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:
30 May 2013 | This 'n' that
For 41 years, from 1967 to 2008, Books from Finland was a printed journal. In 1976, after a decade of existence as not much more than a pamphlet, it began to expand: with more editorial staff and more pages, hundreds of Finnish books and authors were featured in the following decades.
Those texts remain archive treasures.
In 1998 Books from Finland went online, partially: we set up a website of our own, offering a few samples of text from each printed issue. In January 2009 Books from Finland became an online journal in its entirety, now accessible to everyone.
We then decided that we would digitise material from the printed volumes of 1976 to 2008: samples of fiction and related interviews, reviews, and articles should become part of the new website.
The process took a couple of years – thank you, diligent Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) interns (and Johanna Sillanpää) : Claire Saint-Germain, Bruna di Pastena, Merethe Kristiansen, Franziska Fiebig, Saara Wille and Claire Dickenson! – and now it’s time to start publishing the results. We’re going to do so volume by volume, going backwards.
Next to go online is the fiction published in 2008: among the authors are the poets Tomi Kontio and Rakel Liehu and prose writers Helvi Hämäläinen (1907–1998), Sirpa Kähkönen, Maritta Lintunen, Arne Nevanlinna, Hagar Olsson (1893–1979), Juhani Peltonen (1941–1998) and Mika Waltari (1908–1979).
To introduce these new texts, we will feature a box on our website, entitled New from the archives, where links will take you to the new material. The digitised texts work in the same way as the rest of the posts, using the website’s search engine (although for technical reasons we have been unable to include all the original pictures).
By the time we reach the year 1976, there will be texts by more than 400 fiction authors on our website. We are proud and delighted that the printed treasures of past decades – the best of the Finnish literature published over the period – will be available to all readers of Books from Finland.
The small world of Finnish fiction will be even more accessible to the great English-speaking universe. Read on!
‘I don’t belong to the crowd,’ the young Saima Harmaja wrote in her diary in 1933. Her work as a poet was for her a vocation that superseded everything else. In her diaries she often speaks as a sociable young woman, with a delicious sense of humour, but her best poems seriously explore love, and death which cast its shadow over her. A selection of her poems – the best of which have made her a Finnish classic – is now published in English for the first time
In her diary the young poet claimed: ‘I think I would die if I could not write.’ What Harmaja shared with the poets of the early part of the twentieth century who influenced her was the private and personally experienced nature of poetry itself, rather than the realisation of any current aesthetic programme.
Harmaja is one of those poets whose works have passed through the hands of readers from decade to decade. She is also a prototype of the poet of her generation: gifts that led to the expectation of a brilliant career, a life that was brought to a tragic end by tuberculosis, leaving just five years of work as a poet. More…
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…
8 February 2013 | In the news
The Runeberg Prize for fiction, awarded on 5 February, this year for the twenty-seventh time, went to a book of poetry by Olli-Pekka Tennilä (born 1978).
Tennilä’s second work, Yksinkeltainen on kaksinkeltaista (‘Doubly simple’, a pun: yksinkertainen = simple, kaksinkertainen = double, keltainen = yellow), published by Poesia, makes use of a child’s open-minded use of language and studies the world of the bees. Tennilä is one of the founding members of Osuuskunta Poesia, a poetry cooperative, and is currently its publishing director.
The prize, worth €10,000, was awarded on 5 February – the birthday of the poet J.L Runeberg (1804–1877) – in the southern Finnish city of Porvoo.
The jury, writer Tommi Melender, critic Siru Kainulainen and theatre manager Dan Henriksson – representing the prize’s founders, the Uusimaa newspaper, the city of Porvoo, both the Finnish and Finland-Swedish writers’ associations and the Finnish Critics’ Association – chose the winner from a shortlist of eight books. In their opinion the winning work is both ‘a structurally controlled and expressively vital whole; it demonstrates how the linguistic logic of a small child can be employed again as an adult.’
The other seven finalists were a book of essays, Toinen jalka maassa ja muita esseitä (‘One foot on the ground and other essays’, WSOY) by Markku Envall, two poetry collections, Keisarin tie (‘The emperor’s road’, Otava) by Lassi Hyvärinen and Kuolinsiivous (‘Death cleaning’, WSOY) by Eeva Kilpi, two collections of short stories, Kadonnut ranta (‘Lost shore’, WSOY) by Tiina Laitila Kälvemark and Till dig som saknas (‘To you who are missing’, Schildts&Söderströms) by Peter Sandström, as well as two novels, Rikosromaani (‘Crime novel’, Otava) by Petri Tamminen and Neuromaani (‘Neuromane’, Otava) by Jaakko Yli-Juonikas.
