You are currently viewing a dancer in a revenge masque
Edvard Munch, Sick Mood at Sunset Despair, 1892.

Language: Icelandic
Poet: Elías Knörr
Translator: Kári Tulinius
Region: Iceland


a dancer in a revenge masque

Three poems by Elías Knörr, translated from Icelandic by Kári Tulinius

Elías Knörr entered the Icelandic poetry scene a mystery. Poems under his name appeared first in the magazine Stína, and were of such high quality that most readers assumed that this had to be an already well-established poet writing under a pseudonym, though there were no obvious stylistic similarities with anyone. Such was the hubbub that when one of my own poems was published in translation alongside his, another Icelandic poet pulled me off the street into a café to ask me whether I knew anything and then sat me down to run through the leading theories as to who this unknown poet was, and make the case for his own leading suspect.

It’s not difficult at all to understand why these poems struck their readers so forcefully. From the outset, his poems mingled together registers of speech that were seldom, if ever, used in poetry. He pulled words from medieval Icelandic and entwined them with modern slang, adulterated 19th-century hyper-politeness with 21st-century queerness, and allowed his sentences to not so much walk down garden paths as to crash through their manicured hedges. His sovereignty over the totality of Icelandic language would have been remarkable in a poet of seventy years of age, let alone a neophyte.

It came, therefore, as something of a surprise when he started appearing in public, and was not only in his twenties, but someone who had only learned Icelandic in adulthood. His two books, the collection Sjóarinn með morgunhestana undir kjólnum (The Sailor with Morning Horses Under the Dress), and the chapbook Greitt í liljum (Paid in Lilies) are unique in Icelandic poetry; their use of language and strong, queer perspectives on human relations are like nothing else published on the island. I doubt there are many such books elsewhere, except perhaps those published in Galician under the name Elías Portela, the name Elías Knörr uses for the poems he writes in his native tongue.

A chapbook with English translations of his poems was published by Partus Press and Sine Wave Peak in 2019, but these three poems have never appeared in English before now. His poems are always surprising in their original Icelandic, which makes translating them into English a difficult task. It requires letting the mind be ever so slightly unmoored––shifted this way and that by the winds of sound-patterns and the currents of hidden meaning.

       –Kári Tulinius

Elías Knörr; Post-Icelandic performer and flamboyant protozoan, flag-bearer of the Ginnungastefna movement and the poet laureate who lives under your bed.

Kári Tulinius is an Icelandic poet and novelist. Every autumn he and his family take flight to winter in Finland, like migratory birds confused about the whole idea of warmer climes.


Stormurinn bíður átekta

            sem selur ringulblóm á horninu
            og heldur fast í rauðan flugdreka
                       er dansmey í hefndarbúningi

Sá sem stelur af henni nelliku
           verður sleginn af vindinum


The storm waits eagerly

The valkyrie
           who sells confuchsias on the corner
           and holds on tight to a red kite
                      is a dancer in a revenge masque

He who steals a carnation from her
          will be beaten by the wind


Þú ert skáld      ljóð
            numið af sólarlögum
og drukkið fé
langbakað land
            sem skreytir húð mína
            með himinblóði sumarsins


You are a poet                 a poem
           sensed by sunsets
and a drunk sheep
slow-baked land
           that decorates my skin
           with the skyblood of summer

Raunadálkur 1: Kaffileysi

morguninn sem ég
var    að    narta    í
hjónarúmið  til  að
leita                   að
eftirbragði  gerðist
eitthvað           enn
óheppilegra       en
kantínukaffið:   ég

Column of Sorrows I: No Coffee

the      morning
that     I      was
nibbling on  the
marriage bed in
search    of    an
happened  even
less     fortunate
than             the
cantina coffee: I
fell asleep