On life and death

Issue 3/2007 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Jouni Inkala’s selected poems are subtitled Minuutin ja sen puolikkaan laajenevassa universumissa, meaning ‘In a minute and its half’s expanding universe’ (WSOY, 2007). It blends the poems’ studious precision with a dash of poetic freedom, open wonder before ultimate questions. Inkala’s eternal themes are in fact existential: the passage of time and the question of death preoccupy the persona.

But let’s be clear about this: Inkala’s poems are not without mischief and dark humour. ‘Tail references’ is a trope of humanity and mice. ‘In two things they’re [mice] more experienced than we. / They understand they’re in constant mortal danger. / That the trap is swift and silent.’ The current condition humana, with all its peculiarities, has generated much of his poetry. Sometimes a mythical reading is implied, a comtemporary, less ‘poetical’ occasion given a mythical dimension. ‘Only several thousands years after her friend / did a woman leap down from a fourth-floor balcony.’ (‘Ikaros in Helsinki’)

Jouni Inkala (born 1961) is an erudite poet and an academically trained literary scholar. He wrote his PhD on e.e. cummings. His wide reading slips easily into his poetry – sometimes more of it, some· times less, but effortlessly and with no arid intellectual pedantry. One of his most interesting volumes is Kirjoittamaton, ‘Unwritten’ (containing ‘Ikaros in Helsinki’, 2002). Here ‘the dead rise to their feet’: the poet breathes life into his dead colleagues by raising them into view. There’s ‘Beckett in pre-war Paris’, ‘Blixen on a swing’, or Wittgenstein in Norway’ (see Books from Finland 1/2003).

As regards tradition, Inkala appears to be part of a unity, a link in a long chain. This is more concretely expressed in the last poem of the selected poems, ‘Sukutiedosto’ (‘Genealogy’): ‘I exist but only because my grandparents’ parents / weren’t daunted even when a hard frost / wiped out the whole of the Mid-Ostrobothnian crop, / in the way sleeping Rome was torched by lust. / The red cells in my veins are deeply indebted I to the centuries that hold us up for display / like a stand supporting a silent framed family photograph.’.

Inkala’s poetic intelligence is free of underlined cleverness – differing in this from much of modish contemporary Finnish poetry. He seeks his own truth.

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