Killing yourself with poetry

August 23, 2009 in Articles, The Grapevine, The New Illiterati

A poster for Nýhil's Poetry Parties - a tour around Iceland in 2003.

A poster for Nýhil's Poetry Parties - a tour around Iceland in 2003.

‘Twas the eve of Nýhils 2nd international poetry festival, late autumn 2006. I was the manager for the second year in a row. For some reason I can’t remember we didn’t have any microphones. The Norwegian poet, Gunnar Wærness, had misunderstood his flight-information and missed his flight. The Swedish poets Anna Hallberg and Jörgen Gassilewski would be arriving late from Copenhagen—just before going onstage —and they’d be accompanied by their one month old son, Bruno. A storm was ripping through Europe and the Canadian poet Christian Bök was stuck at the international airport in Frankfurt, waiting it out. We were an hour from opening the doors.

Two hours earlier my neighbour in Ísafjörður had rung me up to inform me that when I left the town ten days earlier I’d forgotten to close the big skylight window over my bed. It had now been storming for three days straight in the Westfjords and as my bed filled with melting snow water, it had started to drip down into my neighbour’s apartment.

The week prior to this I’d made some rather harsh remarks on the radio about a member of the Liberal Party who’d written a fiercely racist article in the newspaper, titled “Iceland for Icelanders?” As I was standing there, waiting for microphones and foreign poets and a message from my sister who’d gone to check out my wet apartment, the phone rang.

“Hello?” I said, trembling and sweating. “Is this the guy that was on the radio” a husky voice asked me. I admitted that I was indeed I. The voice on the phone threatened to kill me. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember he spoke in a “we”—as in “we will kill you” and not “I will kill you”.

My apartment turned out to be wet but not destroyed. The foreign poets all showed up and got on stage on time and I haven’t yet been assassinated by some anonymous group of Icelandic racists. But it’s probably the closest I’ve come to having a complete and utter mental breakdown (and I’ve come pretty close). And still, the two years I arranged the Nýhil International Poetry Festival was some of the best times I’ve had in my life: Neurotic, beer-marinated madness on a shoe-string-budget, to get some of the world’s best poets to perform in a country where (almost) nobody had ever heard of them. But as it was all rather nerve-wrecking and I myself, being rather susceptible to such fear and trembling, decided to let other people have a go at helming the madness.

This’ll be the first year though, that I don’t get to attend. In a week’s time (the weekend of 21st to 23rd of August) the festival will once again be realised in Reykjavík. Be on the lookout for a bugger-eyed, sweating lunatic in the crowd. That’s the person responsible for the whole kit and kaboodle. Be nice to them. Give ‘em a hug and a pat on the back. Thank them for their work. The Nýhil International Poetry Festival is no mean feat nor easy task.

Originally appeared in The Reykjavík Grapevine.

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