New from the archives
an evening like a sigh –
languidly spreading across the land.
The tree’s unclothing
its branches of their colours, darkening.
As if something somewhere
were ringing and ringing –
a song straying like an orphan.
The words seem
something I’ve heard:
‘only a shadow –
only a shadow of a dream’
It’s slipping away. It’s dwindling.
Everything – everything – I’ve been given
I’ll give away. More…
Contemporary Finnish poetry, translated and introduced by Anselm Hollo
The last couple of months, it has been my pleasure to browse around in a tightly packed shelf of books of poetry published in Finland in the last five years. On the showing of these, and of the excellent anthology Modern finlandssvensk lyrik (‘Modern Finland-Swedish poetry’, 1980), edited by Claes Andersson and Bo Carpelan, poetry certainly seems to be alive and well in the old homeland. In a way, the sheaf translated here is just first travel notes, individual works that struck my fancy seemed translatable: thus, by no means a ‘representative selection’.
Claes Andersson’s poem ‘When I was born, Helsinki was…’ was quite simply a direct hit (perhaps an unfortunate metaphor in that it deals, in part, with the WW2 air raids on Helsinki) – it brought back personal memories from my early childhood. But beyond those immediate circumstances, it is also a very moving evocation of the magnificent and terrifying world of magic children inhabit. Helena Anhava’s ‘These years…’, with its marvelous image of the great hinge turning in the human psyche at certain points familiar to anyone who has lived into middle age, seemed a fine example of her impressive body of meditative lyric poems, sharing a tenor of wistfulness not uncommon in Finland’s poetry with Bo Carpelan’s ‘You drive up…’, which is also a poem of the pangs of change. In Carpelan’s text, the clash between ‘wonderful clear Vivaldi’ on the protagonist’s car radio and the perceived tawdriness of the environment is beautifully balanced between genuine revulsion for the latter and a self-irony directed against the self-declared ‘finer sensibilities’ of the class that can afford them. Tua Forsström‘s ‘Do you want to hear something’ moves in a lovely dance figure from myth to everyday present: we see the interior world that is Nausicaa’s island shimmering through the exterior in which ‘someone’s/ balcony door whines all night like a cat’. More…
A short story from Husdjur (‘Pets’, 1986)
Lena called again Sunday morning. I had just gotten up and was annoyed that as usual Hannele hadn’t gone home but was still lying in my bed snoring like a pig. The connection was good, but there was a curious little echo, as if I could hear not only Lena’s voice but also my own in the receiver.
The first thing she said was, ‘How is Hamlet doing?’
She’d started speaking in that affected way even before they’d moved, as if to show us that she’d seen completely through us.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘How are you?’
‘What is he doing?’
Then she was quiet. She didn’t say anything for a long while.
‘Lena? Hello? Are you there?’
No answer. Suddenly I couldn’t stand it any longer. More…