New from the archives

Chill climates

Issue 2/1984 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews | Added 7 December 2016

Olli Jalonen. Photo: Pekka Nieminen.

Olli Jalonen. Photo: Pekka Nieminen.

Olli Jalonen was born in 1954 and lives in Hämeenlinna. His first work, a collection of short stories entitled Unien tausta (‘The background of dreams’, 1978) and two later novels, Sulkaturkki (‘Feather coat’, 1979) and Ilo ja häpeä (‘Joy and shame’, 1981) were reviewed with exceptional warmth by the critics. His latest novel, Hotelli eläville (‘Hotel for the living’, 1983) brought him a State Prize for Literature in 1984. The awarding committee commented that the novel is ‘a representative of that rare genre in Finnish literature, the grotesque novel’. Jalonen also received the ‘Spurs of Criticism’, the annual prize awarded by the Finnish Critics’ Association. The hotel for the living is the book’s ironic name for a nuclear shelter that is being quarried into the living rock of Finland; Jalonen sets up a situation that allows him to examine the crevices of his characters’ personalities. He studies their attitudes to life with cool satire – they live in the bleak climate of buying and selling, the struggle for power and material goods, the domination of others, and submission to their fates. Interview by Markku Huotari

‘Poetry in a world under threat’ was the headline for a survey of Finnish poetry by poet and critic Väinö Kirstina that appeared in the Tampere daily newspaper Aamulehti in 1981.

Two years later that headline is just as bitingly relevant. Only one alteration is necessary: to poetry must be added prose, for prose, too, is addressing itself to that future, difficult enough to imagine, in which the threat of nuclear war may involve Finland, living in the shadow of the super powers, in a conflict in which she wishes no part.

One of the scenes in Olli Jalonen’s novel Hotelli eläville (‘Hotel for the living’) is set in a nuclear shelter that is being built inside the living rock on which Helsinki stands. Even now the planners of that ‘shelter’ use the fear of other people to their own ends, and divide them into those who will be saved and those who will perish.

A sermon on the day of judgement? Cliche? Milking of a fashionable subject? More…

Hotel for the living

Issue 2/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 7 December 2016

An extract from Hotelli eläville (‘Hotel for the living’, 1983). Introduction by Markku Huotari

Raisa and Pertti are a married couple with three children, Katrieli­na, Aripertti and Artomikko. When she discovers she is to have another, whom she names Katjaraisa, Raisa decides to have an abortion, because another child, even if welcome, would now jeopardise her career – she has been offered a job with an international company at the very top of the advertising world. Raisa is the successful entrepreneur of the novel – on the one hand coldly calculating, without feeling, on the other superficially sentimental, perhaps the most startlingly ironic of the characters in Jalonen’s novel. His image of the brave new woman?

During her lunch hour Raisa took a walk via the laboratory, asked reception for the envelope and thrust it unregarded into her handbag. She was aware of her already knowing, but short of the envelope, there would as yet be no restrictions, nor were there any decisions that would have to be made. She had called Tom Eriksson, discussed yet again the same points and particulars, and ended tracing a finger over the two beautiful pictures on her wall. ‘The loveliest of seas has yet to be sailed’ and ‘I am life! For Life’s sake.’

She thought of Katjaraisa, her features, the palms the breadth of two fingers, just as Katrielina’s had been, and the same button-eyed gazing look as Katrielina. More…

The Writer’s dilemma

Issue 2/1984 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews | Added 7 December 2016

Marja-Liisa Vartio and Paavo Haavikko

Poets Marja-Liisa Vartio and Paavo Haavikko. Photo: SKS archives

Philip Binham interviews Paavo Haavikko

I think it’s impossible to be just a writer. That would mean isolating oneself completely from the outside world – so it’s important to have other work.

The appointment is on 5 April 1984 in Paavo Haavikko’s city office. Clearly a newly-inhabited office – he recently left his post as Literary Editor for the Otava Publishing Company to become a literary consultant under the letterhead of Arthouse Ltd. A desk jumbled high with papers and photos on which my tape recorder perches precariously; Haavikko is currently working on a history of a leading Finnish industrial enterprise, Wärtsilä. Typewriters, a phone, a few odd chairs, a secretary. Haavikko himself is business-like: well-cut grey suit, well­-trimmed greying hair and beard, neat dark-blue tie: When I play the recording over, our voices echo oddly in the bare, high-ceilinged rooms.

