Who’s looking

Issue 4/1995 | Archives online, Authors

During the 1990s, young Finnish poetry has been in search of a new grip on language: what is being written now is poetry of the ardent intellect.

lntellectually and consciously, Riina Katajavuori (born 1968) retreats from simple expression of emotion but, through the inner intensity of the poems, forces the reader to join her in the process of creating meaning.

In her first collection of poetry, Varkaan kirja (‘The book of the thief,1992), Katajavuori plays a sort of intertextual game. Through literary and other cultural references she seeks a polyphonic effect, but the integration of private mental images with a rough and associative textual fibre does not yet succeed completely.

In her most recent collection, Kuka puhuu  (‘Who’s speaking’, 1994), Katajavuori’s method of creating poetry is complete and assured. Displaying a fashionable literary and academic consciousness, she is, in her poems, a nomad of the textual vvorld, who makes her camp in language but does not occupy a particular place in it.

The title of the collection urges attentiveness. The identity of the poems’ speaker is questioned, but seems finally to remain anonymous.

On the other hand, perhaps Katajavuori’s ‘who’ is not, after all, an interrogative, but a personal, pronoun, in which case it does not ask, but states. ‘Who’ is a constantly questionable speaker and actor, changeable in identity, a variable in the poetic equation.

The linguistic game also seeks identity in a deeper sense. Katajavuori is seeking human experience vvhich, from elements of perception, imagination and dreams, is so complicated in its construction that it demands a complex language.

Although the voice develops continuity from time to time, the collision of images always destroys the wholeness of the poem. The poem speaks with many voices and hints of countless worlds.

At the same time everyday experience is sharpened, is seen anew in language. A village glimpsed from a train window or ‘bread lying in a damp cornfield’ are torn away from their Finnish setting and the ways of seeing of traditional poetry.

During the 1990s, linguistically and philosophically conscious poets have grouped themselves around the literary magazine Nuori Voima (‘Young power’), even to the extent that in recent times some of them have expressed the desire to distinguish themselves from the group. Their intellectual stance has sometimes produced unsmiling and hermetic poetry.

Katajavuori is successful in cultivating humour, although the pitch of her irony is not always easy to locate. At its best, her poetry resounds with powerful, liberating laughter, as when she tries to shape anew the roles of men and women.

Her humour demonstrates that Katajavuori cares about her readers, and is not indifferent to communication.

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