An interview with Jeramy Dodds
This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.
CLARISE FOSTER: One the first official acts of the initial Icelandic immigrants when they arrived in New Iceland, a reserve on the southwest shores of Lake Winnipeg, in 1875 was to name their first town site Gimli—a place described in your recent translation of the Poetic Edda as the ever-after paradise of the gods. After fleeing extremely harsh environmental and economic conditions in Iceland, including the eruption of Mount Askja, a long and perilous sea voyage to Canada and calamitous attempts at settlements in Ontario and Nova Scotia, the initial Icelandic immigrants must have believed they were post-ragnarök. Ragnarök is central to the workings of the Poetic Edda—can you explain its importance and how it directs the action in this work?
JERAMY DODDS: Ragnarök, roughly translated, is the “Doom of the Powers.” All the gods and their monstrous adversaries die; the earth is swallowed in flame and drowned. All the stars disappear; the sun and moon are eaten by the Fenrir wolf. In many ways, the Norse gods aren’t all that different from mortals—they know they will die. It’s a refreshing conundrum for gods to have, and it’s one we humans can easily identify with.
By all accounts the new Icelandic-Canadians may have felt like they were mid-ragnarök, at times; although it seems that their story is not unlike other harrowing immigrant tales of that time period. The Norse gods, primarily Oðinn, as illustrated in the mythological poems of the Edda, are obsessed with ragnarök. Oðinn’s main objective, through his self-sacrificing (giving his eye as an offering, hanging himself, etc.) as well as his constant exploratory travels, are all focused on obtaining information; learning the telltale signs and the outcome of this fateful, unavoidable future episode known as ragnarök.
Although the general trajectory of ragnarök, as illustrated in the Poetic Edda, has been corroborated by other sources, such as picture stones, etc., the Christian scribes that cobbled this Edda from oral sources were surely inspired by their surrounding landscape, mores and prejudices. Much of the imagery conjured up in the Poetic Edda’s rendition of ragnarök echo the volcanic temperament of Iceland itself: the ash clouds of eruptions swallowing the sun, moon and stars, flames firing into the sky, flash floods of glacier-melt drowning the land. It’s easy to imagine that the new Icelandic-Canadians would have carried similar imagery with them—that such imagery set them on their pilgrimage.
Published online August 15 2017.
Jeramy Dodds grew up in Orono, Ontario. He is the winner of the 2006 Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award and the 2007 CBC Literary Award for poetry. His first collection of poems, Crabwise to the Hounds (Coach House Books, 2008), was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Gerald Lampert Award, and won the Trillium Book Award for poetry. His most recent publication is a translation of the Poetic Edda (Coach House Books, 2014) from Old Icelandic into English. He is a poetry editor at Coach House Books. He currently lives in Montréal, Québec.
Clarise Foster is the editor of Contemporary Verse 2.