WLT Student Translation Prize – Poetry

June 6, 2023
translated by Vala Thorodds
A goose floats in a bay with a town crowding the bank in the background
Photo by Evelyn Paris / Unsplash

National Anthem

This is my room, it
is called Iceland. A sea cable fastens
it to Europe and to here and
from here fly airplanes with
their ink cartridges full of people.

Here I dwell in a matchbox
that I care for, deeply –
I even painted it on the inside
last winter.

Life carries on like clockwork.

In the store acquaintances laugh
and pat each other on the back.
Most are hoping for a robbery
and bask in the steadfast surveillance.
The furnishings and the bones are valuable.

At the hospital they loaned me
batteries so I could enjoy my fecundity
a little longer – thus I carry
batteries on my back
instead of the wings that others bear.

That’s just fine.
I charge them while I sleep.

The preservation of past and future
weighs heavy on the authorities
who encourage us with their
convincing concern.
That’s good. That’s just fine.

They say exercise and a healthy
diet will keep the years at bay.
I bring them
my alarm clock
so they can set it for me.

That’s just fine.

I hang up the pajamas beside
the wedding dress. Young people
get plenty of time to decide
whether they want to be a corpse or
a bride when they grow up.

But you could also go all in:
be at once corpse and bride,
and choose both
the orange and the apple.

There was a woman rumored to have changed
all the lightbulbs in dreamland
and now she feels much better.

There was a man rumored to have shot down
all the lightbulbs in dreamland
and now he feels much better.

Groom. Cadaver. Orange. Apple.
Dog. Cat. Pepsi. Coke.

But now it’s time to crawl out
and fetch myself a cup of coffee.
A pastry, pretzel or bun
and say hi to the cutest sun:

Hi, cutest sun!

Now everyone feels much better.

Translation from the Icelandic

Kristín Ómarsdóttir (b. 1962) is one of Iceland’s most acclaimed living authors. She has published nine novels, eight poetry collections, seven books of short stories, and half a dozen plays and radio dramas. Her novels have been translated into many languages, and her selected poems in English, Waitress in Fall (trans. Vala Thorodds), was chosen as a poetry book of the year by the Sunday Times and the White Review. She lives in Reykjavík.

Vala Thorodds is a translator, poet, publisher, and editor. She received a PEN/Heim grant for her translation of the novel Swanfolk, by Kristín Ómarsdóttir, published in the US and the UK in 2022, and her translation of Forevernoon, by Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir, was recently named a Guardian poetry book of the month. Her work has appeared in publications including Granta, the White Review, and The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem.