Who’s writing? Jyrki Kiiskinen takes a look at the author
To Cameroon and back: the journey of Ilmari
From page to space: Books from Finland (1976–2008) digitised
Would you say this to someone face to face? No? But anonymously, in writing, you do. Columnist Jyrki Lehtola takes a look at the way Finns tend to behave on the Internet
Babies. They’re cute. They have to be – they are babies after all. And their parents are lovely people, because they have those cute babies. Even they have a hard time believing how mellow and happy they are now that they have a baby.
But what happens to parents when the baby falls asleep and they get to creep off to the Internet? They completely freak out and turn into belligerent trolls. More…
In contemporary poetry the ‘lyric I’ of previous decades often hides behind language; the poem’s speaker is not the poet him/herself, narrative is not the norm. The website of a Finnish family magazine in 2007 discussed this: ‘OMG, this thing called contemporary poetry – crap!’; ‘Who knows what kind of psychopharma the writer’s on!’; ‘No meanings, just words one after the other. Why can’t people write something sensible?’ But the writer – and the reader – of contemporary poetry deliberately ventures onto the boundaries of language, and art requires readers (listeners, viewers) to make the decision of what they consider ‘sensible’. Mervi Kantokorpi explores and interprets two new collections of poetry
I read two of this spring’s new collections of poetry one after the other: Kivirivit (‘Stone lines’, Otava 2013) by Harry Salmenniemi and Pysty hiljaisuus (‘Vertical silence’, Teos 2013) by Miia Toivio. The experience was perplexing.
These two works are completely different from one another as regards their individual poetics, and yet the similarities between the themes that arise from them was arresting. Both works seem to inhabit an internal world of sorrow and depression, a world where the function of poetry is to forge and show its readers a path out of the anxiety. In their silence – and even emptiness – both collections have two faces: one lit up, the other darkened by grief. More…
An extract from Kivirivit (‘Stone lines’, Otava, 2013). Introduction and commentary, Writing silence,
by Mervi Kantokorpi
Then, not now. White birches against the white
sky. A vase in the middle of the room.
An attempt to make contact, but with what? The room slowly
fills with whisper and touch. A woman,
turning to catch herself in the mirror,
is afraid the phone will start ringing and startle
her. A gap-closer, not an equaliser.
Beneath the bridges, faces around the fire, these, those. More…
Poems from Pysty hiljaisuus (‘Vertical silence’, Teos, 2013). Introduction and commentary, Writing silence, by Mervi Kantokorpi
She said, it was I who said, alone, my feelings confused. Should I somehow have cleared my head, though all I wanted to do was write in the water? ‘Behind me I drag desire’s reflection, like the skirts of a boat sinking towards the depths,’ she once bespoke me. ‘Your skirts are heavy with algae and their smell would banish even the insects. A deer, swimming across a long lake, becomes entangled by the heel, only worsening things as it thrashes there, until it too falls straight down, never floating, to the bottom of the lake,’ I replied. She turned her back and leant against the wall. I couldn’t see her fingers as she, controlling the sound, ripped off a small, wriggling fin, closed it in her fist and turned towards me with an unnatural smile:
23 May 2013 | Reviews
En resa i Finland
[A journey in Finland (1873)]
Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 2013. 173 p., ill.
Utgivare [Editor]: Katarina Pihlflyckt
(Stockholm: Atlantis förlag, 2013. ISBN 978-91-7353-616-5)
The birth of Finland as a country came as a surprise to those who lived there.
It was created by Napoleon and Alexander I, becoming a reality following Russia’s victory over Sweden in the so called Finnish War. In 1809 Alexander exalted Finland as ‘a nation among nations’, however the new nation still needed to feel like a nation. The Russian rulers supported gentle and non-political nationalism in Finland, in the hope that it would mentally distance the country from Sweden. In this tranquillity, the sense of community they had envisioned grew in Finland.
For this, there were three key factors, all of which stemmed from the 1830s. Elias Lönnrot published the Kalevala, the national epic, proving that Finnish mythology and culture did indeed exist. The poet J.L. Runeberg (who would later become known as the national poet) gave Finland an appearance that was an ideology. He depicted a poor, pious and simple people, a harsh and beautiful wilderness, and with his poems he described the Finnish War, that Finland had lost, as a heroic battle of the people, fought for Finnish values. More…
Workers, miners, loggers, idealists, communists, utopians: early last century numerous Finns left for North America to find their fortune, settling down in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario. Some 800,000 of their descendants now live around the continent, but the old Finntowns have disappeared, and Finglish is fading away – that amusing language cocktail: äpylipai, apple pie.