PB: May I start by asking you something about your reading?

PH: That’s a very difficult question for me because up to now I’ve had two jobs – as a writer and a publisher, so my own reading has been more or less non-existent. Writing has taken up all my leisure time. And I thought, now that I’m not in the publishing business any more I’d have time for such reading – but so far I haven’t had any, so that seems to be something for the future. More…

The power game

Issue 2/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 7 December 2016

Puhua, vastata, opettaa (‘Speak, answer, teach’, 1972) could be called a collection of aphorisms or poems; the pieces resemble prose in having a connected plot, but they certainly are not narrative prose. Ikuisen rauhan aika (‘A time of eternal peace’, 1981) continues this approach. The title alludes ironically to Kant’s Zum Ewigen Frieden, mentioned in the text; ‘eternal peace’ is funereal for Haavikko.

In his ‘aphorisms’ Haavikko is discovering new methods of discourse for his abiding preoccupation: the power game. All organizations, he thinks, observe the rules of this sport – states, armies, businesses, churches. Any powerful institution wages war in its own way, applying the ruthless military code to autonomous survival, control, aggrandizement, and still more power. No morality – the question is: who wins? ‘I often entertain myself by translating historical events into the jargon of business management, or business promotion into war.’

‘What is a goal for the organization is a crime for the individual.’ Is Haavikko an abysmal pessimist, a cynic? He would himself consider that cynicism is something else: a would-be credulous idealism, plucking out its own eyes, promoting evil through ignorance. As for reality, ‘the world – the world’s a chair that’s pulled from under you. No floor’, says Mr Östanskog in the eponymous play. Reading out the rules of a mindless and cruel sport, without frills, softening qualifications, or groundless hopes, Haavikko is in the tradition of those moralists of the Middle Ages, who wrote tracts denouncing the perversity and madness of ‘the world’ – which is ‘full of work-of-art-resembling works of art, in various colours, book-resembling texts, people-resembling people’.

Kai Laitinen

Speak, answer, teach

When people begin to desire equal rights, fair shares, the right to decide for them­selves, to choose

one cannot tell them: You are asking for goods that cannot be made.

One cannot say that when they are manufactured they vanish, and when they are increased they decrease all the time. More…

Poems

Issue 2/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry | Added 7 December 2016

Interview by Philip Binham

Birdmount

I hear a happy tale, it makes me sad:
no-one will remember me for long.
I will send a letter with nothing inside, the emptiness will reek
as the pines do, of fruit-peel and of smoke,
a scent only.
Here I have stayed a week, seven riverside days.
The river treads the mill, ah, treads the mill,
the river’s wide, this is a placid reach, the sky is near:
smoke, like the shadow of a birdflock passing, nothing else.

And now it is September:
there are more pine trees here, and more darkness too. More…

The man and his work

Issue 3/1984 | Archives online, Authors | Added 1 December 2016

Aleksis Kivi

Aleksis Kivi. Drawn in 1873 almost certainly by Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905).

Aleksis Kivi’s Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, English translation 1929), is the best known and the most beloved in Finland. Its sentences have become part and parcel of the common tongue. Its events are often cited as historical happenings, its characters and their vicissitudes are now permanent national property just as the characters of Shakespeare are for the English, those of Molière for the French, or those of Cervantes for the Spaniards.

Aleksis Kivi’s life (1834–1872) is filled with paradoxes and unanswered questions. How could a village tailor’s son who has acquired only a little learning at home and who managed to graduate from secondary school, after many efforts, only at the age of 23, became an author of the first rank? How could a man who travelled within a radius of only a few dozen miles during his life know the Finnish landscape and the Finnish mind so thoroughly that his novel even today, mutatis mutandis, conveys a true picture of an entire nation? How could he free himself from the spirit and the idealised conception of the art of his own day so completely as to be able to write books sharply at variance with the other literary works of the same era, in which he followed his own path and found fully independent artistic solutions? And how could a book which is, practically speaking, the first Finnish-language novel and which thus springs up as a unique phenomenon from an inadequately cultivated linguistic soil, reach such heights as to become the supreme achievement of all Finnish literature? The enigmatic quality of Kivi’s character is further enhanced by the fact that there exists only one authentic portrait of him, drawn when he already lay dead; that the original manuscript of Seitsemän veljestä is not extant; and that of his letters, only about seventy have been preserved, some only brief notes and most of them dealing with financial arrangements. More…

