Frozen Poets: Storytelling in Iceland

The New York Times: “Iceland, it seems, is full of hidden poets. When they’re not at their day jobs, a great many of the island’s 330,000 inhabitants dabble in verse, including politicians, businessmen, horse breeders and scientists who study the genetic isolation of the island in pursuit of medical breakthroughs. Even David Oddsson, who was prime minister in 2002 … and central bank governor in 2008 … is a poet by training.”

“Birgitta Jonsdottir, the leader of the anarchist-leaning Pirate Party, which did well in a recent general election, describes herself rather loftily as a ‘poetician’ …. Poetry is a national pastime … said Sveinn Yngvi Egilsson, a professor of Icelandic literature at the University of Iceland. ‘It’s part of being an Icelander,’ he said. “In earlier times, verses were an integral part of social gatherings and were often improvised, he said. Poetry contests were held, with the prizes going to the wittiest, sharpest verses.”

“Poetry was the third-largest category of books published in the country in 2014, after fiction and the arts, according to figures from the national library. Far more poetry books were published in Iceland that year than books about economics or public administration … The cold oceanic climate and long winter nights may also have something to do with it. ‘People usually get bored, and they try to humor each other. One of those ways is poetry,’ Professor Egilsson said.”

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