No need to go anywhere

30 September 2004 | Authors, Reviews

Mirkka Rekola

Photo: Irmeli Jung

Mirkka Rekola was a minimalist before minimalism was invented. Eschewing any poetic flummery, her passion has generally been infused into brief, enigmatic notations of moments: reports of flashes of heightened awareness.

She records ‘the best thing I remember’ – captured as it flies. It may be the sight of someone intensely loved in some very ordinary action – but enhanced by an almost visionary light: a new rug is being hugged: ‘When you were embracing it I / almost felt it was breathing, / that rug, it breathed that autumn’s colours, and this one’s.’ And nature isn’t separate from us: ’embracing a tree we grow.’ Or: ‘You’ll never get such tenderness / ever as from the snowfall’s / thousands and thousands and thousands of moments.’

Rekola (born 1931) the kind of poet who implicitly invites the reader into the creation of the poem. Language and aphorism tease by their ambiguities, by what they leave out, and how they abrade the boundaries of rational consciousness. She’s on a mystical journey, often finding without seeking – and notating the details that surprise her. Her poems point rather than represent – fingers pointing at the moon, in the familiar Zen phrase – but pointing at tender moments, felt in their spontaneous, irrational order, left to explain themselves.

They’re moments of crossing an edge towards an intenser awareness of the universe’s continuum, requiring us to wake up from sleep, as we do at times of heightened consciousness and love. ‘My parents were anxious to sleep / when, as a child, I told them / their bed was speeding through space – / you could see the stars tiny in the window…’ Her parents ‘pulled their clothes over their heads / and turned their backs / like the earth wanting a rest from the light’.

In her latest collection, Valekuun reitti (‘The path of a false moon’, WSOY, 2004; see page 174) – apparently a ‘false moon’ is some sort of nocturnal optical illusion – there is still syntactical play with the plain language, though less of it, and Rekola is writing a little more sequentially and co-ordinately. The poems form recurrent tropes for a settled experience of the universe’s wholeness, felt as unfolding itself in experience. Time and space are of course a unity; many of us know this intellectually, but less often as an bodily feeling. Rekola experiences a year as a place: ‘When the year is a place / it’s a city / in the cycle of the years / twelve gates / in man…’ ‘The year is only a place when / you come out of it … a gate that goes from here and into here…’ Birth is ‘the gate we all come through’; and death too is a gate we all pass through. And life, death, are not separate: it’s not life and death, but life-death, because ‘time is death’.

What makes these paradoxical statements of ‘the best thing I remember’ more than brilliant notebook jottings? It’s the organic form in the tiny structures: perhaps the formal repetition with variation of a thought or feeling, the occasional rhyme if needed, the ramifications of thought from her evocations of evanescence, the intensity and economy themselves: those essentials of poetry.

The mystical questions remain questions, not answers: koans. On his deathbed Meister Eckhart is asked ‘Where are you going?’ He replies ‘There’s no need to go anywhere’.

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