The 375th anniversary of the arrival of the first Finnish and Swedish settlers, in Delaware, was celebrated on 11 May. Photographer Vesa Oja has met hundreds of American Finns over eight years; the photos and stories are from his new book, Finglish. Finns in North America
The Työmies Bar is located in the former printing house of the Finnish leftist newspaper, Työmies (‘The workman’). The owners, however, don’t know what this Finnish word means, or how to pronounce it.
The Työmies Society, which published the newspaper of the same name, Työmies, was founded in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1903 as a socialist organ. It moved to Hancock, Michigan the following year. More…
8 May 2013 | Reviews
Saamelaiset suomalaiset: Kohtaamisia 1896–1953
[Sámi, Finns: encounters 1896–1953]
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2012. 528 p., ill.
Luonnossa: Vuoropuhelua Nils-Aslak Valkeapään tuotannon kanssa
[In nature, a dialogue with the works of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää]
Helsinki: Maahenki, 2011. 288 p., ill.
The study of the Sámi people, like that of other indigenous peoples, has become considerably more diverse and deeper over recent decades. Where non-Sámi scholars, officials and clergymen once examined the Sámi according to the needs and values of the holders of power, contemporary scholarship starts out from dialogue, from an attempt to understand the interactions between different groups. More…
Accompanied by one or two sentences of the most gnomic kind, architect Mikko Metsähonkala’s illustrations speak volumes. The picture-stories in his book Toisaalta / (P)å andra sidan / In Other Wor(l)ds blend the real and the surreal using fairy tales, references to historical or fictional characters and episodes from everyday life.
(The Finnish composer Lauri Supponen was inspired by Metsähonkala’s ‘humaphone’ – see below –, and his composition The Dordrecht Humaphone was first performed at the Cheltenham Festival, England, in 2012, to favourable reviews.) More…
For more than 20 years journalist Leena Liukkonen has been thoroughly involved with Russian culture, commerce, language and psyche. The subtitle of her new book of essays Venäläiset tulevat! (‘The Russians are coming!’) is ‘What we think and know about them’, and refers to the fact that the Finns do not really know their eastern neighbours very well. Liukkonen writes with insight about the differences in history, mentality and world view
Extracts (under original subtitles) from Venäläiset tulevat! Mitä me heistä luulemme ja tiedämme (Siltala, 2013)
WAR, REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING
In café conversations with other visitors to Russia, we often react with exasperation to the fact that discussions in Finland only ever start with the Winter War. Sometimes we wonder why the threshold between us and our neighbour to the east is still so high. My own living contact with the past, however, makes it clear to me that everything the elderly carry round with them could not have been simply shaken off with the passage of time. Nor can the next generation just break away from it. My own experience also reminds me how distant our eastern neighbour was during peacetime. After all, a very few have made the long journey to the country next door. To many people, the old story was the only story there was about Russia. More…
Short prose from Mahdottomuuksien rajoissa. Matkakirja (‘In the realm of impossibility. A travel book’, Teos, 2013). Texts by Katri Tapola, illustrations by Virpi Talvitie. Interview by Anna-Leena Ekroos
The first try
A reader doesn’t have to understand anything on the first try. You can always put a book aside and see if the second read will help. If the second, third, fourth, or even fifth read doesn’t help, that’s still all right. What is this constant compulsion to understand everything? There’s nothing wrong with not understanding – on the contrary, it is precisely the state of baffled befuddlement that hides the hope of light within it. I can’t understand any of this! I’m having fun! the reader happily exclaims, and goes on with his life, eyes overflowing with light. More…
Artist and writer Hannu Väisänen’s alter ego, Antero – who has appeared in Väisänen’s earlier autobiographical novels – is a young artist in his new novel Taivaanvartijat (‘The guardians of heaven’, Otava, 2013). Antero is invited to create the altarpiece for a new church. He rejects conventional, ecclesiastical ‘Sunday art’ and uses simple and versatile everyday symbols; his design contains an ordinary Finnish door key, familiar to everybody. The clergymen and laywomen are appalled: is this art, is it appropriate? In this extract the frustrated Antero takes a therapeutic break – on a roller-coaster
Now I need to get another beat into my head. What can help me forget those morose, curled up creatures, their strange commands and scents? I remember the roller-coaster. And I remember the ancient lore that it’s good to ride the roller-coaster with a lover before you attempt anything else. I go home quickly, throw down my sketch-book and my unnecessarily businesslike briefcase, exchange my suit, which was supposed to indicate devotion, for a windcheater, arrange my hair more carelessly, get on my bike and cycle to the funfair where I know the roller-coaster, the genuine, real, old-fashioned, clanking roller-coaster, to be.
