In contemporary poetry the ‘lyric I’ of previous decades often hides behind language; the poem’s speaker is not the poet him/herself, narrative is not the norm. The website of a Finnish family magazine in 2007 discussed this: ‘OMG, this thing called contemporary poetry – crap!’; ‘Who knows what kind of psychopharma the writer’s on!’; ‘No meanings, just words one after the other. Why can’t people write something sensible?’ But the writer – and the reader – of contemporary poetry deliberately ventures onto the boundaries of language, and art requires readers (listeners, viewers) to make the decision of what they consider ‘sensible’. Mervi Kantokorpi explores and interprets two new collections of poetry
I read two of this spring’s new collections of poetry one after the other: Kivirivit (‘Stone lines’, Otava 2013) by Harry Salmenniemi and Pysty hiljaisuus (‘Vertical silence’, Teos 2013) by Miia Toivio. The experience was perplexing.
These two works are completely different from one another as regards their individual poetics, and yet the similarities between the themes that arise from them was arresting. Both works seem to inhabit an internal world of sorrow and depression, a world where the function of poetry is to forge and show its readers a path out of the anxiety. In their silence – and even emptiness – both collections have two faces: one lit up, the other darkened by grief. More…
An extract from Kivirivit (‘Stone lines’, Otava, 2013). Introduction and commentary, Writing silence,
by Mervi Kantokorpi
Then, not now. White birches against the white
sky. A vase in the middle of the room.
An attempt to make contact, but with what? The room slowly
fills with whisper and touch. A woman,
turning to catch herself in the mirror,
is afraid the phone will start ringing and startle
her. A gap-closer, not an equaliser.
Beneath the bridges, faces around the fire, these, those. More…
Poems from Pysty hiljaisuus (‘Vertical silence’, Teos, 2013). Introduction and commentary, Writing silence, by Mervi Kantokorpi
She said, it was I who said, alone, my feelings confused. Should I somehow have cleared my head, though all I wanted to do was write in the water? ‘Behind me I drag desire’s reflection, like the skirts of a boat sinking towards the depths,’ she once bespoke me. ‘Your skirts are heavy with algae and their smell would banish even the insects. A deer, swimming across a long lake, becomes entangled by the heel, only worsening things as it thrashes there, until it too falls straight down, never floating, to the bottom of the lake,’ I replied. She turned her back and leant against the wall. I couldn’t see her fingers as she, controlling the sound, ripped off a small, wriggling fin, closed it in her fist and turned towards me with an unnatural smile:
Poems from Huhtikuu (‘April’, 1932), Sateen jälkeen (‘After the rain’, 1935), Hunnutettu (‘Veiled’, 1936), Kaukainen maa (‘Distant land’, posthumous, 1937; all published by WSOY). Introduction by Vesa Haapala
ON THE SHORE
The wonderful pale clouds
cross the sky like wings.
Quiet and enchanting
the open water sings.
The sand has grown weary
of the waves’ caressing play.
Now come in perfect quiet,
now come here, right away…
Memory, winter and everyday are studied in Tua Forsström’s new collection of poems, En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (‘One evening in October I rowed out on the lake’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012). Introduction by Michel Ekman
I fell through the papers laid aside
I came to a place where I was supposed to stay
for four nights but I stayed four years
Someone said: you have caused the council considerable expense
I said: this is my situation
A brave little cat came to my rescue
I could see what I wanted in the dark
at night and no one saw me
It was like a dream but I wasn’t dreaming
I was not afraid and I could pass through chalcedony
I could pass through quartz crystals
I could pass through sad and sick
On the bottom in the mud coins from many lands lay gleaming
We wish for anything between heaven and earth
All that we see and cannot see and lost
I do not recognise myself, and no one sees me More…
In her fifth collection of poems, Pauliina Haasjoki explores night flights, water, islands, sandy beaches where time is found stratified in stones and fossils. Interview by Teemu Manninen
Poems from Aallonmurtaja (‘Breakwater’, Otava, 2011)
Man cannot hide in the night, his desire will betray him.
Man turns toward the lights, light sparkles as though it were close at hand
even if it is far away.
Lights, which offer themselves like jewels to the one who sits in the plane above them, are already in their viewers’ eyes even if they have only just begun to stream from their source. A city-jewel swaying in the black night air.
A solitary light on the surface of an island. Seen close up it is a soft-lit lamp which casts light only on the table and the faces around it, but from above, at a distance of kilometres, it is an immediate spot, a straight line that aims at the viewer and pierces her. A fierce light-beam.
Harri Nordell breaks up grammar, invents words and leaves sentences unfinished. His poems are like minimalist, language-shattering sculptures of words. In her introduction Tarja Roinila compares Nordell’s poems to windows on to another world
Poems from Sanaliekki äänettömyydessä. Valitut runot 1980–2006 (‘Word-flame in silence. Selected poems 1980–2006’, WSOY, 2011)
You are beautiful
light-cupola-ecstasy of the eye
I look at you
daughter, bringer of the Word
involvement has been inscribed
with the name’s black reed
Girl, salt-grain of light
the mighty river of blood rinses memory,
otherness has come through us
Butterflies, metamorphoses, burial and remembering are the recurrent images in Henriikka Tavi’s third collection, entitled Toivo (‘Hope’). Introduction by Mervi Kantokorpi
Poems from the collection Toivo (‘Hope’, Teos, 2011)
I will tell you, though you cannot hear it.
