Archive for December, 1998

A writer like himself

Issue 4/1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

I first got to know Jari Tervo in the early 1980s, when we were both studying to be journalists at the same college. He had already, at that time, published a volume of poetry, but he did not seem to me in the least like a poet. No anaemic appearance, dark, floating hair or incipient beard. Instead, resolutely curly flaxen hair, a good deal of body mass, a grey jacket and funny boots.

Tervo became a good general reporter, particularly fond of the early morning shift on evening newspapers, the ones where you have to wake up at three in the morning. On those shifts you ring round the police stations and ask what criminal homicides have been committed during the night. Another common job is to wake a celebrity or politician up with an early morning call and demand a statement on some issue or another. More…

The search for joy

Issue 4/1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

‘Thank heaven there are more important things than being right.’

Risto Ahti is a contemporary incarnation of the vates, the poet as a seer or prophet. Prophet of what? Perhaps Jonah’s desire to get out of the whale? Or humanity’s desire to get out of our conditioning.

Let’s say that Theseus has found the Minotaur and, far from killing him, has befriended him. He’d like to lead them both out of the Labyrinth, but Ariadne’s thread has been lost, and the cunning intricacy of the mind-forged walls are baffling. It’ s necessary to get lost – ‘so utterly lost, you don’t know whether you’re coming or going’. ‘The lost wander in their lostness till they come in sight of themselves and finally other people.’ More…

The only time for loving

Issue 4/1998 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Iloiset harhaopit (‘Happy heresies’, WSOY, 1998). Introduction by Herbert Lomas


Down from the top floor crept
a kind thief

and loaded a bed with silver,
nicked from a house in the harbour.

‘Ah,’, he said, like Weiss: ‘an
impecunious lot – no hope of swag.

The lady’s purse is empty, nothing but
matches, sugar, a teabag.

Too few frocks in the wardrobe too
for a pretty lady.’

Morning, and the bedside chair
is piled with frocks from the neighbour’s line.

A proper thief is smitten
and shows his philosophy of crime,

and I’m a poet!
Neither foxes nor police dogs stir my heart

but I do love the sheer out-and-out howling
dottiness of our time. More…

Home and abroad

Issue 4/1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

The short stories in Irti (‘Away’), a first collection by Sari Vuoristo (born 1964), are often set on the beach, at sea or even in the water. The characters include ship passengers, rowers, swimmers, sun-bathers, drowning people and fish.

Vuoristo lives in the Kallio district of Helsinki, high above the city, with a clear view of the flashing lighthouse on the Suomenlinna fortress island and the ships departing for Sweden and Estonia. ‘The sea before me,’ she says, ‘perhaps it’s some classic kind of longing for freedom.’ The short stories describe states of disengagement. ‘If there is some unifying idea, then it is the realisation that it is possible to disengage from unsatisfactory situations, or to let the past go.’ More…

The ring

Issue 4/1998 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Irti (‘Away’, Gummerus 1998). Introduction by Milla Autio

When the car turns into the drive I know that this time it has happened. That this time it has not been for nothing that I have felt cold fear creep inside my stomach. And for a moment, as Vangelis gets out of the car and looks at me and Irini sighs deeply and grabs me as if for support, I feel nothing.

The landscape is the same, the trees and the burnt grass and the intoxicating scents of late summer. And the sounds, too, are the same; the merry cries of children farther off and the clatter of dishes from the kitchen. Later, of course, my landscape will shudder and quake from its place, fly on its way like disturbed papers. That was something you shouted at me about; other such incidents I do not remember, but when a gust of air from the door caught your papers you went mad. That moment is inscribed in my memory, caught there like the words on the pages of a book. More…

Decent people

30 December 1998 | Fiction, Prose

The former newspaper reporter Jari Tervo (born 1959), now a successful novelist and quiz-show celebrity, writes about the seamier side of life. His subjects are mostly petty criminals and losers, but his crisp language is always a winner. And he can find a story even in a pork chop…. A short story from Taksirengin rakkaus (‘The love of the taxi-driver’, WSOY, 1998). Introduction by Suvi Ahola

The shopkeeper ran after the thief and caught him. The people in the parking lot of the S-Market made a fuss. The thief took fright when he found himself grasped by the scruff of the neck by a man the size of a baseball player. The shopkeeper removed the thief’s stomach. It turned out to be a packet of pork chops. They were not on special offer.

