The unpassing of time

30 June 2001 | Authors, Reviews

Anne Hänninen

Photo: Marjaana Saarenpää

The poems of Anne Hänninen (born 1958) recall the paintings of Henri Rousseau, in which animals and plants, each in their turn, burst out, appear into existential space and freeze to gaze at the viewer. Hänninen achieves this effect by avoiding words, action words, motion. The poems often embody an expression, vision or performance of release, but Hänninen is able to make even the ineluctable passage of time seem oddly static: ‘the pearl-buds of the rowans once gone – / lilies of the valley. And from under the hepaticas violets, / and forget-me-nots from the wood anemones.’

In Hänninen’s ninth collection of poetry, Tuulen vilja (‘Windcrop’, WSOY), the flora are luxuriant, gushing and overwhelming: mayweed, clover and autumn phlox are, in Hänninen’s landscape, signifiers, not mere signs.

Both suffocation and release can be simultaneously sensed in the poems of Anne Hänninen, who has been called a mystic. The brevity of her use of language, from which the unnecessary and the lax have been carefully gnawed away, creates a strong sense of convulsion, while the colour-saturation of the images and the profusion of nature bring surging passion to the text. The best (and most oppressive) nature images are breath-taking.

In reading these poems, I found myself thinking about the architect Cesar Manrique’s home on the volcanic island of Lanzarote: the panoramic windows of the bubble-shaped building, which is dug into the lava, opened on to a silent lava desert, black and unmoving. The landscape formed a shocking contrast to the 1970s decor of the home, which could have been taken from an early James Bond movie: round red sofas, plastic tables and big swimming pools. The reality inhabited by human beings, on the rare occasions on which it is realised in Hänninen’s poems, is highly absurd and incomprehensible. Only nature imagery offers a weighty element.

The lava association is also explained by the fact that Anne Hänninen’s poetry is almost completely lacking in an auditive side. That is why it brings to mind the silence and motionlessness that follow a volcanic eruption, in which all that can be heard is the sighing of the cosmos. Images and colours are plentiful, sounds hardly figure. That is why I read the poems as if I were looking out from some extraordinary, sound-insulated place. And Hänninen makes good use of the tricks of dreams and cinema.

A single poem may contain an entire grand narrative, which could be the subject of a folksong-like novel. There is a wedding feast, the solitary walk of a wedding guest, a man who speaks an important question. Who danced with the bridegroom, who with the bride; the evening smells of burnt hay and there is the taste of wood sorrel in the mouth. And above everything there is fear, disguised as a man.

If there is something I find missing, it is the rhythm of speech, breathing spaces, ease. Hänninen does not title her poems or her fragments. For this reason it is sometimes refreshing to encounter an individual poem which includes speech – and, with it, the sense of hearing.

On the other hand, the lack of expletives is in accordance with Hänninen’s severe morphology: the reader does not get off lightly, because getting off lightly does not get you anywhere. The world merges with infinity.

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