Death, the Stranger

Issue 2/1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Among the poetry published in Finland in 1997, Jyrki Kiiskinen identifies four voices that continue to reverberate long after their books are put down. Rakel Liehu is one of the four poets he discusses

Rakel Liehu takes her walks in the garden of life and death, with not even a low hedge between her and the realm of the dead. We live in a world of absurd suffering, one that Liehu aptly names the ‘circular (saw) circus.’ We see a woman striving for balance in a splendid storm of words.

Skorpionin sydän (‘The scorpions heart’) finds much of its inspiration in the mythology of ancient Egypt, not least in its physical relationship to death. Liehu’s strong woman is closely attached to life: worms perform a symphony in her innards, and her ovaries are as punctual as the stationmaster’s watch.

This woman is first and foremost a mother, but also kin to Isis who gathers the pieces of her husband’s body from the river of death to revive them again: ‘My Child My Almond Eye / Do not be afraid / I too am afraid // Everyone in turn steps out / into his yard / eyes pierced for a moment, seeing.’ The book’s high point is reached in images of birth and death: a mother escorts her child to death’s gate.

Even though Liehu no longer fractures language as much as in her previous works, traces of cubist experimentation remain. There are times when the newfound freedom of expression bogs down in its own abundance. Skorpionin sydän is an embodied book, hard to approach from a purely intellectual point of view, but nevertheless a pleasure to read in the enjoyment of unexpected verbal vortices and an imagery both fantastic and decorative. Liehu’s language reflects an individual way of seeing. It is its own branch of knowledge.

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