Kári Tulinius and Larissa Kyzer

Poet and novelist and writer and literary translator

Photo: Jussi Virkkumaa

Formed from the words for vision and hill, the Icelandic word sjónarhóll means “point of view”— the hill from which you watch. Perhaps conditioned by the language they work from, the Icelandic poet and novelist Kári Tulinius and American writer and literary translator Larissa Kyzer believe that one’s vantage point frames the world they see while also providing the jumping-off point for creation.

If a person’s vantage point determines the trajectory of their thoughts, then every reorientation shifts that course, if only slightly, just as it shifts one’s perception of where they’ve been. Some things—some places—can only be properly seen in close-up. Others don’t come into focus until you’re very far away.

Friends and collaborators whose flight paths have repeatedly criss-crossed but rarely landed them in the same place at the same time during the decade they’ve known one another, Kári and Larissa are peripatetic birds of a feather: people for whom the opportunity to post up on a new hill provides essential creative fodder, for whom distance provides clarity.

Distance, both spatial and temporal, plays a huge role in Kári’s work. One of his marquee poetry cycles, “Vanishings of Snæfellsjökull Glacier,” is a prime example of this. The poem is composed of lyrical descriptions of the titular glacier, which is often visible in Reykjavík, some 200 km away; Kári wrote it over 500 days.

Larissa tends to work in far-flung locations, and her translations are always subtly influenced by her immediate environment. For instance, the choice of a word like levee in a novel about a flood-prone, future Iceland immediately takes on more ominous resonance when translating in New Orleans. So also must the soft crunch of crusted snow in a haiku be evocative enough to slice through the cacophony outside a Brooklyn window.

But however illuminating distance can be, however standard it has become to do things remotely, there is still so much to be said for proximity, for the vital textures that mundanity gives the fabric of our lives. The Saari Residence therefore provides a unique opportunity for Larissa and Kári to navigate a middle ground—to reflect, at a distance, on a place dear to both of them and central to their work, while also allowing them to collaborate in a much more immediate way.

Over the years, Larissa has amassed translations of Kári’s work, which she has published piecemeal in various outlets. At Saari, she and Kári will finish a complete collection, focusing particularly on his poems about the natural world and humanity’s relationship to it. A full-time freelancer who constantly juggles four or five projects at a time, she’s also excited to slow down, develop a more deliberate practice, explore new kinds of creative expression, and refocus her energy.

Kári will be working on a long poem about how summer has changed in Iceland since he was a boy. In recent years, he’s taken notes comparing the island’s contemporary landscape to that of his memories, as well as photos and videos from the 1980s and 90s. These will be the centerpiece for his new poem. The Saari Residence, in mid-winter Finland, will provide an ideal hill from which to look towards Iceland in the summer.