Letters to Iceland

Greenlaw, Muldoon and Armitage in Reykjavík

Poets Lavinia Greenlaw, Paul Muldoon and Simon Armitage visit Iceland in June 2019 and appear at two events in Reykjavík on June 21st and 22nd. Three books with poetry by these distinguished guests will be published on the occation in Icelandic / English bilingual editions under the title Letters to Iceland. The Icelandic translations are by local poets Magnús Sigurðsson, Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir and Sjón.

The two events are organized by the University of Iceland‘s Institute of Research in Literature and Visual Arts and the Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature. The books are published by publishing house Dimma. The instigators of the visit are writer Sjón and Ástráður Eysteinsson, professor of comparative literature at the University of Iceland. Sjón took part in planning an international conference on island literature in the Faroe Islands two years ago and this programme is loosely connected to that initiative, this time with a focus on the connection of the British isles and Iceland. A light will be cast on Iceland and the north as a subject and destination of British and Irish poets, both well known bygone poets such as William Morris, W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice and Seamus Heaney, and these three contemporary writers, Lavinia Greenlaw, Paul Muldoon and Simon Armitage. All three are among leading poets writing in English today and the connections to the the north in their work have not gone unnoticed. Armitage was appointed UK‘s poet laureate earlier this spring. 

Greenlaw, Muldoon and Armitage have all travelled to Iceland before and collected material for their work on these visits, but are now invited here for the first time to introduce their work and discuss their connections to the north. 

Both events are open to all and free of charge. 

Poetic Encounters with the North

Veröld – House of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir at the University of Iceland
Friday, June 21st at 4 pm

On Friday, June 21st Greenlaw, Muldoon and Armitage will discuss connections between the British isles and Iceland as well as poetic travels to the north present and past in conversations with Icelandic poets, translators and scholars Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir, Aðalsteinn Ásberg Sigurðsson and Sveinn Yngvi Egilsson. Opening remarks by Jón Atli Benediktsson rector of the University of Iceland. Sjón will host the event.

The discussion will be in three parts: Sveinn Yngvi Egilsson talks to UK‘s new poete laureate Simon Armitage about his poetry and also about the Icelandic connections of Auden and McNeice and the poetry and fiction these connections bred. Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir and Lavinia Greenlaw discuss Greenlaw‘s poetry as well as the relationship between William Morris and Iceland and finally Aðalsteinn Ásberg Sigurðsson and Paul Muldoon talk about Muldoon's vision of the north as well as that of his fellow countryman Seamus Heaney. 

Book Launch and Readings

The Nordic House in Reykjavík
Saturday, June 22nd at 3 pm

On Saturday, June 22 publishing house Dimma, the Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature and the University of Iceland host a literary event with the poets and their translators. The event celebrates the publishing of three books of poetry in English / Icelandic bilingual editions: Kennsl by Lavinia Greenlaw, translated by Magnús Sigurðsson, Sjö ljóð by Paul Muldoon, translated by Sjón, and Þaðan sem við horfum by Simon Armitage, translated by Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir.

The poets and translators will introduce their work and read from the books in both languages, followed a reception. Arna Schram, head of Culture and Tourism at Reykjavík City gives opening remards on behalf of the City of Literature  and Ástráður Eysteinsson hosts the event.

The books will be sold at the event and can be signed by the authors. 

About the Authors


Muldoon is one of the most prestigious poets writing in English today. Born in North-Ireland in 1951, he started his career in 1971 as a young poet under the wing of Seamus Heaney. Since then he has brought out numerous books of poetry as well as translations. He received the Pulitzer Prize for his poetry book Moy, Sand and Gravel in 2003 and has won numerous other prizes. In his poetry, Paul Muldoon weaves together references to old and new cultural worlds, drawing among other things on Icelandic medieval literature.

Muldoon is currently Princeton Chair of Poetry. 


Greenlaw was born in London in 1962. She is among key English poets that came to the fore in the 1980‘s and 90's. Although mostly known as a poet, Greenlaw has written novels, librettos, sound pieces and radio plays. She has received various awards for her work and has been nominated twice for the T.S. Eliot Prize. In many of her poems, Lavinia looks north and in her book Questions of Travel, she interacts with fragments she selected from William Morris‘s Icelandic Journals.

Lavinia Greenlaw is professor of creative writing at the Royal Holloway University in London.


Armitage has just been appointed UK‘s Poet Laureate. He was born in Huddersfield in 1963 and worked as a probation officer for young offenders until he fully turned to writing in the mid 90‘s. Simon  is a poet, travel writer and a translator of Homer‘s Oddysey as well as of old English poetry into modern English. In 1994 he traveled in the Iceland footsteps of W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice along with Glyn Maxwell and they responded to the older poets' Letters from Iceland with their own Moon Country. Armitage has received numerous awards for his work.

He was Oxford Chair of Poetry from 2015 untill this spring.