The everyday flow
Johanna Venho on her own poems
While writing Yhtä juhlaa (‘It’s all a celebration’), my third collection, I was pretty aware of it as a whole. But, generally speaking, the process of writing poetry can’t be fully conscious, or in your control: you can steer it a little, but quite a lot has to be let go. My title shows there’s an irony. It points to the duality of everyday life – and of life in general: both involve celebration and the opposite of celebration.
I’ve played with rhyme – something quite new to me – and reading these poems aloud does, I’ve noticed, work. I’ve recently been having a go at writing song lyrics, too. Something else new is that the collection grows the arc of a story line, and story-telling brings along a fairytale element.
Everything you read or hear affects you in one way or another, and Yhtä juhlaa gestures to others in or between the lines – especially to the Finnish poets Pentti Saarikoski and Eeva-Liisa Manner, as well as to Sylvia Plath. A big influence has been Finnish folk poetry, with its blend of paganism and Christianity. And I love Wislawa Szymborska’s fusion of clarity and polysemy.
Particularly in my depiction of the everyday life of a woman and mother I’ve been trying to test the philosophy that opposites – past and present, light and dark, life and death – coexist. Earthiness too is a unifying factor: the soil, where what’s gone moulders away and the new grows. And I’ve picked words and phrases from Finnish folk poetry – concrete, earthy speech that utters the feelings, but without any syrupiness. Folk poetry’s often cruelly beautiful – a strong broth of pagan and Christian imagery: the rich rhythm and language are primitively powerful. And, for me, poetry is above all language: a poem stands or falls by its diction and phraseology. If the language doesn’t grab your attention, the poem’s nowhere, or it isn’t a poem at all.
The thematic forest I wander in is unexplored territory, a part of myself where I might come across something new. It’s an alternative reality I must have the courage to enter, in spite of the fear of getting lost, stumbling or disappearing. It’s also a safeguard and a hiding place. The laws of civilisation don’t apply here. It’s not a built-up or controllable world: it’s a reality where a human being can’t conceive of being in control. In our society, rational control’s vastly over-emphasised: it’s a shackle.
‘The everyday’– the word is often used pejoratively, but I’ve tried to make the everyday sing. Insignificant-looking things can form into a significant whole. A person’s tested in the flow of everyday life, where everything’s floating along, the past, the present, stories and songs. The everyday shapes a person, and finally the greatest satisfaction is found there.
Poetic language is full of happenings, and, however paradoxical it might seem, surrender to it is the only way to survive everything. There are no permanent or correct responses, and floundering about in the current one comes up against all sorts of things. If you get into difficulties, you have to resort to a song or an incantation.
Motherhood is so multifarious that it’s difficult to depict it; and motherhood’s different for children of different ages. In my poem ‘A square metre’ I wanted to give an impression of the wonderful and terrible mill that sucks in my poetic self. I cruise about in a mother’s thoughts, and I’m constantly interrupted: there are the neighbours’ comments, the comments of other mothers, and you never get away from the thought of the end, of death, which is a part of being a mother.
I’ve snatched phrases from the air, from magazines, from friends… I want to give a wink at those who hang onto a single truth: humour’s a way of getting over things. ‘… the days so fraught / you’ve no resource in seriousness any more.’
This is an edited version of a radio interview, by Natasha Koski, of Johanna Venho which was broadcast by Radio Moreeni in Tampere on 23 March; it is also published, in Finnish, on the website of the Helsinki City Library (www.lib.hel.fi, click ‘Viikon kirjailija’).
No comments for this entry yet
Also by Johanna Venho
Mother-days - 30 June 2006
About the writer
Johanna Venho (born 1971) is a journalist, poet, translator and author of books for children. Since 1998 she has published four collections of poetry and a novel. Her poems and books for children have been translated into Swedish, French, Italian and Czech
© Writers and translators. Anyone wishing to make use of material published on this website should apply to the Editors.