New Year, New Blogger, and Some Icelandic Poetry Posted by Meg on Jan 10, 2017 in Icelandic culture, Uncategorized
I’m Meg, and I’ll be taking over the Transparent Icelandic blog in the new year (by the way, [síðbúið] gleðilegt ár!). And I decided I’d start this new blog with an introduction – a little about who I am and how I ended up in love with Icelandic.
I’m currently on Fulbright in Iceland, where I’m pulling together a gender-balanced anthology of Icelandic poetry. On the side, I translate young adult/children’s literature, and my first book is due out this month. I hold a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and Literary Translation, and I’m currently on track for a degree in modern Icelandic.
So how about, for this very first post, I show you how I connected with Icelandic?
It all started with poetry; Gerður Kristný, to be precise: this exact poem published over at Words Without Borders. It’s hard to show the nuances in Icelandic when there’s only an English translation, but you might see how the intensity of that poem could draw me in (this was before I spoke Icelandic) – the sound of ice cracking set against the backdrop of a downy pillow of snow. The immediacy of “the ice lets no one go”. Even if you’re not interested in poetry in particular, Gerður Kristný is a great teacher: the language in her poems is dense, sharp, and widely varied. Good way to build some vocab.
I’ve always found that I learn best by reading. This isn’t the case for everybody. And Icelandic seems to require me to employ a lot of learning strategies that aren’t typical of me: I learn a lot by rote because of its complicated declension system. Which is one of its positive points, returning to poetry: Icelandic is able to convey particulars in few words because of how precisely each part of speech is used. Take this poem, Hunang, for example. Even without knowing what each word means, you can discern parts of speech. Which means you’re seeing the outline of the language, its schematics.
There’s also the possibility for a lot of ambiguity in Icelandic literature. Polysemous words – or words with multiple meanings – is an enormous hurdle to translation, and one of my favorite things about Icelandic. (e.g., “að yrkja,” meaning to compose verse or to till a field). Though its grammar is rather constricting at times, its vocabulary, its touches of color, counterbalances that rigidity. Plus, it’s really easy to make a pun in Icelandic once you have some vocabulary behind you. And it’s quite fun.
So, while we learn Icelandic together, I’m also open to questions, which you can leave in the comments section. And if you come across something you can elaborate on, something you want to talk about or share with fellow readers, don’t hesitate to post below.