Poems

Issue 3/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry | Added 1 December 2016

The poems of Aleksis Kivi were long considered no more than a peripheral aspect of his work. They were, as Kivi’s friend Kaarlo Bergbom wrote in a review, ‘gold that can’t be minted into coins’. The reason appears to have been Kivi’s poetic technique, which made a clear break with tradition. He did away almost completely with rhyme and instead emphasised the rhythm and musical sound qualities of words. He shortened words in a way that did not find favour with any subsequent Finnish poets. He avoided emotional expressions of patriotism and romantic love poetry; instead, he composed poems that were extended, narrative and fresco-like. Lauri Viljanen, whose 1953 study brought about a re-evaluation of Kivi’s poetry, has given them the apt soubriquet ‘epic idyll’.

The first of Kivi’s poems appeared in the Kirjallinen Kuukauslehti (‘Literary monthly magazine’) in 1866; a collection of his poetry entitled Kanervala was published the same year. Other poems appear in his novels and plays, and some have appeared in a collection after his death. Karhunpyynti (‘The bear hunt’) is from Kanervala. Its descriptive nature is typical of Kivi. The verse structure is tightly controlled but unrhyming. The winter landscape of the third verse, repeated at the end of the poem, is a ceremonious point of rest among the otherwise busy activity.

– Kai Laitinen

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The Bear Hunt

The men on skis set out for the forest, a brave company
With guns and bright spears
And clamouring dogs on the leash,
With blazing eyes,
As the dawn chases gloomy Night
From the sky’s brow,
And the sun raises his head. More…

The stages of Aleksis Kivi

Issue 3/1984 | Archives online, Authors | Added 1 December 2016

The organic unity of written and performed drama is today considered an unarguable truth especially in acting circles. The work of Aleksis Kivi appears, on this view, anachronistic to say the least: he created the basis of Finnish drama at a time when the indigenous Swedish-language theatre was taking its first faltering steps and theatre in Finnish was not even dreamed of. And more: his most important works still inspire interpretation after interpretation, and audiences continue to flock to see his plays.

Kivi’s drama is no mere paper art, scribbled by an artist in a garret. Details from contemporary accounts reveal that Kivi was naturally drawn to acting, and presumably he had some gifts in that direction. Some of his friends thought him a good mimic. Kivi had marked out his first stage as a boy on the slopes of the Taabori mountain close to his home. His first play concerned the weekly trip to church; he sketched his own satirical version of the sermon and the reading of the banns. As a schoolboy and a student he invented and organised brigand plays in Helsinki and Nurmjärvi; scholars believe that his model was Schiller’s Die Räuber. In Siuntio he read Shakespeare aloud, in Swedish, to his saviour and patron Miss Charlotta Lönnqvist, and to her students of household economy – ‘although, of course, a lot had to be cut out.’ More…

Home and solitude

Issue 3/1984 | Archives online, Authors | Added 1 December 2016

Eeva Kilpi

Eeva Kilpi. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro

By Eeva Kilpi’s own admission, the genre of the short story seems best suited for her themes. But she has also gained recognition as a novelist and poet, both inside and outside Finland. Among the many Finnish authors who have read and traveled widely, Kilpi assumes a somewhat unique position: the wider contemporary world with its interlocking problems can be sensed as the broader context of her writing; yet the foreground actions of her stories, with a few notable exceptions, take place in Finland, often in the backwoods of the Eastern border districts. Likewise, her main characters are unmistakably Finnish, from teenagers spouting Helsinki slang to old folks lapsing into a colorful Karelian dialect.

