Older and wiser?

9 October 2012 | This 'n' that

Illustration: Virpi Talvitie (from Täyttä päätä. Runoja ikääntyville, ‘Full steam ahead. Poems for ageing people’, edited by Tuula Korolainen and Riitta Tulusto)

Nobody can claim that old age is hot, or media-sexy. Yes, but what are older people really like? Are they the bingo-obsessed grannies in floral frocks or old geezers living in the past of popular opinion?

No longer. In just a few years the baby-boom generation will be entering their seventies, when ‘old age’, in its current Western definition, begins. (Until then, senior citizens are allowed to remain ‘adults’.)

Are the old people’s homes ready for them? This new elderly generation will be wanting to listen to Elvis, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles rather than the tango.

In their new collection Täyttä päätä. Runoja ikääntyville (‘Full steam ahead. Poems for ageing people’, LK-kirjat), the editors Tuula Korolainen and Riitta Tulusto have gathered together poems by writers of all ages, alive and dead – including Eeva Kilpi, Paavo Haavikko, Lassi Nummi, Heli Laaksonen, Claes Andersson, Aila Meriluoto – on the subject of growing old. Here, grandmothers embark on African dance classes, although the shortness of time and death are also central themes.

‘As sight dims / understanding of what is seen improves,’ comments Pekka Kejonen.

‘I no longer like to mock / as I did when I was younger. /Besides: / it is a strange decision-maker / who reads poems / let alone understands what he has read,’ grimaces Pertti Nieminen.

The subject of Heli Laaksonen’s inimitable dialect poem is perhaps future dementia:

Kalimera, hiya!

A strange but sympathetic lady
talked to me in the back row at a literary evening
about how she once almost fell in love
with a Greek man
but then she got worried about
what would happen when she got old
and didn’t remember anything
and didn’t recognise anyone
forgetting all language
except some Finnish and the Perniö dialect.

So there she would be, on her Kefalonian terrace, smiling,
raising a glass of retsina to the passers-by
looking at her man like who was that anyway
and doesn’t he understand a word I say, or is it that he can’t hear?….

Aila Meriluoto comments: ‘Memory starts to disappear / just when you are full of memories. / Strange. /Odd. / Life is a joke. / But you don’t really feel like laughing. / Its comedy is so profound.’

In her deliciously ironic images, the book’s illustrator, Virpi Talvitie, shows, for example, someone whose earthly journey has ended sleeping under a flowery blanket, or the dancing grandmother in her African costume.

Everyone should take a look at how cliché-ridden their ideas may be, so as not to be overtaken by reality: old age, too, is changing, and perhaps as fast as youth.

Illustration: Virpi Talvitie

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