Archive for June, 2000

Ecstasy and silence

Issue 2/2000 | Archives online, Authors, Essays, Reviews

Peter Mickwitz surveys new Finnish poetry in Finnish and Swedish

Considering all the talk about poetry’s ‘critical situation’ and its ‘marginal­ization,’ it is surprising to see how much poetry is being published in Finland, both in Finnish and Swedish. No less surprising is the fact that so much of it is excellent. Thus, it is not a difficult but a gratifying task to pick four poetry books published in 1999 for brief comment.

Ralf Andtbacka (born 1963), connois­seur and translator of Anglophone po­etry –  but first and foremost a Finland­-Swedish poet – published his third collection of poems, Cafe Sjöjungfrun (,The Mermaid Cafe’, Söderströms, 1999), which was nominated for the Runeberg Prize in the fall of 1999. The first poem in the book, ‘Cesur’ (‘Caesura’), takes place in ‘the first evening of autumn / even though it is still July’ which reminds this reader, somewhat unexpectedly, of Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf’s poem ‘Eufori’ (‘Euphoria’), in which the poet’s alter ego sits in his garden at dusk and feels an intense connection to all there is. Andtbacka’s poem is less intense, more distanced, but the presence of things is as strong as in Ekelöf. While Ekelöf writes ‘as if this were the last evening before a long long journey,’ Andtbacka’s anticipation is of another kind, it describes a poetics: ‘a vacuum that waits to be filled / by something as inescapable / as our quiet conversation, here / and now, small demarcations / and corrections, openings / and dead ends, pauses.’ More…

The stone’s silence

Issue 2/2000 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

From Kiven vaitiolo (‘The stone’s silence’, Tammi, 1999). Introduction by Peter Mickwitz

I buried you
    in an onion field 
the way to take care of a love whose stems 
suddenly rupture, tubes break
   the earth's covered by 
chickweed, goose foot and red-veined 
leaves of sorrel, deep down 
the inflamed wound, as sand that glints 
in the soil, underground 
golden domes and weeping under the crust
    I tear 
with dry hands the green and you do not hear 
    because you are cry and dirt 
and onion and God and a man who's been thought
   into the ground 
and the sun is wise and hot, underground 
the trees' root systems are fishing
    for strength
there is enough left for a sigh


The net

Issue 2/2000 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

 Poems from Verkko (‘The net’, WSOY, 1999). Introduction by Peter Mickwitz

The descent

Down the stairs, out through the gate into the street
and you wonder
what the cobblestones had in mind
with the waves that beat
and the rock that was humbled
smooth in the course of millennia.
Streetcars would rumble
toward them with ancient god force.
Now the stones lie there quietly like
fish blown ashore
petrified by the sun.
Their memory is short. Steel is mute.
The rails remember Kallio, remember Töölö.
Words are thinner than they used to be;
they’ve been walked over too many times.
The city. more glabrous, no longer stretches
algae-covered tentacles to the gates of Babylon.
Like an animal with a premonition, the city pulls its soft parts
inside a calcareous shell, does its work there in secret.
Much has disappeared: no more twitching tectonic plates
brought on by words, no electric storms in the bowels.
Coffee is the measure of violence: no more tobacco
in whose smoke one could heal loneliness and the world.
As before, you look through glass, just a thin glass,
at the sidewalk and trees facing the restaurant. A man
is pushing a baby carriage. The glass reflects your face very briefly.
Part of you is out there, part stumbles about again in some Yoldia
a mute stone and a worn hope in his pocket. still,
that the world’s mute stones would break down into song, give
voice, crumble a couple of notes here, and a key.

Vermeer: the kitchen maid

A great painting does not require a great subject,
kings in pantyhose, the Peace of Westphalia.
The kitchen maid pours milk in a bowl, and soon
the canvas brims with self-radiant liquid
in which the morning and chunks of bread float.
The trap is primed. No rat to be seen.
Bits of something white roll on the floor. Smelling salts?
Under the milky film of the wall there are things
going on that the maid has no inkling of
a cockroach makes its way through the sawdust,
enzymes dismantle compounds into smaller pieces.
Farther away, a star collapses
and begins to radiate darkness.
Its message  – a quantum of black light –
reaches Helsinki only today,
a city surrounded by ramparts of snow.
These, among other things, influence
my being what I am.
I wrap myself in darkness and wait
for the next whim, a tiny,
decisive mistake.

That’s why

The half-drowned
apartment building drifts.
Between the stuccoed ribs
disease blooms, sprouts tendrils.
punctures pulmonar alveoli. articular capsules.
Every night I could melt into the tub
until the water darkens to a hepatic dream.
One must protect oneself against the outside air.
The light draws boundaries that are too clear.
One must protect oneself against the brightness of skin.
That is why I travel deeper into your chest,
crave the tar from your lungs and the tracheae
into which I blow, a fanfare, when we are
heat and hunger,
grow vertically up from the ground toward
the fainted sun,
pull up rails, roots, traffic signs,
rusty legends,
rear up to the height of our withers, slop sweat and oil.

Aerial view

These wondrous mobiles
with which we can conquer distances.
Only the view always is the same heavenly
snow drift, nothing but condensing steam.
Icarus must have cooled his wings here,
the wax whose precise consistency is a mystery to us.
The higher he rose
the worse he froze
until the wax became too cold and melted.
By scientific means machines have been built
in which a human being can rise and fly to another
planetary phenomena in his belly
such as the direction of blood’s circulation. Loneliness
has rarely been a castle in whose cellar
philosophy was tinkered with or music distilled.
The horses were harnessed for death, the rest into museums,
cast in plastic.
The polar sea folds into a pocket
as a map that tells you where you should already
be, and how.