Eeva Kilpi was born in 1928 in Hiitola on the Karelian isthmus. Her latest novel, Elämän evakkona (‘Life’s refugees’, 1983) demonstrates again the author’s capacity for casting into the foreground gripping individual life stories while opening up in the background the epic journey of Finnish Karelians, uprooted in the last war from home and village and sent wandering around Finland in search of new livelihoods, homes and roots. Kilpi’s story is poignantly Finnish and reflects the journey she herself at the age of eleven started with her family from Hiitola. But it fits into the larger context of our own time, which produces growing numbers of evacuees and refugees with stories largely untold. More…

The report

Issue 3/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 1 December 2016

A short story from Kesä ja keski-ikäinen nainen (‘Summer and the middle-aged woman’) Introduction by Margareta N. Deschner

Dear Colleague,

First of all, I want to thank you and your wife for the pleasant evening I and my wife had in your summer villa in August. Briitta (since we are old acquaintances: with two i’s and two t’s, remember?) especially wants me to mention that she will never forget the half moon climbing the hill behind your sauna, surprising us with its speed. The next time we looked it was half-way up the sky! Without doubt, your fine tequila had something to do with the matter, one shouldn’t forget that. Even so, it was quite a show, just like the time a bunch of us guys had gone skiing and you bragged that you had arranged for the barn to catch fire. I hope that you and your wife – I mean Alli – will be able to visit us next winter and taste a superb Mallorca red wine called Comas, which we brought home. It is by far the best red I have ever tasted and indecently cheap to boot. I hope you will come soon. The wine won’t keep indefinitely, as you well know. We’ll save it for you. So thanks again.

More…

Joni Skiftesvik: arctic storyteller

Issue 4/1984 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews | Added 29 November 2016

Joni Skiftesvik

Joni Skiftesvik. Photo: Hilkka Skiftesvik

Olavi Jama interviews Joni Skiftesvik

We’re sitting on the fringes of the arctic zone, in the modern centre of Oulu, a town that built its wealth in the last century on tar export and sailing ships.

In front of us is the sea; behind us curves Oulujoki, the river that has for centuries brought Oulu writers stories from the north. The restaurant is filled with the bright light of midday; we want to see each other clearly.

JS: All summer the wind blows in from the sea. Now there’s a land wind. It comes from the east.

OJ: You’ve published only two books, but you’re hardly a typical debutant writer. All day you work for an Oulu publisher of romantic fiction, whose products attract hundreds of thousands of readers every year. What’s your job there?

JS: Publications director.

OJ: You returned from the Frankfurt Book Fair yesterday. Did you see anything there to interest you as an author?

JS: For a novelist or a short story writer, for a writer concerned with literature it was really quite a depressing sight. Long corridors and exhibition shelves by the kilometre. More…

The blow-flower boy and the heaven-fixer

Issue 4/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 29 November 2016

A short story from Puhalluskukkapoika ja taivaankorjaaja (‘The blow-flower boy and the heaven-fixer’, 1983). Interview by Olavi Jama

Cold.

A chill west wind came over the blue ice. It went right to the skin through woollen clothes. Shivers ran up and down the spine, made shoulders shake.

In the bank of clouds close to the horizon, right where the icebreaker had crunched open a passage to the shore, hung a pale blotch, a substitute for the sun. It gave off more chill than warmth.

Lennu’s teeth were chattering.

He wore a buttoned-up windbreaker, a hand-me-down from Gunnar, over a heavy lambswool shirt. It couldn’t keep off the cold. More…

The bad and the ugly in the writing of Pentti Haanpää

Issue 4/1984 | Archives online, Authors | Added 29 November 2016

Pentti Haanpää

Pentti Haanpää. Photo: SKS Archives

Pentti Haanpää (1905-1955), author of ten novels and three hundred short stories, wrote about lumberjacks, woodsmen, crofters and smallholders; his individual style has established him as one of the most popular short story writers in Finnish literature.

The first full biography of Haanpää, by Vesa Karonen, Haanpään elämä (‘Haanpää’s life’), is to be published in January 1985 by Finnish Literature Society.

Haanpää’s strength as a writer is in his short stories. He is a man’s writer who writes about a man’s world: logging and other heavy manual work, hiking, war hunting, fishing, sport. His language, too: is masculine: rugged, sometimes rough, dense, laconic. Haanpää’s scale of emotions is wide and varied, but there is a bass note that is often sounded in his work. It is one of the characteristics that gives Haanpää’s work its particular stamp: his preoccupation with the bad and the ugly. More…

Patsy, the artist of the lumber camps

Issue 4/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 29 November 2016

A short story from Atomintutkija ja muita juttuja (1950). Introduction by Aarne Kinnunen

Deep in the wilds, where the only sound is the sad, primeval sighing of the forest, it is easy to succumb to a mood of boredom and melancholy. It may sometimes occur to you that in such a place you are wasting your life. Real life goes on elsewhere, in places with more people, more signs of human activity, more light, more gaiety…

