In the ever-changing world of Icelandic poetry, a new anthology by Una Útgáfuhús, or Una Press, is bringing the next generation of Icelandic poets to the fore. Named ‘Það er alltaf eitthvað’, or ‘There is always something,’ the anthology is a collaborative work written by students of creative writing and—if the talent on show is anything to go by—it bodes well for the future of this tenuous but tenacious literary scene.
It’s a small world
Iceland is a famously literary nation. But with the population standing at just under 340,000, the poetry scene in Iceland is, inevitably, perilously small. However, against all the odds, it continues to survive, and even thrive. Poetry is bought and sold, read and recited, and reviewed and criticised across Iceland. The Icelandic poetry scene is no bastion of the old. The late publisher Meðgönguljóð, which sold poetry pamphlets for the price of a coffee, worked to bring a wide range of young Icelandic poets to prominence.
However, through the work of new publishers like Una Press, Iceland continues to see an emergence of young, dynamic writers. “It’s the end of one generation,” says Jóhannes Helgason, one of the members of Una Press. “And now they’re letting the next generation get involved.”
Compiling the work of twelve writers, Una Press’ anthology was developed through an initiative from the University of Iceland, where students studying creative writing joined with those studying practical editing and publishing. One of the most important choices, of course, was the title. After much discussion, ‘There is always something’ was the eventual choice, taken from a phrase spoken often by the grandmother of Mikló, one of the writers. The phrase testifies to the mixture of joy and challenges we face in our actions and decisions throughout life.
“Thematically, the stories are quite broad,” says Jóhannes. “But the idea of strings, or connections, was a starting point.” The range of subject matter is, admittedly, dizzying. In one story, a woman has forty-seven siblings. In another, there’s a pervert on a train. But the theme of connections, whether in the form of family, relationships, or even historical ties, runs deep throughout the divergent narrative strands.
“In a way, the anthology itself is a string of shorter works, linking together,” says Stefanía Pálsdóttir, one of the student writers at Una Press. But she also emphasizes the personal nature of these poems. “The work is also, of course, about us. Because when you write, you use a tiny, tiny bit of yourself.”
One of the surest signs of success in Icelandic poetry is to have your work translated. At present, ‘Það er alltaf eitthvað’ is only available in Icelandic, but Stefanía is enthusiastic about a potential translation. “It would be very exciting,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of interest from both Icelanders and foreigners alike in bringing these works to a larger audience.”
She also speaks hopefully about the overall trajectory of Icelandic language poetry. “I’m really optimistic,” she explains. “New voices are being heard and I also feel a lot of people do concentrate on the art itself, instead of just trying to become famous through Instagram poetry.”
A new generation
Will there be future projects similar to this? Stefanía is reticent but confirms that there are, as she says, “quite a few irons in the fire.” She also voices hope that more students will take part in the course. “It’s the start of a new generation of Icelandic poets,” agrees Jóhannes, “And I’m really excited to see where it will go.”
‘Það er alltaf eitthvað’ is widely available in bookshops across Iceland. See www.utgafuhus.is for more info.
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