17 January 2013 | Reviews
Skapa den sol som inte finns. Hundra år av finsk lyrik i tolkning av Torsten Pettersson
[Create the sun that is not there. A hundred years of Finnish poetry in Swedish translations by Torsten Pettersson]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 299 p.
In the 1960s my mother sometimes used to amuse herself and us children by reciting, in Finnish, in our bilingual family, selected lines of verse from the half-forgotten poetry canon of her school years.
Eino Leino (died 1926) and the great tubercular geniuses Saima Harmaja, Uuno Kailas, Katri Vala and Kaarlo Sarkia (all dead by 1945) were familiar names to me as a child. Early on, I realised that their poetry was both profoundly serious and also slightly silly, just because of its high-flown seriousness. More…
17 January 2013 | In the news
The Dancing Bear Poetry Prize, worth €3,500, is awarded annually by Yleisradio, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, to a book of poetry published the previous year.
This year’s winner – announced on 16 January – is Maria Matinmikko (born 1983) for her first collection, Valkoinen (‘White’, Ntamo). The prize has been awarded since 1994.
The winner was selected by a jury of two journalists, Tarleena Sammalkorpi and Marit Lindqvist, the culture editor Minna Joenniemi and the poet Sinikka Vuola. In their opinion, the publishing of poetry – Finnish and translated – is getting more dependent on small, dedicated publishers.
The jury found the winning work ‘a delicate, suggestive series of consecutive and simultaneous spaces transversing each other…. The layout, with the speakers of the text and the leitmotiv – the colour white, whiteness – form an exciting, spacious surface….’
In addition to the Dancing Bear Poetry Prize, the Finnish Broadcasting Company also awards a prize for the best poetry translation., worth €1,000. This time the winner is translator Jukka Mallinen, specialised in Russian contemporary literature, for his two translations: Punainen auringonlasku (‘Red sunset’) by the Belarussian poet Vladimir Nekljajev and Joulupaasto (‘Christmas fast’, on the siege of Leningrad) by Sergei Zavyalov. The jury commented that the poems have been translated with a passion typical to Mallinen, whose work is based on a profound knowledge of Russian literature.
Kalevala maailmalla. Kalevalan käännösten kulttuurihistoria [The Kalevala in the world. A cultural history of Kalevala translations]
Kalevala maailmalla. Kalevalan käännösten kulttuurihistoria
[The Kalevala in the world. A cultural history of Kalevala translations]
Toim. [Ed. by]: Petja Aarnipuu
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society and Kalevala Society, 2012. 396 p., ill.
The Kalevala, based on the folk poetry collected by Elias Lönnrot, is Finland’s national epic. It first appeared in 1835, with a revised edition in 1849. The work has been published in more than 200 different versions in 60 languages, including prose translations, abridgements and adaptations. In this study, scholars and authors examine the Kalevala’s conquest of the world from many angles, ranging from Finland’s neighbouring regions, the epic traditions of Africa, the application of the epic to economic life, and the history of the work’s translation into the major languages of the world. The articles explore the linguistic, stylistic and cultural problems involved in translating the work and the experiences of some of the translators – for example, those who put the Kalevala into Iroquois. They also look at the motives behind the translations, and why in some languages there are several different versions. The book offers a varied and fascinating perspective on the epic’s cultural history.
Translated by David McDuff
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…
The poet and translator Pentti Saarikoski (1937–1983) jotted in one of his journals: ‘I have never cared for relatives.’ Thirty years after his death one of his five children set out to find out what his father was like – by reading almost all he left behind in writing; these comments by Saska Saarikoski are from his Sanojen alamainen (‘Servant of words’, Otava, 2012), an annotated selection of Pentti Saarikoski’s thoughts
Pentti Saarikoski died when I was 19. I remember complaining to my mother that I had not yet even got to know my dad. My mother answered: You’ve got plenty of time, the real Pentti is to be found in his books. She did not know how right she was, for she meant Pentti’s published books, not knowing what a mountain of texts awaited its readers in the archives of the Finnish Literature Society. Pentti had written everything down in his diaries.
I read Nuoruuden päiväkirjat (‘Youthful diaries’), published soon after Pentti’s death in 1983, as soon as they were published, but when his Prague, Drunkard’s and Convalescent’s Diaries appeared around the millennium, they went straight on to my library shelf. I was not terribly interested in the ramblings of Pentti’s alcoholic years.
It could be that my reluctance was influenced by the cool attitude I had adopted from early on in relation to my father. Other people were welcome to consider him a genius; for me, he was a father who did not telephone, write or come to see my football matches. I didn’t call him, either; for me, it was a father’s job. More…
9 October 2012 | This 'n' that
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. More…