Intense whispering

Issue 2/2003 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

I have never heard Timo Hännikäinen read his poems out loud. On the page, the voice I hear is something like an intense but laconic whisper. There are times when the poems in the 23-year-old author’s first book, Istun vastapäätä (‘I’m sitting across from’, WSOY, 2002), skirt the edges of despair:

My thoughts are hurting,
my hands numb.
The newsprint raises a racket: even the
   unbuilt cities
already bombed.

This tone, and the urban, minimalist setting, seems not unlike certain German expressionist poetry of the 1910s and 1920s: August Stramm, Egon Schiele. Moments of ironic self-awareness provide some relief:

I don’t nurture unnecessary despair.
  I tell the waiter
    that sunlight is free and the dining
car’s light

And the lines immediately following the above hint at something approaching – well, ‘hope’ may be too strong a word:

We charge into a tunnel. Darkness
comes so entirely suddenly
that we’re afraid it might last an eternity;
that engine, cars, and passengers
will be switched in the tunnel without anyone noticing
   and a different train will emerge

Trains and train stations figure prominently in the exterior terrain the book’s title is derived from the first line of the last poem: ‘I’m sitting across from the morning train to Tampere.’ But ‘Only the ticket in my pocket claims that I have been somewhere else.’

In an article about Hännikäinen in a recent issue of the periodical Hiidenkivi, Rita Dahl quotes the poet as saying that he would like to describe his poetics as one of ‘the presence of absence.’ He goes on to say: ‘The conflict between freedom and determinism is a central theme of my book, and the question of how much distance to the surrounding world one may be able to sustain.’

It was reassuring to find out, from the same article, that the young poet is the founding editor of a ‘radical cultural periodical’ devoted to new writing and titled Kerberos (‘Cerberus’), This implies that Timo Hännikäinen is not some neo-existentialist loner but someone willing to share his angsts and enthusiasms even in the alienated urban environment his poems reflect and, quietly, critique.


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