You fell a tree, severing a string of that mighty instrument, the forest. You saw it into logs, you strip off the bark: it all seems dull and pointless. Sometimes the rain decides to go on for days: the trees have streaming colds, droplets hang from every needle-tip. You make for the shelter of a lumber camp. But the low-roofed rest-hut, deep in the forest, looks a dreary place, the well-known faces are so dull, the talk so futile. You feel you know in advance what each man is going to say. And the food, too, is just the same as usual, the same old rubbishy mush. The sight of the pot, with its blackened sides, gives no pleasure: you know all too well what is in it. And those grubby playing-cards, how disgusting! The mere sight of them is enough to make you feel defiled… More…

Narcissus in winter

Issue 4/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 24 November 2016

Risto Ahti

Risto Ahti. Kuva: Harri Hinkka

Poems from Narkissos talvella (Narcissus in winter’, 1982). Introduction by Pertti Lassila

Risto Ahti (born 1943) published his first work in 1975. His poetic expression finds form remarkably often in prose poems, and Narkissos talvella is made up exclusively of these. His poems transmute language into a mystical, surreal world, sometimes enigmatic and subjective in the extreme, and at its best strangely suggestive. It is as if Ahti’s world were in a state of constant change, subjected to a relentless process of demolition and rebuilding. The experience of the individual, generally his encounter with truth, is central to many of Ahti’s poems; the inner reality of a person manifests itself as more essential than the outward appearance. Ahti’s poems exhibit a fruitful contradiction: on the one hand, the accuracy with which he uses words and, on the other, the continual shape-changing and lack of definite boundaries of the world they describe. More…

Eroica

Issue 4/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry | Added 24 November 2016

Ilpo Tiihonen. Photo: Irmeli Jung

Ilpo Tiihonen. Photo: Irmeli Jung

Poems from From Eroikka (‘Eroica’, 1982). Introduction by Pertti Lassila

Ilpo Tiihonen (born 1950) published his first collection of poetry in 1975. From the beginning, his poems have been couched in the language of the street, and he uses slang liberally. Tiihonen has always been opposed to the miniature idylls of nature that were so characteristic of the 1970s. He aims at the secularisation of poetry, and he uses humour and comedy as a counterweight to high culture. He has evidently been influenced in his technique by Mayakovsky and Yesenin, to whom he often refers in his poems. His preferences in the poetic tradition are apparent in the fresh and liberal new interpretations of poems by Gustav Fröding contained in his collection Eroikka. Unusually for a contemporary Finnish poet, Tiihonen makes extensive use of rhyme. The result is often strongly lyrical poems that could almost be called modern broadsheet ballads, and may also bring Brecht to mind. More…

Bearded Madonna

Issue 4/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry | Added 24 November 2016

Poems from Parrakas madonna (‘Bearded Madonna’, 1983). Introduction by Pertti Lassila

The first volume of poems by Eira Stenberg (born 1943) appeared in 1966; since then she has published both poems and children’s stories. In her most recent collection, she examines human relationships within the family, divorce, motherhood and childhood. Stenberg’s voice is clear and concrete. Her treatment of both mother and child is unsentimental, sometimes ironic; perceptively and far­sightedly she deals with the importance of childhood in the way it predestines the fate of the individual. No love or hate burns/ like that we receive as a gift from childhood, Stenberg writes in one of her poems. The home – protective, restrictive and punishing – is often the scene of her poems. The man, the father, is the butt of considerable irony and criticism, but Stenberg also destroys the myth of the madonna-like mother and the idyll of the home. More…

An intimation of Paradise

Issue 4/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry | Added 24 November 2016

Poems from Paratiisiaavistus (‘An intimation of Paradise’, 1983). Introduction by Pertti Lassila

Satu Salminiitty (born 1959) has published only one collection of poetry since her first appeared in 1981, but with these two volumes she has achieved considerable success. She writes with a fine rhetoric using language and rhythm that are far removed from those of spoken Finnish. Religious pathos has a prominent place in her work, and her poems often derive from praise, prayer or even magic incantations; Salminiitty is a creator of vision who trusts to her metaphysical intuition, a quality not generally discernible among today’s Finnish poets. Equally rare is her lively faith in the goodness and beauty of people and of the world. A conscious rejoinder to materialism, pessimism and fear of the future can be read in her poems. More…