This is a story that you will come to forget.
I have gone, but there is no departure. And as
the meadow of absence begins to lapse into grief:
Do not grieve.
I was here a moment ago and
soon will be between the dermis and the epidermis.
I stand in a row behind myself; I am a memory of you.
Oh, you weak spark! You powerful
desire to turn into a fortune!
You were the crowd in my head.
I am serious, you only imagine me.
Don’t disappear. Leave and stay.
I’ll be no further than this. More…
In Gösta Ågren’s poetry austere aphorisms alternate with concrete observations of life in a small village that was and again is his home, and with portraits of people he has met on his journey in the world. Introduction by David McDuff
Poems from the collection I det stora hela (’On the whole’, Söderströms, 2011)
Father’s hands were like stiff
gloves; a furious
kettle had bewitched them
in his childhood. We ride
from the church’s tall letter
along the river’s long sentence
to the parenthesis of the bridal house,
and the thunder of three hundred hooves
fills the space beneath the clouds.
I saw father driving through
his life with those numbly
gripped reins, and later,
right now, I think of the
life-long body in which a man
comes, is wounded, and goes. More…
In one of Heli Laaksonen’s poems the narrator buys a ticket for her soul and herself in a train’s pet carriage. Her capricious poetry features new potatoes, woodpeckers, weasels, and even a pig in fox’s clothing. Introduction by Mervi Kantokorpi
Poems from Peippo vei (‘The chaffinch took it’, Otava, 2011)
From the potato patch there rose a human seedling, too.
Winston, I called it
as it was Winstons I’d sowed in this row
unmarked by hoe or blight.
I put it in the basket with the others.
It sat there in the quiet pile, at the edge,
looked on while I slogged away,
gnawing a little bit out of the side of a potato.
What was it thinking?
What could it be that earlies think about?
The first summer sparrows are fresh out of the oven.
I so wish they’d only think about nice things.
I try to look happy
to give them a good start. More…
‘Time the unstoppable’ features in the last collection of poems, Gramina, by Bo Carpelan (1926–2011), who reads timeless poetry while writing his own verses. In his introduction, Michel Ekman quotes the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, who thought books should stimulate the reader’s thoughts instead of merely being devoured
Poems from the collection Gramina. Marginalia till Horatius, Vergilius och Dante (‘Gramina. Marginalia to Horace, Virgil and Dante’, Schildts, 2011)
Surf on the net –
in the net you are
with mouse and waiting spider
Fills life’s piggy bank
until it is emptied
The paved road of envy
where you stumble
Be sufficient unto oneself?
And who is this ‘self’
who doesn’t introduce himself? More…
The women in mirrors who recur in the work of Aila Meriluoto (born 1924) are poetic figures who have featured in her poetry since her first collection, published in 1946. In these new poems, from Tämä täyteys, tämä paino (‘This fullness, this weight’), she also describes women who are ‘alive to the brim’ or ‘extreme ballerinas’. Introduction by Mervi Kantokorpi
We live in strange times
my skull full of echoes.
The rose has throbbed
the heart flowered.
In the mirror a girl on her head,
from the wall steps an old woman,
all of them familiar,
Hands wrinkled, shaky legs.
And alive to the brim.
And over. Dripping.
The tragic story of a gypsy woman, famously transformed into an opera by Georges Bizet, inspired Saila Susiluoto to write about freedom in the contemporary world: her new collection of poems, entitled Carmen, is set in the shopping centre of an asphalt city. But is this classic femme fatale really a human being – or a cyborg, perhaps? Introduction by Teppo Kulmala
She was made of plastic strips, metal bits, artificial skin, implants, circuit boards. Her heart pumped blood like a real one, her eyes watered as necessary. She was made free and loving, and almost soulful. But the soul is a quirk, said the Creator, a human mistake causing pain and death. And confusion. And the degradation of this world. They left out what they couldn’t say, what they were unable to say. They said: your name is Carmen, go forth, find your balance on threads across the world, you are a meek machine, built to love everything except just one man. You are glowing wires, bright shiny strips of plastic, a mind made of images and tones, your step is light, go, go.
The mall’s scintillating youth choir
(gesticulating in the manner of a musical)
A couple of years ago Timo Harju chose the non-military alternative to national service and was detailed to work at an old people’s home. Its director warned him that its inhabitants were ‘no sweet old grannies and grandpas’. Harju thought this might be a joke. In his first collection of poems, entitled Kastelimme heitä runsaasti kahvilla (‘We watered them abundantly with coffee’, Ntamo, 2009), he patiently gathers fragments of dreams and fears, memories and forgotten songs in the house of oblivion, treating them with gentle empathy. Commentary by Pia Ingström
Ward A5, Thursday
The clouds in the nursing home corridors, sky-open springlike after a bathe
and forgotten, in a frayed blue dressing-gown beside an osiery.
The grannies in the nursing home corridors, the last beautiful pride
you keep in a small wooden box behind your forehead:
if the lid opens by accident all the things may drop to the floor
topsy-turvy you won’t be able to find them, your back won’t let you
you won’t recognise them any more even if you do,
the springtime tears your insides to pieces.
Here they come, the grannies.
Better to stay here indoors, the journey to the dining room is a rough one
exposed like this
a long way and all by sleigh.
You stare at the keyhole: the clouds are coming. More…