Who could have been the first person to imagine the delights of the roller-coaster? Into whose happy capacity for daydreaming did it fall? Who saw those massive iron tentacles in their figure-eight shapes, those stretched and knotted rings of eternal joy? Who understood that on such a ride shame and anxiety would fall out of one’s pockets? It’s claimed that the first roller-coaster was invented by Catherine the Great. The monarch, with her multifarious patronage of culture, commissioned in Oranienbaum, St Petersburg, the first Montagne Russe amid the amusements of the wise: a Russian mountain with its ice-paths, raised into the air, which melted with the coming of spring. Who else could understand this organ-stirring amusement as deeply as the Great Wife with her hundreds of lovers. In the grip of mortal fear, I too always pray: before I am laid in earth, before the crematorium’s oven, take me once more to the roller-coaster. More…
21 March 2013 | Reviews
Suomen romanien historia
[A history of Finland’s Romani people]
Toimittanut [Edited by] Panu Pulma
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (the Finnish Literature Society), 494 p., ill.
The Romani people set out from India around a thousand years ago; there are those who even claim that they originated in Egypt long before that. This latter account was favoured among the Romani in Europe, and so their leaders took to styling themselves the Dukes of ‘Egypt Minor’ or ‘Little Egypt’.
The Romani of Europe are generally considered to have come from northern India in the 15th century. They arrived in Finland – which at that time was part of Sweden – in 1512.
Five hundred years later, it seems a fitting time to publish Suomen romanien historia, a volume edited by Panu Pulma, PhD, a university lecturer in Finnish and Nordic history, with chapters contributed by a total of 14 additional experts.
The Romani who reached Stockholm, also in 1512, were said to be from ‘Egypt Minor’. This purported connection with Egypt is the origin behind the English word gypsy. The Swedish word zigenare (related to the German Zigeuner) did not come into use until the 17th century. More…
Photographer Mikko Savolainen began taking photos of Finnish Romani life in the 1960s, in the time of transition from nomadism to life in housing estates. New trends in the 1960s and 1970s also brought Romani culture to the fore – singers, musicians, festivals; an act baning racial discrimination had been passed. Savolainen became interested in Gypsy life
The text and the photographs are from Suomen romanit. Romanielämää 1960–1970-luvuilla / The Roma of Finland. Roma life in the 1960s and 1970s (Musta Taide, 2008. English translation: Jüri Kokkonen)
I have visited over a hundred Roma homes. Respect for parents, care of the elderly and hospitality are the first things that come to mind.
I have come across similar consideration for visitors only in cottages in Karelia, where the first question was whether I wanted a cup of coffee or to eat first.
I took my first photographs of Roma people in the Market Square of Hamina as an amateur photographer who only wanted to take good portraits. More…
Columnist Jyrki Lehtola zooms in on the worst factor in the diminishing quality journalism: us. Our voice is now dominant in the media, and it isn’t a particularly pleasant one.
Have you heard the rumours about the crisis in the media yet? Or their search for a new revenue logic that consists of repeating the words ‘Internet’ and ‘money’? I’m sure you have, even though the media itself claims to be getting along fairly well and can always find some perspective on its dropping circulation numbers that tells everyone they’re doing just fine. (For example, their numbers are better than in 1898 when the paper didn’t exist. Yes, we rule!)
But that isn’t the only problem. The other problem exists in us, the readers, listeners and viewers. Social media, discussion boards, and the media itself have given us a voice, and, er, well, it isn’t the kind of voice anyone wants to hear.
It turned out we have an ugly voice, and we want all the wrong things. More…