Sigurbjörg Thrastardóttir

Iceland

Sigurbjörg's first book, the poetry collection Blálogaland (Land of Blue Flames), was published in 1999 and since then she has published further poetry, prose and plays. Also two novels: Sólar saga (The Story of Sól) – which won the Tómas Guðmundsson Literature Award when it was published in 2002 – and Stekk (Jump) in 2012. Sigurbjörg has also won awards for her poetry: Hnattflug (Circumnavigation) was chosen as the best book of poetry by the staff of Icelandic bookstores in 2000; Blysfarir (Torching) received the Fjöruverðlaunin women´s literature award in 2008; and Brúður (Bride) was nominated for the DV cultural award in 2010. Sigurbjörg´s poetry has been translated into twelve languages in conjunction with various literary conferences, poetry festivals and anthology publications across Europe. Sigurbjörg cooperated with four other Icelandic authors and five Polish photographers on the book project IS(not), she has worked with the Metropoetica group on various projects, and has also written songlyrics for Icelandic musicians.


The curious incident of the poem

– on Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir’s Kátt skinn (og gloría)

 

Maps and mapping have characterized the poetry of Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir, she is often on the move, sometimes through unknown territory. Her first book to make a real impact was Hnattflug (Circumnavigation, 2000) and last year she released Bréf frá borg dulbúinna storma (Letters from the City of Veiled Storms) which is a salute from a foreign country, from Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, to be precise. In her collection Brúður (Bride) she works with the word ‘brúður’ (bride/dolls) and plays with its many connotations. In her latest collection of poetry, Kátt skinn (og gloría) (Joyskin (and glory)), the travel is more inbound, or rather; the journey revolves to a large extent around the body. The drawings inserted in the collection are reminiscent of geographical maps – or city maps – so it isn’t farfetched to imagine that the poetess is striving to map her body, or at least finding its place, in poetry.

 

This quest takes on many shapes, including the one of classical nature imagery, like in “Eldfjallaferð” (Volcanic hike). […] A different landscape is revealed in “Flauelslifur” (Velvet liver); here we have entered space and the domain of adventure, unlike the hair-raising chill of “Eldfjallaferð”.

 

Here

roughly in

the celestial

center of the body

 

a treasure chest is

dangling on a blue thread, velvet blue and dripping

 

keeping

quiet about

the adventures ahead

 

What the treasures are we cannot know – unless they are the intricate images the poet conjures out of the body.

 

It is a classic motif of renaissance-literature to encode the body as a map, which in turn is symbolic for various things in the world around, from celestial bodies to continents, from emotions to mirages. The body of man, created in the image of god, was the height of creation and reflected the whole world in one way or the other. The body of the woman was a somewhat shadier phenomenon, it was open and opaque. But it is precisely the female body that is the map in Thrastardóttir’s poetry, like we can see in “Brjóstin mín” (My breasts) as the bosom adopts the form of music, perhaps as a prelude for “Að koma” (To come), where the goal is to “split abdominal cavities” so “raw / placentas wait their / time, keep still”. […]

 

In “Strax” (Already) we follow the poetic ‘I’ into the body, where she has “entered / speechless expression” and has begun “sketching outlines in / everdust”. […] Just like in the case of the velvet liver, the expression of the body is wordless – and on this many female analysts agree. But then how do you get a grip on the body? With disturbed language, with interruptions in the language – for example exactly in fierce and flowing poetry. And with music, indeed it reappears in this poem, alongside a body harnessed in the process of writing – “compose with tears”.

 

Language itself is the subject of the poem “Glithoruð” (Hyaline skinny), where we see “brusque word-regiments” go after “heroes, servants and hired hands” to “word things strongly, hurt”. The poetic ‘I’ has a hard time surviving this, “sensitive as I / am / and thin-skinned”. Again language is linked to skin, with fitting references to writing on vellum.

 

Like this description shows, feelings are also embodied. The first poem in the book emphasizes this, it is called “Dýrmæddir klárarnir í gerðinu” (The exhausted, fenced horses). The speaker points out that if she loved the one addressed “thicker slices would / accumulate around my bones / and juices flowed within white leather”. But apparently she doesn’t, for “there is / frost in the / dreamless night”. Dreams seem to be vital if one is to love. But dreams can also take on bodily shapes, like in “Mig dreymdi svo harkalega að” (I dreamt to harshly that) where the speaker gets a nosebleed from dreaming.

 

Nevertheless it is not possible to place all the poems in the book in one neat web, mark their spot on a map of the body to then build a model – far from it. The poems easily escape any attempt to fixate their meaning, instead they offer various and playful ways of interpretation (“hold on so fiercely / you might interpret”). Although paths and ways are visible in the book, Kátt skinn (og gloría) is not the dense knit-ball as some of Thrastardóttir’s other books, in-between the corporal there are different kind of glorias.

 

One example is “Idjót” (Idiot), where the speaker has an idiot who follows her around, making all sorts of bloomers. Sometimes it’s a drag, at other times it empowers the speaker during hard times. The idiot is male – “shining with physical charm” – he exercises sex with the speaker, but nobody else can see him. He is mute, like the body, and “the only one / who knows in what kind of darkness I like to sleep / and is entirely dependent on me for food”. It is rather tempting to ask oneself if the idiot is some kind of an emblem for the body, at any rate it is very tangible, despite being invisible. Is the body then invisible? Yes, at least in a certain way, as the functions of the body are something we normally don’t discuss.

 

Another poem that triggers a guessing game is “Gamalt tré” (Old tree), which at first doesn’t seem to follow the physical pattern:

 

A half-cracked trunk

where the glade opens up

the lowest

branch sinks slowly

 

the sky

flakes apart in September

 

here lives nothing

that moves

except chants of a German choir

and

 

Little Red Riding Hood lies dead on the rock

with a triplex scar

on her neck.

 

But wait a second: isn’t it widely discussed that the tale about Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf is an allegory about puberty and the awakening of the awareness of sexuality? And the (tree) trunk, isn’t it in a way physical?

 

In this way the poems offer a wide range of thoughts, connected to body, feelings, language, dreams and treasures. The poem about the old trunk and the one about the velvet liver allude to adventures, not different from those the readers can find themselves in if they carefully follow the fantasy of the maps.

 

by Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir (Published on literature.is, December 2014)