A hole in the landscape
Jukka Koskelainen on Tomi Kontio’s new poems
Tomi Kontio (born I966) has often depicted suburban life both scabrously and romantically, a rather rare combination in Finnish literature. Poetically heightened language is not usually connected with apartment-block districts, but Kontio has the ability to zoom from the milk carton on the kitchen table to the Milky Way. It has made him one of Finland’s most read poets.
In his debut volume, Tanssisalitaivaan alla (‘Under the ballroom sky’, 1993), Kontio had a tendency towards a freewheeling, painterly imagery. In Vaaksan päässä taivaasta (‘A span from heaven’, 2006), the volume before the present one, he wrote a series of short narratives about the hard side of living on a housing estate. Kontio has also published children’s books, among other things, and was awarded the Finlandia Junior Prize for his novel Keväällä isä sai siivet (‘In the spring father grew wings’, Tammi, 2000).
His fifth volume of poetry. Delta (Teos. 2008), contains more emotion than his previous volumes; the poet’s palette is a little more ascetic and the style more concentrated. It leads to laconic expression, but often to attractively open metaphors: memories are compared to paper aeroplanes that ‘fly above my words’.
The poems often concentrate on one restricted moment: an intimate situation in which a small change takes place, or a small loss. The speaker in the poem is aware that change is unavoidable: ‘Some morning each of us will wake up said differently / Even with that person you can live.’
In spite of the restricted situations he describes, Kontio’s poetry is lively and moving; he studies natural phenomena and in outside occurrences seeks parallels to internal processes. The speaker is sensitively listening to the environment and nature, to what it has to say about himself and his lover. Nature and man exist intertwined. A melancholy tone permeates the small losses and the thoughts of death, but one can encounter images of solace in them.
The title Delta contains many connotations derived from the triangular symbol for the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet: a river delta, a boat’s sail or a butterfly’s shape: ‘You ask nothing more, / you know the sum of the angles of a triangle, / that you have your sides, as I do / / sometimes they approach each other / as if to penetrate each other. cut / a hole in the landscape.’
Wordplay, such as homonyms and internal sound effects, do not, however, give the volume a playful tone. Experiment is now favoured in Finnish poetry, but Kontio relies more on the ancient poetic tradition and its themes of love and loss, and writes about them through the human feelings of his persona.
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About the writer
Jukka Koskelainen (born 1961) is a poet, translator and literary critic. The first of his three collections of poetry, Kierros (‘Cycle)’ appeared in 1995. He has published collections of essays and several translations of poetry, for example by Octavio Paz and Paul Celan. He lives in Helsinki.
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