I’m not much into poetry. At least not modern poetry where everything is fleeting, nothing rhymes, there is no rhythm and no obvious meaning. Unless there is some very clever wordplay, maybe. I have nothing against it; it’s just not for me.
Sigurbjörg Thrastardóttir is among Iceland’s most accomplished young poets, apparently. I’m ashamed to admit that I had never heard of her until I was given a copy of to bleed straight, a collection of her poetry with English translations by Bernard Scudder and illustrations by Marta María Jónsdóttir, published by JPG in 2008.
Born in 1973, Thrastardóttir’s poems have appeared in magazines and poetry collections in Germany, Scotland, Italy and Sweden, among other countries, her plays have been staged in theaters in Iceland and in 2002 she won the Tómas Gudmundsson Literary Prize for her novel Sólar saga.
I’m not sure what to make of to bleed straight. Most of all, I’m impressed by Scudder’s translations of words and sentences that appear out of the blue and lead nowhere (except I don’t get why líma (“glue”) was translated as “lima” (“weather ship” p. 26-37).
I’m not very patient when it comes to interpreting poetry and I think I better leave it to other readers. I guess the book is open to anyone’s interpretation and readers can find meaning in the poems even though it isn’t related to the author’s original train of thought.
Blood is clearly an issue, as the title reveals, perhaps menstrual blood, given the talk of bloody crotch stains (“epilogue IV” p. 72-73). Which I found a little gross, actually, and maybe that was the way I was supposed to feel while reading it.
There is also some talk of impregnation and wishful thinking (“being fertilized” p. 14-15), so I can’t help but think some of these poems are deeply personal, reminiscent of an existential crisis, the ticking of a biological clock? Or maybe just a metaphor for inspiration?
Many of the poems are rather depressing, like “laekjargata” (p. 18-19): “…your stomach tightens; and your heart; no one; seems to recognize you; you often go astray; in the house, pour away the fun; and flowers grow in your hair; while you die”.
There is also some talk of murder (“murder story” p. 38-39) and suicide (“bologna” p. 42-43), and while other poems have happier elements: “i can hear even better and; better the grass growing; i watch over the dandelion clocks” (“grow up” p. 62-63), suddenly surgical knives appear out of nowhere.
Some poems are rather funny with references to Icelandic traditions like eating too much on New Year’s Eve and then watching Áramótaskaupid, the New Year’s comedy sketch (“staying together (special)” p. 68-69), yet there is a sense of loneliness throughout the book.
Except maybe in the poems that recite traveling where “I” becomes “we” (“cape canaveral” p. 44-45).
I like the poems the most where there is no self reflection but rather social commentary, both in Iceland (“immigrant/june” p. 50-51) and abroad (“arabia” p. 52-53).
The latter is pretty straightforward: “woman, get dressed; this instant; here is neither the place; nor the time for flesh; you’re lucky to be able to go unseen”.
Thrastardóttir’s poems vary in topic if not form and I’m missing a red thread, the straight blood, so to speak. I don’t know where she’s going, is it a complete work of poetry or simply a coincidental collection? Maybe it doesn’t matter but it confuses me—perhaps the author’s intention.
There is certainly a lot of content in this small book and although I favor classic poets like Jónas Hallgrímsson that’s not to say others won’t enjoy Thrastardóttir’s work and might quite possibly get something totally different out of it than I did.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir