Abrupt bewitchment

Issue 1/2003 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Jouni Inkala (born 1966) published his first collection of poetry in 1992. For some time it seemed that he had already developed his style to the limit, creating an intimate, concentrated tone with a characteristically calm rhythm and a pensive narrative voice. Words and images form a chain, which winds itself round a mystery: something which we can approach and redefine again and again, but which we can never fully apprehend.

In Inkala’s first collection, there are some poems which are so carefully polished, so skilful and considered, that even the dust seems to fall meticulously into place. He has gradually introduced points into his poems at which such control disappears and the writing suddenly ruptures.

In his volume Kirjoittamaton (‘Unwritten’, WSOY, 2002) he depicts one person at a time, be it a poet, a composer, a great thinker or a forgotten prophet – Joseph Brodsky, Anna Akhmatova, Samuel Beckett, Rembrandt. He addresses the Russian poet Brodsky in heaven: ‘Is it really true you can listen / to Bach there, all the time? / How many good jokes can you hear there in a day?’ Inkala has chosen a particular moment from their lives – or deaths – and depicts this freely, yet in such a way that the moment imagined still relates to the character’s actual biography.

Many features of Inkala’s previous poems are still recognisable here: the concentration on a single moment, around which thoughts and associations can spiral off. A sense of devotion also remains, but the poems now contain shards and take unexpected turns which shatter the gentle narrative. At times, the style of these poems also moves close to the grotesque, for example in the poem ‘Darwinin arpajaiset’ (‘Darwin’s lottery’), in which life has evolved useless objects, such as ‘a hand by a pot of meat morphing into a fork’.

So the muse in another poem, dictating to the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, is a limping, slime-secreting animal. In a series of poems about muses, they are described as shrieking, laughing, biting and laying eggs. Poetry is no longer a case of gently developing material, pondering and searching for appropriate sayings. It can also be like an abrupt bewitchment.

Behind these poems is a rather romantic notion of the creative process itself: ‘life that does not need anyone to live it’ belongs to ‘books that write and read each other’. These poems probe a vitality unattainable through theoretical or conceptual language.

Many of Inkala’s poems seem to take place in the eye of a storm, at a quiet moment, through which one can sense the tension of a chaotic world, something to which the poet only fleetingly alludes. However, in Kirjoittamaton, he seems to have come much closer to chaos. It seems as if he is trying to rid himself of his own poetics by introducing these sharp twists and sarcastic asides; this proves that the poet’s skill is not limited to technical mastery alone.

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