On Matti Rossi

Issue 1/1978 | Archives online, Authors

Matti Rossi

Matti Rossi. Photo: SKS archives

The appearance in 1965 of Matti Rossi’s (born 1934) first work in Finnish, Näytelmän henkilöt (‘Dramatis personae’, Tammi), brought him immediate recognition as an important writer. It confirmed him as a skillful translator – he had already ten important translations to his name – and revealed a new but already mature poet. Näytelmän henkilöt contains biting political parody, highly original myth verse and the Finnish version of a series of poems on Vietnamese themes, which he had first published in English.

Rossi has always worked in many styles and genres. Leikkeja kahdelle (‘Games for two’, Tammi, 1966) is a magnificent collection of sensual love poems; his fantasy poem for the stage, Tilaisuus (‘The occasion’, Tammi, 1967), examines the nature and causes of violence; the events in Czechoslovakia are the subject of his analytical political satire Käännekohta (‘Turning-point’), written as a play for television in 1969. These were followed by a long period in which Rossi’s poetry reflects his political commitment to the far left. He brought out a book about his experiences during a visit of more than a year to South America, and his scathing poetry has always played its part in political controversy. He has composed songs for the stage, and an outstanding ballad narrative, Puulintujen vuolija (The carver of wooden birds’, 1975).

In some ways Rossi is Finland’s most cosmopolitan poet: he is very widely travelled and worked for five years with the BBC in London, he has translated from many languages, especially from Spanish. It is somehow typical of Rossi, however, that after living for ten years in one European capital after another, and also in the United States, he should retreat into the wild and sparsely populated Rautalampi district of Eastern Finland and write his Laulu tummana tulevi (‘The song comes darkly’, Tammi, 1976), a collection of poems in the Kalevala metre of Finnish folk poetry – the first Finnish poet for many years to work in this ancient traditional metre. The poems translated here, taken from this collection, bring out its lyric and epic qualities. In the past year Rossi has shown his ability to excel in yet another genre with his Kuukkeli ja muita tarinoita (‘The Lapland jay and other tales’, Tammi, 1977), a collection of short stories about a variety of themes. Earlier this year he became editor of the Marxist cultural journal, Kulttuurivihkot.


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