Translated by Anselm Hollo

Aqua Regia

Issue 2/2000 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Kuningasvesi (‘Aqua Regia’, WSOY, 1999). Introduction by Peter Mickwitz

Aqua Regia

Aqua regia, aqua regia, 
thus dissolve into you 
tallow candles and wing-wax, 
and in the distilled sun's bowl 
gold's will is broken. 
Equal in you are ergot 
and lightning-rod platinum,
 no difference between feather and lead, 
if you perish to become what you love 
you are the dawn's own.

Medieval landscape

He is a man who takes the measure 
of words as if each one of them 
were an angel. Rarely do they 
agree peaceably to dance 
with gravity.
You can see him sowing 
his hymns under the wrong balconies, 
and that is when even one 
stammering syllable feels 
like lightning striking your hip.
Sufficient ransom, if you remember 
the name oft he one you long for. 
His own the man curses 
like a fleur de lys, burnt 
seal on a shoulder.


You citizen of the world and the barrel 
troublemaker in the town square

Whose heart is a mustard seed 
and whose memory-is quicklime

Who fraternizes with stray dogs 
and hates coins more than fleas

Tell us what they taste like 
raw cuttlefish and lupine

What it feels like to search lantern in hand
 for the sun buried in shame 

Tell us how great is the freedom
 envied even by Alexander

How small an empire compared 
to a slave's brash request:

'Sell me to that man.
 He needs a master.'

Translated by Anselm Hollo

The Mermaid Café

Issue 2/2000 | Archives online, poetry

From Cafe Sjöjungfrun (‘The Mermaid Cafe’, Söderströms, 1999). Introduction by Peter Mickwitz


Yesterday we had the first evening of autumn
even though it is still July. The cool
moist darkness lights that seemed
softer, the Esplanade’s octagonal cone
lit up red, yellow and green above
the underground tunnel from restaurant
to hotel. In the row of lime trees
worn garlands began to show, more
than a third of their light bulbs gone, broken
lines of burning dots gently
swaying. Farther away
sun-bleached awnings, some oily
neon, it, too, segmented,
and people moving
at a calmer pace, already anonymous,
close to unreal reflected in glass panes,
entryways, street lamps shaped like big hooks.
Traffic noise becomes more explicit
as if in an echo chamber or does it
grow more dense as if we walked about
with yellowing wads of cotton in our ears
or a window or a door was closed
and voices a moment ago
distinct, or at least partly,
are transformed into a numb buzz,
all that remains of the message
are ups and downs, a caesura when the conversation, at regular intervals,
reaches a rhythmic point of rest.


Compelled to write

30 June 2000 | Authors, Interviews

Kjell Westö

Photo: Marica Rosengård

Kjell Westö (born 1961) is one of a generation of younger, urban Swedish-language writers who are at home in both Swedish and Finnish. An extract from his novel Vådan av att vara Skrake (‘The perils of being Skrake’, Söderströms, 2000), which traces the fortunes of the Helsinki family of Skrake from the 1910s to the present day. Here, Westö is interviewed by his alter ego, the discontented poet Anders Hed, editor of the cultural journal Bokassa (now sadly extinct)

Anders Hed: So, to get us going: do you write any poetry at all nowadays?

Kjell Westö: No. The last poem I wrote comes at the end of the title story in Fallet Bruus (‘The Bruus case’). And that book came out in 1992.

It’s a poem about human face and the search for ‘the Thou’, isn’t it?

Exactly. More…

Notes related to pharmacist Pemberton’s holy nectar

30 June 2000 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Vådan av att vara Skrake (‘The perils of being Skrake’, Söderström & Co.; Isän nimeen, Otava, 2000)

At the time of Werner’s stay in Cleveland Bruno and Maggie had already been divorced for some years, and in an irreconcilable manner. But they were still interested in their grown-up son, each in their own way; Maggie wrote often, and Werner replied, he wrote at length, and truthfully, for he knew that Bruno and Maggie no longer communicated; to Maggie he could admit that he hated corporate law and bookkeeping, and to her he dared to talk about the raw music he had found on the radio station WJW, he wrote to her that the music of the blacks had body and that he had found a great record store, it was called Rendezvous and was situated on Prospect Avenue and there he had also bought a ticket for a blues concert, wrote Werner, he thought that Maggie would understand. More…

Making nothing happen

30 June 2000 | Authors, Reviews

Jouko Sirola.  Photo Sakari Majantie

Jouko Sirola. Photo Sakari Majantie

For a first book, Sisustus (‘Interior decoration’) is unusually self-willed. It is Jouko Sirola’s first book, although his short stories have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Sirola’s kindred spirits are not, after all, to be find in the art of the traditional, realist, Finnish short story; instead, for Sirola (born 1963), the surface of the story is like a calm face.

The most important thing is the story behind the uneventfulness. What is spoken by muteness? And what do we dream at the moment when we meet another person in the street, when we pick our keys up from the floor, when we open our mouths to eat? What do we get when we want to buy back the days of the life we have lived? More…

The path-walker

30 June 2000 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Sisustus (‘Interior decoration’, Tammi, 2000)

I do not know where I came from. Suddenly, I was just there. I stood on my feet. They support me. I look out of my eyes. I do not see them.

Sounds arrive in my ears. Moment by moment, I distinguish them better. I see the landscape through which I am walking. I distinguish the trees from each other. The path runs between them, and I stare at them, as if staring into a twilight that, when you look more closely, splits into trees, bushes, birds. I feel the roots through the soles of my shoes. I feel the softness of the moss, the pine-cones and the little stones. More…