Life beyond poetry

Issue 3/2003 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

A young lyricist wearing the mantle of a poet is a familiar sight. There is a need to be different, and a need to be the same. With two volumes of poetry behind him, there is something fundamentally poetly about Joni Pyysalo (born 1974); a poetic and sensitive soul, slightly dandyish, wearing a suit. Any roughness, any pig-headed machismo, any traces of the dry, cheerless face of an intellectual are absent.

In his first collection of poetry, Jätän tämän pimeän kalustamatta (‘I’ll leave this darkness unfurnished’, WSOY 2001) Pyysalo writes that his ‘feet are light’. Levity can be a virtue just as much as profundity. It shines through his work, in the way he asks ‘where have I left my sorrows?’. This young poet does not actively seek out extreme experiences; unlike Finnish training athletes – as it were – he does not ski across swamps in the summer or run through snowdrifts in the winter.

His second collection, Parittelun jälkeinen selkeys (‘Post-coital clarity’, WSOY 2003), continues in the same easy-going vein. Pyysalo finds his material in everyday reality, even from ‘the black wastebin on the bus’. That reality is just as worthy as a fire of emotions or the pain of love. Binding these different elements together creates poetry which is deceptively simple. Meanings grow little by little. It is as if the words sit down, listen and counsel the reader: ‘Sewing machine light, / the wife’s awake, / dull rain patters against the eaves, / what does it want?’

The weight of the poems grows in secret. The unpretentious transparency and openness of these poems is no less meaningful than complicated, crafted lyricism.

Love is the central motif in this collection. Is this what it feels like to be mad, to be happy, the I of the poems asks. Love is like a thick bush into which the speaker has stuck his head. It can make you feel alive, confuse you; make you see, blind you. With the woman in the poems, this young man is perplexed. He asks someone else if he can be ‘helpless with you’, and wishes that ‘we could have those kind of mornings, a whole life to waste’. With striking simplicity, Pyysalo then switches to seriousness: ‘because we have only this short while’.

Responsibility passes over to the poem itself, even the most insignificant other people receive the poet’s unconditional sympathy. With this, he reminds us of the fate of the ‘unskilled, those between jobs and the disabled’ without preaching to the reader. Is someone who is unemployed not a real person, is living not ‘a respectable profession’, he asks. There is also an ironic I who knows to take an occasional look in the mirror. ‘I stand on the street corner / illuminated like a phone box’.

Pyysalo’s second collection marks a step further towards a wider ideology, there is a new seriousness in his outlook, and the forms of these poems are richer. The sections in this collection intertwine and grow strong like a climbing plant. An independent voice resounds throughout Pyysalo’s work. It is difficult to kill off poetry, even with aesthetics, he assures us.

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