The following talk was commissioned in March 2014 for the life celebration of poet, actress, and sculptor Melitta Urbancic, who fled from Austria to Iceland during the second World War. Her poetry collection From the Edge of the World was translated into Icelandic by Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson and launched at the celebration. I was asked to speak about the experience of being a foreign-born artist living and working in Iceland.
Góðan daginn og til hamingju með daginn.
It is a pleasure to think through the situation of the foreign-born Iceland-dwelling artist through the lenses of cultural sharing, societal impact, and especially polylingual implications.
I titled my talk Bý: a talk about the útlendingaljóðskald’s ecolinguistic activism through apiculture and Icelandic-language acquisition. As a poet, I’m a language pervert, and this long-winded multisyllabic title grants me the potential to introduce the terms ‘ecolinguistics’ and ‘apiculture’ into the room. Both terms are, for me, at the intersection where my experience crosses with Melitta Urbancic’s experience as a foreign-born artist living and working in Iceland.
On the eve of my first Að landa post, the sky over Reykjavík plunged from pink to indigo when the last light dwindled near 17:30. Jupiter rose in the north as I set up my tripod, charged my camera battery. Holding a wrist near eye level to block the city lights, I scanned the horizon above Mount Esja for hints of moonlight.
Nicolas Billon taught me the wrist trick during his first visit to Iceland in October. I’d been curious to meet him, a fellow Canadian who'd authored Iceland. And so we found ourselves at Stykkishólmur’s Library of Water. New moon. Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl and I had just finished a poetry performance; we gathered outside of the library to stare at northern lights, partly obscured by high, thin clouds. Nicolas raised his wrist and coaxed us to follow his lead. With the electric harbour lights of Stykkishólmur blocked, we could see the aurora.