TORCH Oxford Medieval Studies Small Grants Scheme 2018-19 Project Report: Old Norse Poetry in Performance

Investigators: Brian McMahon (Somerville), William Brockbank (Jesus) & Caitlin Ellis (Queen’s)

The second Old Norse Poetry in Performance conference took place at Christ Church on the 22nd and 23rd
June 2019. The final programme is attached to this report as an appendix. The purpose of this project was
(and is) to build on the collaborations which first took place in 2016 by enhancing the framework within
which both emerging and established literary scholars, actors and dramaturgs can explore the various
problems and potentialities surrounding the performance of Old Norse-Icelandic poetry.

With the permission of the performers, the majority of performances were captured on film and all the
papers, along with the roundtable discussion on Day Two, were recorded and will be released as podcasts via
the conference website in the course of the coming months,
accompanied by copies of speakers’ Powerpoint presentations and handouts. This was the system we used
successfully in 2016 to place much of this work in the public domain. Additionally we have secured a
contract with Routledge to publish a volume of collected essays based on these proceedings in spring 2021.
Contributions are being sought from established scholars, ECR’s, actors and musicians with a connection to
the ONPiP project in its various incarnations. The volume will be edited by Brian McMahon and Annemari
Ferreira and will contain an introduction by Terry Gunnell. The fact that its publication coincides with the
centenary of Dame Bertha Phillpotts’ influential work The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama was
described as auspicious by many participants in the conference.

A significant number of valuable new connections were forged across the two days, bringing artists and
scholars working on the same material together – in many cases for the first time – and foregrounding the
variety of approaches currently being employed to explore this subject. Among the highlights, Professor
McKinnell’s keynote lecture drew on a distinguished career pioneering practice-as-research in medieval
studies. We were also delighted to include contributions from Joseph Harris and Stephen Mitchell who had
travelled from Harvard to attend the conference and whose combined work on these matters has influenced
many of the present generation of emerging scholars. This was a notably interactive conference, with
common themes being drawn together most productively in the synoptic roundtable. Among the results, we
have expanded our corpus of performances which can be used to exemplify the medieval and modern
performative possibilities inherent in this poetry. We were pleased to recognise contributions from
contemporary actors (Seth Kreibel), storytellers (Allison Williams-Bailey) poets (Ross Cogan and Andrew
Smardon) and musicians (Einar Selvik and Pétur Húni Björnsson) alongside evidence of new and exciting
scholarship which has taken place since we last convened three years ago.

It would not have been possible for this conference to take place without the support of our many sponsors,
and we are grateful for the support of the TORCH OMS Small Grants Scheme. As we pointed out in our
2016 report, however, the system of reimbursing organisers only after events like this have taken place puts
unreasonable pressure on individuals who are not personally wealthy, and we once again invite TORCH to
review this process.

The Old Norse Poetry in Performance project, which began in a single weekend conference, has now
expanded to include two conferences, a book and a significant online presence. We now intend to hold a
triennial conference (whether in Oxford or elsewhere) to capitalise on this momentum. Members of the
organising committee presented this year at the English Faculty’s Old Norse Research Seminar and at the
International Medieval Congress in Leeds. We are pleased that the project continues to attract the interest of
scholars working across the humanities, and look forward to its continued growth and future output.

Appendix: Final Programme

Saturday, 22 June
09:00 – 9:45 Registration in Sir Michael Dummett Exhibition Space
09:45 – 10:00 Welcome by Siân Grønlie (Oxford) in MDES
10:00 – 11:30 Session 1 – Chaired by Brian McMahon (Oxford Brookes) in Blue BoarQuad
> Performance by Kvæðamaður, Pétur Húni Björnsson
> Lokasenna – Staged Reading by Oxford’s Old Norse Reading Group
11:30 – 12:00 Tea/Coffee Break in MDES
12:00 – 13:30 Session 2 – Chaired by Eleanor R. Barraclough (Durham)
> Tim Rowbotham (York): Performing Proofs — Performance of erfikviður as Authentication in the fornaldarsögur
> Inés García López (Barcelona): Forging Occasions — On the Possibilities of Skaldic Poetry Re-enactment
> Simon Nygaard (Aarhus): Old Norse Poetry and Ritual Performance — Hákonarmál as an erfikvæði
13:30 – 14:30 Lunch and Visit to Christ Church Upper Library
14:30 – 16:00 Session 3 – Chaired by Alison Finlay (Birkbeck)
> Carmen Vioreanu (Bucharest): Performing the Deeds of the Gods —The Scenic Indications in the Eddic Mythological Poems
> Jan A. Kozák (Bergen): Eddic Poetry in Performance — Mnemonic, Analytical and Pedagogic Applications
> Rebeca Franco Valle (Bergen): Performing Old Norse Poetry in Visual Art. A Comparative Perspective with the Islamic World — The Scandinavian Box in Spain.
16:00 – 16:30 Tea/Coffee Break
16:30 – 17:30 KEYNOTE ADDRESS – Chaired by Annemari Ferreira
> John McKinnell (Durham): Eddic Poetry and the Uses of Anonymity
17:30 – 18:30 Reception in Christ Church Upper Library with Poetry Reading by Ross Cogan
18:30 – 20:30 Conference Dinner at Vaults & Garden
20:30 > Performance of Eddic Material with Commentary by Einar Selvik from Wardruna in Christ Church Cathedral

Sunday, 23 June
10:00 – 11:00 Session 4 – Chaired by Timothy Bourns (Iceland) in Blue Boar Quad
> Readings of Norse-Inspired Poetry with Commentary by Andrew
> Alison Williams-Bailey of Project Great Grandmother: Creation Song
Norse Mythology Storytelling
11:00 – 11:30 Tea/Coffee Break in MDES
11:30 – 13:00 Session 5 – Chaired by Caitlin Ellis (Oxford)
> Anna Millward: Skaldic (Un)censored — Free Speech and Wounding
Words in Old Norse Performance
> Joseph Harris (Harvard): Performance and its Effects
> Stephen Mitchell (Harvard): Recreating Performance Contexts — A
Pre-Christian Example?
13:00 – 14:00 Lunch
14:00 – 15:00 Session 6 – Chaired by William Brockbank (Oxford)
> Steven Shema: Materiel Culture — Old Norse Poetry on the Battlefield
> Richard Perkins (UCL): Norse Poetry at the Workplace —
Performance at Oar, Anvil, Quern and Loom
15:00 – 15:30 Skaldic Slam Workshop led by Anna Millward
15:30 – 16:00 Tea/Coffee Break
16:00 – 17:30 Round Table Discussion led by Terry Gunnell (Iceland)
17:30 Closing Remarks
18:00 – 19:00 Seth Kriebel’s Interactive Beowulf in Somerville Chapel

delegates are shown the rare books collection at christ church library

Delegates are shown the rare books collection at Christ Church Library 

Ross Cogan poetry recital

 Ross Cogan poetry recital 

Seth Kriebel  interactive Beowulf

Seth Kriebel –  Interactive Beowulf

roundtable  from left terry gunnell stephen mitchell einar selvick john mckinnell joseph harris

Roundtable – from left Terry Gunnel-Stephen Mitchell –  Einar Selvick  –  John McKinnel  –  Joseph Harris

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