Sharpen Your (S)Words - Holmgangr Comes To Winchester!

entry picture

One particular event at the 2018 Winchester Poetry Festival (October 5th-7th) is the only way to settle literary disputes - as “Only One Translator leaves alive!”

Winchester may not be Valhalla, but the Vikings are coming to the city's Poetry Festival on Saturday October 6. And they're swapping swords for words as two of the world's leading translators of Old Norse verse (one of them an expert on Game of Thrones) pit their skills against each other in a Poetry Translation Duel.

It's harder than you might think. Viking and Anglo-Saxon verse is rich with imagery, word play and riddles. For instance, the word "sea" offers myriad interpretations, including bed of fish, smooth path of ships, island-ring, realm of lobsters, whale-house and frothing beer of the coastline…  They're called kennings (which means "describe" or "understand") and offer translators a treasure trove of interpretation.

Debbie Potts (pictured), Cambridge academic and an expert on old Norse poetry, thinks that kennings, with their wonderfully rich imagery, ambiguity and irony, can inspire modern-day poets. She says: "Poetry explores new ways of describing and understanding the world around us. This is exactly what kennings do: they force us to look at things differently, to question the habitual way we think."

Debbie and her translation sparring partner Carolyne Larrington – author of the bestselling Winter is Coming - The Medieval World of  Game of Thrones  – each tackle nuance and wordplay in an extract from the ancient verse saga of Gisli, the story of a good old-fashioned family feud, in which Gisli, a murderer and an outlaw describes his crimes.  Who will win the duel? In the old Icelandic sagas, only one would leave alive. Hopefully, poetry lovers will spare both experts and let them live to tell another tale. 

The Old Norse Translation Duel is just one of several events at Winchester Poetry Festival which feature the best of modern poetry in translation. Sasha Dugdale, one of the Festival's two artistic directors, said: "The world poets we've invited are stellar and the readings, we promise, will be memorable – and even life-changing! This year's international line-up hails from Syria, Ireland, the USA, Syria, Macedonia and the Caribbean."

Old Norse Translation Duel with Carolyn Larrington and Debbie Potts, chaired by Professor John McGavin, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Southampton is on Saturday 6 October. Tickets available at

◄ September is National Translation Month!

Flood: Clare Shaw, Bloodaxe ►


No comments posted yet.

If you wish to post a comment you must login.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

Find out more Hide this message