government (and non-government) institutions to make sure that information can be free—without the people of the information industry needing to starve or whore themselves out.
EVIL IS COMING
What are you up to these days?
I am finishing the mother of all holocaust novels. It is called ‘Illska’ (“Evil”) and is about a young Lithuanian immigrant in Iceland, Agnes (Agné) Lukauskas, whose family comes from a town called Jurbarkas on the Kaliningrad border where, in the summer of 1941, half of the inhabitants (the non-Jewish) killed the other half of the inhabitants. Agnes is born and raised in Iceland, but obsessed with her holocaust past.
Cool! When is that due out?
How about in English?
As soon as possible! (I don’t have an English publisher for it).
Can our foreign readers access any of your fiction in other languages? Where? Is there more coming?
My second novel, ‘Eitur fyrir byrjendur’ (“Poison for Beginners”), is available in Swedish and German (‘Gift för nybörjare’ / ‘Gift für Anfänger’). There’ll certainly be more coming at some point, or so I hope. It would be fine for me if my books were never to be translated again, but horrible for almost everyone else.
Which Icelandic authors should we be seeking out and reading? Who, in your opinion, needs translating the most?
It’s hard to name a few. For one thing we all tend to have the clearest vision of the literature that is closest to us—so in nepotistic Iceland I just start naming my friends. We all do this when asked. And I could and perhaps should do that—Steinar Bragi, Ófeigur Sigurðsson, Kristín Eiríksdóttir, Hermann Stefánsson, Haukur Már Helgason. They’re all brilliant authors. But I’d also be forgetting a lot of authors (both friends and strangers, and certainly I’d never mention any of my sworn nemesi) and maybe it’s not about authors but about books. And then the list could go on and on.
Specially if we’re speaking about English translations—the English book market is notoriously disinterested in other literature than its own, to the extent that Horace Engdahl (a member of the Swedish Nobel Academy) has suggested that American authors should not receive Nobel prizes due to their insularity; that is to say, by translating very little literature they are choosing not to participate in the wider world of literature (these are of course horrible generalisations—and I am to an extent putting words in Engdahl’s mouth—and the same standards would leave Icelandic literature totally out of the picture—but let’s still say it’s 65–85% true). So to any English speaking literary agent or publisher reading this I’ll say: translate all of it or admit total spiritual defeat!