Writer in Residence – Paul Acker

I am a poet from the U.S. I have often visited Iceland to research Old Icelandic poetry, to translate traditional Icelandic ballads, and to write poems on Icelandic subjects.

My photo shows me on top of Tungustapi, an ‘elves cathedral’ some two hours west of Skagaströnd.

In 2013, I published a travel piece and a poem about living in Reykjavík in the Scandinavian Review, which poem I reproduce here. In May of 2019, the first month of my residency, I wrote a poem about climbing on the local ridge called Höfði. NES artist In-Young Chung was kind enough to illustrate it for me on a sort of broadside that I showed during the open house. While here I am also writing a poetic sequence titled “Murder in the Artists’ Colony.”

The Tarn in the Middle of Town

“Yes, we have excellent bird life here in Iceland,”
said the well-mannered stranger standing behind me,
practicing his English, and I said I had been looking

at the ducks, the mallards, ordinary and ubiquitous,
the young ones half the size of their patient mother
diving for food, as they are not supposed to do,

for they are dabbling ducks, who stick to the surface
of the element that surrounds them, the tarn.
“They must learn it from the eiders,” I said,

and he said, “from the eiders, yes,” thinking æðar,
the Norse word comfortably close to the English,
giving him pleasure to know his word came first,

perhaps, and pride in seeing the tourists, the outlanders,
taking pleasure in what his small country has to offer.

Quite a lot, I am thinking later tonight, as a buddy of mine

is about to leave for home, so we drink white wine
from Italy, roll cigarettes from Turkish tobacco,
and look out on the tarn and its excellent life.

Paul Acker