Words With Friends

poetry night reykjavík

On a late-August Wednesday in Reykjavík, it’s bright and still, but there’s a noticeable fall chill in the air. As locals return from summer vacation, the cultural calendar kicks into gear and there’s no shortage of events to distract one from the impending darkness: concerts, stand-up comedy, theatre, opera, burlesque… But on this particular late-August […]

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Can you help me find a poem my tour guide recited about showering in Iceland’s swimming pools?

We’re very sorry to say we don’t know the poem you’re referring to. We are, however, very familiar with the showering protocols of Iceland’s public swimming pools.

At every swimming pool, you’ll see signs reminding you in several languages that you must shower – in the nude! with soap! – prior to putting on your swimsuit and jumping into the pool. The signs even include diagrams highlighting the body parts to focus on when lathering up: Hair, underarms, genitals/backside, and feet.

The reason is twofold. First, it’s just basic decency to wash yourself properly before stewing in hot water with other people. Secondly, the more everyone practices proper pool hygiene, the fewer chemicals are needed in the public swimming pools. It’s a win-win!

Icelanders have been going to the swimming pool on the regular since before they could walk. That means they’re very accustomed to being in the presence of bodies of all shapes and sizes. Nobody’s sizing anybody else up, they’re just focused on washing themselves so they can hit the hot tub.

If you’re less accustomed to communal shower situations, most public pools around the country have at least one private shower stall available.

We’re people pleasers here at Iceland Review, and since we couldn’t provide the poem your tour guide mentioned, we’ve whipped up this rhyme instead:


So you’re visiting Iceland and want to go swim?

Then there’s something important you must do with vim.

First find a locker and take it all off.

Doff your shirt, pants and undies; and let down your quaff.

Now on to the shower, to wash all your bits;

from your head to your toes, and don’t forget your armpits.

Pay no attention to others, it’s not about looking cool.

You’re just getting clean so you can jump in the pool.

Finally, pull on your suit – nudity be gone!

You’re clean and you’re dressed, so go get your swim on.

“Everything About the Immigrant Experience In Iceland In Poetic Form”

Una publishing house recently released Pólifónía af erlendum uppruna, a collection of poetry by immigrants to Iceland. The book features fifteen different poets from nine different countries exploring aspects of their immigrant experiences. A press release proclaims that “it’s high time that the voices of immigrants are heard in Icelandic literature and this book is a good start.”

The concept was conceived by editor and one of the featured writers Natasha Stolyarova in collaboration with Una publishing house. After reading the work of Danish-Palestinian poet Yahya Hassan, she wondered about the lack of immigrant voices in Icelandic literature. During times of gathering limitations due to the pandemic, she rounded up some active poets and writers in Iceland – all immigrants to Iceland. “I knew around half of the writers already,” Natasha told Iceland Review. “The others were recommended to me when I shared the idea for the project.”

“We first met in the summer of 2020,” she continues. “Sometimes in person and other times over zoom, when the pandemic was raging.” They passed around notes of open-ended questions about their experiences in Iceland, of the country, the language, the people, and their interactions with them. This inspired some of the poets to write new work, while others submitted older work they felt fit the theme. “It’s everything they had to say about their experience as an immigrant in Iceland, in poetic form.” Even though the work is now complete, the group is now working on promoting the book and attending poetry readings and literary events during the so-called Christmas book flood. “So much has happened since we started this. People have moved away from Iceland and back again. Two of the poets have had children!” Natasha tells me.

The book is intended for Icelandic readers. All the featured poems are in Icelandic, some were written in Icelandic while others appear in the original language as well as Icelandic translations. With writers from 11 countries – including Russia, Italy, Colombia, Serbia, Denmark, Finland, India, Poland, the US, and Canada – the book has poems in languages such as English, Portuguese, and Finnish, and one poet even writes in their own version of the Icelandic language and developed their own script.

The writers of Pólífónía af erlendum uppruna are Ana Mjallhvít Drekadóttir, a rawlings, Deepa R. Iyengar, Elías Knörr, Ewa Marcinek, Francesca Cricelli, Giti Chandra, Jakub Stachowiak, Juan Camilo Roman Estrada, Mao Alheimsdóttir, Meg Matich, Natasha Stolyarova, Randi W. Stebbins, Sofie Hermansen Eriksdatter, and Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, with translations by Aðalsteinn Ásberg Sigurðsson, Brynja Hjálmsdóttir, Gunnhildur Jónatansdóttir, Helga Soffía Einarsdóttir, Kári Tulinius, Magnea J. Matthíasdóttir, and Þórdís Helgadóttir.

Head in the Cloud


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Online Literary Festival Features Five Icelandic Authors

Sant Jordi Landing Page

New York City’s Sant Jordi Online Literary Festival will feature five Icelandic authors in readings, book chats, and performances this weekend. The festival, running from April 23-25, decided to move its programming online when COVID-19 shut down New York City.

The Sant Jordi NYC Online Literary Festival is dedicated to literature in translation. In addition to celebrating literature from Iceland, the festival will also include work translated from Arabic, Catalan, Danish, French, Galician, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Urdu.

Author, actor, and stand-up comic Bergur Ebbi will headline Iceland Night on Thursday, April 23 with a live reading and performance based on his new book Screenshot. The book is an entertaining look at technology, fake news, artificial intelligence, and what we can learn about and from our digital existence in the time of COVID-19.

Iceland Night will also feature a dynamic performance by Elías Knörr, a Galician poet living in Reykjavík who writes in both his native Galician as well as Icelandic. Author and poet Fríða Ísberg will chat with translator Larissa Kyzer about imposter syndrome, the Imposter Poets, the all-female poetry collective of which Fríða is a member, and her debut short story collection, Kláði (‘Itch’), which was nominated for the 2020 Nordic Council Literature Prize.

Kári Tulinius is an Icelandic novelist and poet who splits his time between Reykjavík, Iceland and Helsinki, Finland. His bilingual reading includes work from his most recent collection, Jökulhvörf, (‘Glacier Line’). Visual artist, poet, and novelist Steinunn G. Helgadóttir and translator Larissa Kyzer will give a reading from Steinunn’s latest novel, Sterkasta kona í heimi (‘The Strongest Woman in the World’). The reading will interweave the original Icelandic text with the English translation.

Readers can visit the festival website for more information.

Living Legends


What’s the recipe for stardom? Though the exact ingredients are greatly debated, most would agree that singing exclusively about Norse mythology, in old poetic forms, in a language spoken by a handful of people, would not be a good strategy for achieving fame. Yet for Icelandic heavy metal act Skálmöld, that’s the exact combination that catapulted them onto world stages and earned them thousands of adoring fans.

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Tómas Guðmundsson Literature Award Winner Announced

Haukur Ingvarsson

Haukur Ingvarsson is the winner of the 2018 Tómas Guðmundsson Literature Award. The award was founded in memory of poet Tómas Guðmundsson and has been awarded by the City of Reykjavík to an unpublished collection of poetry since 1994.

Haukur’s submission is titled Vistarverur and was chosen from 60 anonymous submissions. Though Vistrarverur can be translated as “living quarters,” Haukur suggests the translation Ecostentialism. “Tilvistarstefna means existentialism in Icelandic and vistkerfi means ecosystem,” Haukur explains. “The poems sprung from the emotions that arise from reflecting on global warming.”

“The word itself, vistarvera, indicates a feeling of place and inhabitants, in addition to referring to existence itself and the state of being in it,” reads the award jury’s statement. “All of this comes together in the poems which are characterised by speculations on the connection between the material and the spiritual, emphasising the continuum between the two.”

In addition to a publication deal, the award comes with a cash prize of ISK 800,000 ($6,800/€5,900).