Review of Old Norse Poetry in Performance by Ben Chennells (Research Support Fund)

Report of the conference held at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, 21-22 June 2023

Building on previous events held in 2016 and 2019, ‘Old Norse Poetry in Performance: Inheritance and Innovation’ was the third conference in the series which brings established academics, early career researchers, students, and independent scholars of Old Norse poetry together with performers in the poetic traditions of the medieval north. 44 delegates attended, including 15 students/early career researchers, and five more participated online. In-person participants came from as far away as Australia, South Korea, and Colombia, along with representatives of eight different European countries.

The papers presented as part of the academic side of the conference covered a wide range of topics, including medieval modes of Eddic and skaldic performance, how these are represented in both medieval prosimetra and modern performance practices, and the emerging connections between performance and runic poetry. Simon Nygaard’s keynote lecture focused especially on this latter dimension, drawing on the field of contextual runology to produce intriguing insights into the lesser-discussed performative functions of such well-known artefacts as the Schlwesig rune stick and the Ribe skull fragment. The programme also boasted an exciting line-up of performance events. After the first day of the conference, delegates were treated to a two-part event at the Oxford Story Museum. This featured an original English translation of Vǫluspá performed by Clare Mulley and Kjell Braaten, and a performance of Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s Glymdrápa by Pétur Húni Björnsson and Ben Chennells, which was accompanied by discussions investigating the relationships between performance, performer, and audience. Mulley and Braaten’s performance was especially well received and attracted a favourable review in the national press. As the conference came to a close, delegates also participated in an interactive workshop on Faroese balladry hosted by Tóta Árnadóttir, who combined enthusiasm and patience to great effect in getting a roomful of academics to enact a chain dance.

The conference organisers are immensely grateful to the Viking Society for once again supporting this event via the Research Support Fund, which was used to secure technical support at the Story Museum. The ongoing ONPiP project continues to prove engaging and productive for both academics and performance practitioners, and the organisers look forward to building on its success in the years to come.