Ásta Fanney beats the shit out of poetry
Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir, what a woman! Having interviewed her for the current feature story of Grapevine (in stores now, soon to be online) about the literary scene in Reykjavík, but never having heard or read any of her poetry, I was excited to get a taste of what she was all about. It’s one thing to talk about poetry and quite another to actually experience it. So when she invited me to her reading at Airwords, an event started last year by Andri Snær Magnason, I put it in my calendar straight away. It’s the night when literature takes over at Harpa, at least for a little while, and a rare glimpse into the scene for a foreigner.
Ásta’s poetry reading wasn’t like any I’ve ever attended in the States. The last one I went to induced lots of drinking to blur out the horrible sound of a girl reading a poem from her high school diary about Adam and Eve. Ásta is a performer, through and through, commanding attention as soon as she steps on the stage. The roadies are clearing out the equipment from the act right before her 19:30 set as she takes the microphone, but she makes sure you were focusing on her and her words. Reading from a giant notebook almost as big as her (this is only a slight exaggeration), she starts to talk to the audience, outlining her plan of how this performance will go. I soon realise that this is was part of the performance as she goes through all the contingency plans of what she’ll do based on what might happen. She talks to the unseen sound person, telling him or her to put some reverb on her voice to emphasise the deepness of what she’s saying. She’s poking fun at the seriousness of a poetry reading and then slips effortlessly into a stream of consciousness type monologue about her country and her people and her nature, playing with the words. This mode switches back and forth between what the audience might be accustomed to thinking of as poetry and Ásta’s direct address of the audience.
She’s at times clever, funny, both thought provoking and soothing. Sharp as a tack and eager to incorporate performance into her reading, Ásta’s performance was a treat. I’m glad I was able to see her perform in English since my Icelandic is confined to only a few words. Seeing what she does with a second language makes me yearn to see what she can do in her native tongue.
Posted November 7, 2014