Friday, June 21, 2013


I spent the day before yesterday bent out of shape by a stupid argument I should never have gotten into.It was a classic Internet argument, with a facebook friend of a facebook friend of mine. He maintained that poetry was an elite art form, and there was no popular readership of poetry and no folk or popular poetry. Nada. None.

I should have left right then. Instead I mentioned poets who have been popular, such as Pablo Neruda, and I pointed to the lyrics of ballads as poetry written by the folk. He had a reason why every example I gave was not a good example. He was also rude. A classic Internet troll. I became furious. I finally had the wits to leave, but I remained angry.

As a result of the argument I started researching Icelandic poetry on the Internet. That led to a really bleak Icelandic lullaby, all about death, darkness, bones, black sand covering green fields and glaciers groaning. It came with a translation, but it was a less than perfect translation, and I decided I wanted to translate it. Then I decided I wanted to put it in a story. What kind of story? An Icelandic story, of course. but what kind? I thought the lullaby might be about the eruption of the Icelandic volcanic rift Laki in the late 18th century. That's a wild guess. I have no reason to believe I'm right. But the obvious thing to do is write a story about the eruption of Laki. Laki carpeted the country with poisonous ash. 80% of the sheep and 25% of the people died from poison and starvation. Imagine a story about an Icelandic farm family, fleeing the eruption. I can see them, the parents carrying their children, who are wrapped in blankets, the parents breathing in toxic ash. Their animals are dead. They have nothing except what they are carrying. The land is black and the sky is black.

Of course, there have to be trolls...

I got the first couple of pages of the new story done yesterday. I was going to call it "The Troll Maid." Now I think I will call it "Laki." Laki sounds friendly to me. As mentioned above, name does not refer to a single mountain such as Hekla or Mount Rainier. Rather it is a rift that runs north from the volcano Grimsvotn. During the 18th century eruption, 130 craters opened along the rift, spewing lava, ash and toxic gas.

Now it is time to stop talking about the story and work on it. There's a theory that you shouldn't talk about a story in progress, because you will talk the story out of you. I'm not sure I believe that, but I'm not going to risk using up the creative impulse and the good ideas. Anyway, a person who talks too much about what they are going to write is boring.


Blogger Leslie Bates said...

And I thought what I was writing Was dark.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Helgi Briem said...

Hi Eleanor. What's the poem you want to translate?

7:29 AM  
Blogger Helgi Briem said...

For some reason I cannot see your blog post or comment on it except in Feedly or Reader, not directly. Very strange.

Yes, that's certainly a wonderful poem and one my mother used to sing to me as a child even though she wasn't quite fluent in Icelandic at the time.

It's not exactly a folk song though, it's by celebrated poet Jóhann Sigurjónsson ( Several more of his poems there which you may like. I do.

I love Jóhann's stuff which is, and I find this a little hard to write, almost comically sad. Does that make sense to you? They are so over-the-top melodramatically tearful that in today's cynical world, they appear almost like parodies. I have written similar poems ironically.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Helgi Briem said...

BTW, it's a very popular song too (from a play Jóhann wrote in 1912) and has been interpreted by many singers, Icelandic and foreign:

Ragnheiður Gröndal:

Damien Rice:

8:57 AM  
Blogger Helgi Briem said...

And I see that it has been translated at least once:

11:09 AM  

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