Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Old English Riddles

Recent ASNC PhD graduates, Dr Matthias Ammon and Dr Megan Cavell, are pleased to announce their new blog, The Riddle Ages. Stemming in part from their participation in the department’s exciting Old English Reading Group, Ammon and Cavell have embarked upon the ambitious task of providing open access translations and commentary for every riddle in the Exeter Book. The hope is that this blog will act as a teaching and reference tool for those learning Old English, offer an easily accessible list of potential riddle-solutions for researchers and provide insight into these fascinating poems for interested members of the public.

Below is an example of the first post for Riddle 1:

Hwylc is hæleþa þæs horsc      ond þæs hygecræftig
þæt þæt mæge asecgan,      hwa mec on sið wræce,
þonne ic astige strong,      stundum reþe,
þrymful þunie,      þragum wræce
5   fere geond foldan,      folcsalo bærne,
ræced reafige?      Recas stigað,
haswe ofer hrofum.      Hlin bið on eorþan,
wælcwealm wera,      þonne ic wudu hrere,
bearwas bledhwate,      beamas fylle,
10   holme gehrefed,      heahum meahtum
wrecen on waþe,      wide sended;
hæbbe me on hrycge      þæt ær hadas wreah
foldbuendra,      flæsc ond gæstas,
somod on sunde.      Saga hwa mec þecce,
15   oþþe hu ic hatte,      þe þa hlæst bere.

Who among heroes is so sharp and so skilled in mind
that he may declare who presses me on my journey,
when I rise up, mighty, sometimes savage,
full of force, I resound, at times I press on,
5   travel throughout the land, I burn the people’s hall,
plunder the palace? The reek rises,
grey to the roofs. There is a clamour on the earth,
the slaughter-death of men, when I shake the forest,
the quick-growing groves, topple trees,
10   sheltered by the sea, pressed into wandering
by the powers on high, sent afar;
I have on my back that which earlier covered each rank
of the earth-dwellers, flesh and spirit,
swimming together. Say what covers me,
15   or how I am called, who bear that burden.

See the original blog post for possible solutions!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Kennings in the Community and Poets on Viking Poetry

Dr Judy Quinn and Dr Debbie Potts have been awarded funding to run two cultural engagement projects from February–April 2013 as part of an AHRC pilot scheme. The projects – Kennings in the Community and Modern Poets on Viking Poetry – are aimed at nurturing a wider public interest in the aesthetics of skaldic poetry through creative writing workshops and collaborative cultural translation. As Debbie Potts elaborates…

At a workshop last weekend, I fell into conversation with a poet about kennings. To my surprise and gratification, she not only knew what kennings were, but was able to relate an interesting little anecdote about them. A colleague of hers had recently conducted a workshop on kennings with school children. The exercise involved developing ways of referring to family members using items and actions associated with their character or behaviour. A certain precocious child came up with a wonderfully original kenning for his father: sofa-farter.

Some of the most linguistically dexterous of skalds, experts in the rhetoric of defamation, would have found it hard to respond with a kenning equally as cutting. The idea behind sofa-farter is simple, but it carries with it a great deal of cultural resonance (irrespective of whether we would describe our own fathers in such terms). It plays on a cultural stereotype that is both gender and class specific – i.e. the working-class male couch potato (which is in itself a kenning) – and could only emerge from a social milieu in which it is acceptable to occasionally make fun of one’s parents rather than holding them in a perpetual state of reverence.

I think this story provides an excellent illustration of the kenning’s universal cognitive appeal, its capacity to accommodate the mindset of a given individual or particular speech community. The project Kennings in the Community seeks to produce resources for creative writing workshops based on the kenning. My aim is not only to nurture a wider public interest in skaldic metaphor, but to encourage people to create their own kennings relevant to their everyday experience, thereby prompting them to question and re-imagine the way our culture conceptualises the world.

I’m excited to be working with three practicing word-smiths: Lucy Hamilton, Emma Hammond and Jane Monson. These habitual quaffers of Odinnic mead will be applying their creative writing expertise to the development of the workshop materials. Some ‘test’ workshops will take place at the beginning of April and the resources will be made available on the ASNC website before May, so watch this space! If you simply can’t wait until then to try your hand at creating kennings, you can take a look at an exercise I wrote for the Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network here.

(from Wikimedia Commons)

The sister project Modern Poets on Viking Poetry is all about extending the skaldic aesthetic into the creative consciousness of contemporary poets. My intention is to encourage a dialogue between academic research and modern poetic practice.

In the wake of the Poetry Parnassus – the largest ever international poetry festival, hosted by London’s Southbank Centre last summer – it seems an opportune moment to be tapping into the poetry world’s enthusiasm for cultural exchange. Poets will be encouraged to engage with basic translations and commentaries provided by skaldic scholars; they will have complete creative freedom in the way they choose to interact with the poetry, and may produce anything from a poem that seeks to replicate the phonic qualities of skaldic metre to a multimedia art-piece…I’m intrigued to see what they come up with! Selected poems will be published on a blog attached to the ASNC website, and two events will take place (in Cambridge and London) at the end of April where poets will be invited to read or perform their translations.

Debbie and Snorri

It must be acknowledged that neither project would be possible without the boundless curiosity of poets, who are constantly looking for new ways of understanding and expressing the world around us, however bizarre and alien (so much the better). And, of course, the open-mindedness and intellectual generosity of skaldic scholars, who are happily rather less mercenary than Mímir when it comes to offering a drink from the well of knowledge.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

2013 H. M. Chadwick Memorial Lecture

The twenty-fourth H. M. Chadwick Memorial Lecture will be given by Professor John Blair (University of Oxford), on the subject of:

The British Culture of Anglo-Saxon Settlement

The lecture will take place on Thursday 14th March at 5pm in Room GR.06/07 of the English Faculty Building, West Road, Cambridge. The lecture will be followed by a wine reception. All welcome.