Issue 4/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Ilpo Tiihonen. Photo: Irmeli Jung

Ilpo Tiihonen. Photo: Irmeli Jung

Poems from From Eroikka (‘Eroica’, 1982). Introduction by Pertti Lassila

Ilpo Tiihonen (born 1950) published his first collection of poetry in 1975. From the beginning, his poems have been couched in the language of the street, and he uses slang liberally. Tiihonen has always been opposed to the miniature idylls of nature that were so characteristic of the 1970s. He aims at the secularisation of poetry, and he uses humour and comedy as a counterweight to high culture. He has evidently been influenced in his technique by Mayakovsky and Yesenin, to whom he often refers in his poems. His preferences in the poetic tradition are apparent in the fresh and liberal new interpretations of poems by Gustav Fröding contained in his collection Eroikka. Unusually for a contemporary Finnish poet, Tiihonen makes extensive use of rhyme. The result is often strongly lyrical poems that could almost be called modern broadsheet ballads, and may also bring Brecht to mind. Cities, stations and railways, down-and-outs, and bars as well as real and fictive role figures are among Tiihonen’s favourite material. None of this, however, can mask the fact that Tiihonen is a romantic – he is a poet whose concerns are the emotions and longing. Tiihonen’s everyday language, his often angular expression and his irony are in interesting contrast to the atmosphere of nostalgia that prevails in his poems. In this he follows a strong tradition in Finnish poetry. Tiihonen defends the poet’s immemorial privilege of emotion and song. He often appears to be performing balancing tricks of the utmost daring; on the brink of a headlong plunge into sentimentality, he rights himself by using dreamlike, surrealist changes of perspective or by guiding his poem carefully toward a kind of näivist nonsense.


when we’ve moored behind Dream Crag
and our boneboat is bobbing in the darkening bay
and only the water rat (Old Ratty perhaps) is still printing
in the shore clay
his paw memoranda

it’ll be the third millennium, the horizon’s laurel
tangled in your little dreaming head

and not waking you, from beside you
my poem placed here may graze your hair.

Having sat in the Baron’s lap

The sofas may be holey
and the springs don’t ring,
and youth is wobbling away
in the flabbily bulging skin

but she’s dancing, she’s delicious
in her silk kerchief
naked in her silk kerchief
and Dream-Hungary sighs
while night
with its horse’s muzzle
is nuzzling her eyes
eating dusk from her thighs

and the Baron in his Bentley
comes up through the plums
while the moon is scorching her breast
and her lace is burning
and the stony damp
is opening
and turning

she dances, nakedly
burning down storeys storeys
storeys through the fat
bubbling Danube
to go
in a flurry of curls
and wrists and boobs
into whirling snow.

And the frigid dying fall
of a passer-by's bottle
scatters her in the snow.
                               And so
she's hoicked from the yard to the chokey.

On her kitchen table will stay –
her football pool coupon
that empty Hungarian Rose.

I part from nothing

Nearby a hand that’s seeking mine
going through me to touch
our common air.

Went off to work just now, she did –
my first vision. The second’s in an old
letter I turned up. The third:
the knife-box is clattering
almost twenty miles away.
In Oulu a friend of mine’s playing the piano. Oh Oh
how in love I was at twelve
with a girl who got run over
and died. Tens of thousands of children
are afternoon-napping now in the kindergartens.
Girl I know wrote she’d given birth in Turku
to a girl who, so she says, has my nose. I’m groping for
my rebuttal. When I was in the cemetery
on outside work, taking a lunch-time rest
on the grass, a warden came by
on a black bicycle and told me
you’re not allowed to sleep here.

My brother writes in his cool
study essays on the soul journeys
of railways. I remember
his wife’s spacious eyes
from the section of track
between Rekola and Helsinki.
I too have been touched for a lot.
Today: anyone can have it.

I’m here, near you.


This spring, when we saw into our past
when how old we were had combed me out
and you still stood as you were
your hair loose, a flame of red

the burns bit us, the blue-hot iron,
the labour pains, the sky of that time
that whipped our souls on course with the wind’s
braids, into the fury, our skins billowing

under the wind, towards Liberia, freedom
the omphalos of freedom against which
well-wishers were launching volleys of champagne!

And you didn’t know, neither did I.

I'm the mess-orderly of my weaknesses
who keeps
                 the iceberg
on course towards the ship,
and for the journey's sake
                                 we must
sink into being what stays 
                                 in cold deep water.

Translated by Herbert Lomas


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