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“Bound is a Boatless Woman”: tribute to Látra-Björg

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Neither a filmpoem nor a bio pic in the conventional sense, this six-minute film by Lisa Castagner, an artist from Northern Ireland, invokes the life and spirit of a fierce, 18th-century Icelandic poet I’d not previously heard about. Google Translate isn’t much help in deciphering the Icelandic Wikipedia page, except to impart the information that her given name was Björg Einarsdóttir, and “Látra-Björg” means something like “Trees, Boulders.” Fortunately, Castager’s description at Vimeo is a bit more helpful:

The title originates from a Viking proverb ‘Bundinn er bátlaus maðu’, meaning ‘Bound is a boatless man’. Likewise, a woman without a boat is a prisoner.

Látra-Björg was an 18th Century outcast fisherwoman who wrote poems believed to cast spells on those who crossed her. Fisherwomen were required to wear their skirts regardless of practicality, so they often defied the law and removed them at sea. Látra-Björg lived and died a beggar in an isolated northern fjord of Iceland during the ‘Mist Famine’ which forced many to emigrate to Canada.

I made the piece as an imaginative interpretation of Látra-Björg’s poetry and story while I stayed in that part of Iceland; her most well-known poem is ‘Fagurt er i Fjörðum’ (‘Tis fair in the fjords), a verse describing the beauty of the fjords when the weather is fair, until the extreme hardships of the winter, ‘when man and beast must die’.