The thief stammered. The shopkeeper just had time to think that was the worst thing after snivelling when the thief started to snivel. The shopkeeper began to feel infuriatingly sorry for the thief’s arm, which was in a sling. Even his clothes were ugly. He let the thief go with a kick. I’m too good to be a shopkeeper, the shopkeeper thought delightedly, thanked the onlookers for their applause and put the packet of chops back on the shelf, where it was bought by a housewife. More…

Fruits of reading

30 December 1998 | Authors, Interviews

Bo Carpelan

Photo: Promedia

This is an edited version of an interview published in Leva skrivande. Finlandssvenska författare samtalar (‘Living by writing. Finland-Swedish writers in conversation’), edited by Monika Fagerholm (Söderströms, 1998)

Bo Carpelan is one of the most translated of Finnish writers; his novel Axel (1986) attracted international attention when it was published in English translation. Here, in our occasional series of interviews with writers, he is in conversation with fellow poet Mårten Westö

Mårten Westö: The American writer Paul Auster has said: ‘A young person who wants to be an artist or a writer is above all influenced by art. But a young writer has nothing to say. One has a love of literature, but one can only imitate other writers to begin with. It takes a long time before one finds one’s own way.’ What do you think of that statement?

Bo Carpelan: Of course there’s a lot in what he says. At the same time I am convinced that one must have at least the shadow of one’s own voice from the very outset, otherwise what one writes turns out to be merely plagiarism. But to start with one does probably tend to work in close association with tradition. That was also true of me, but in my own view I didn’t continue – as has often been asserted – in the wake of Finland-Swedish modernism. It is of course quite possible that later on I returned to it, but the basis of my activity was probably the American New Criticism: the large anthologies on criticism and poetry that I read in the 1950s. Those influences have left their clearest traces in the very comprehensive bibliography of my academic work on the Finland-Swedish poet Gunnar Björling. In the last chapter of the dissertation I also tried to draw my own guidelines as to what I mean by poetry: that it is concrete and synthetic. More…

Stars above

30 December 1998 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Benjamins bok (‘Benjamin’s book’, Schildts, 1997)

There are people who feel they are in contact with the stars. Among those who carry their secret knowledge around with them are both the healthy and the ‘sick’. Now I remember Olli stretching his arm out towards the evening star and seeming to greet it. For others, for me, the starry heavens are a form of distant vertigo. All those milky ways and galaxies, how could they not be inhabited, have developed a culture far older than our own. Perhaps they have watched the development of our planet with distaste, and are waiting for its ruin, which according to their calculation of time will take place in a few years or days from now. If I listen closely I seem to be faintly approached by a celestial choir, composed of indistinct sounds; if I stand on a lonely road in the country, and look up at the sky, the light and faint murmur from a nearby town emerge, and can be separated from the faint voices of the starry heavens. It is probably just my imagination. Perhaps it is an extension of that voice – anonymous, quiet – that I hear when I read a book. A good book is audio-visual. And no harm is done if it gives the reader a mild sense of vertigo. More…


30 December 1998 | Fiction, poetry

From Gården (‘The courtyard’, 1969)

The brown tablecloth hung over the edge.
I sat below there unseen in the odour of cabbage and warmth.

The sky hung on rusty hooks, the women of the courtyard shrank.
They were the only flowers the summer had.
They carried pails to the back yard where there was no sun.

Father read the newspaper, in the middle drawer of the writing table were
bills, promissory notes, pawn tickets, the rent book, everything in order. More…