30 December 2003 | Authors, Reviews

Saila Susiluoto

Photo: Irmeli Jung

Stanza is, of course, Italian for ‘room’, and Saila Susiluoto’s second volume, Huoneiden kirja, is a book of rooms. The 17th-century English poet John Donne said: ‘We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms’; Susiluoto’s poems are prose poems, not sonnets – but imaginary rooms with real feelings in them. They’re not pretty either, but beautiful, furnished with lyrical echoes, echoing with experience.

The protagonist is a girl, but there are many other personae, women, men, children: ‘Sorrow’s walked through me in the shape of people.’ The personae think there are many ways to walk through things, or towards them. They follow the signs they find on their way – from the ground floor (partly underground) of a draughty house up to the sixth floor (fifth in English), which also floats.

Behind the shining mirror twin girls are squealing, they disappeared inside the walls long ago… Inside us there are two hundred girl-embryos, the girls shout….

The girls are hand-made: fashioned by themselves – ‘like us’ – ‘out of pearls, blood, splinters of mirror’.

It’s these we were made of. If you don’t find us, you’ll not sleep a single night. Until you do you’ll wander about the house, astray with each memory, until your hands are thinner than your words, the days slenderer than your hands.

There’s a man living in the storeroom.

The man made a chair in his own image, with four limbs, able to bear, for centuries, a weight greater than his own. He drank a glass of lazy summer’s sweat, built a house in a week, and that lasted for centuries too. When he couldn’t bring a woman a flower he brought the picture of a flower. When he couldn’t bring her himself he brought another picture where water delivered open sea, the sun its sunny mood….

Clearly these rooms are in the psyche, but no less concretely furnished for that, and they have a good baraka – the Arabic word for the atmosphere given by the place’s inhabitant. They have every sign of having been lived in, emotionally and intellectually, even though they don’t exist. Every person is a house, it seems, with many storeys and many people living in it, some of them ancestors, some of them former selves, some of them people we’ve loved, some of them unborn children.

Susiluoto (born 1971) is different, of course, as a poet must be: only thus can she see what others see but don’t see. This is the originality of being oneself – not as easy as it sounds, in life or in print. It’s not like technology – pushing some supposed frontier forward – but artistic. Mozart said his music was no more original than his nose; Susiluoto’s poems are no more original than her fingerprints or footprints. Still, she does have points of contact – with, probably, the Finnish poets Risto Ahti and Eira Stenberg, Lewis Carroll, the East; each page has a different hexagram from the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes, and evidently these form an occult code or commentary on the journey through the house.

Saila Susiluoto’s first volume, Siivekkäät ja Hännäkkäät (‘The Winged and the Tailed’) won the Kalevi Jäntti Prize for young writers in 2001.

The poems benefit from being prose poems, a difficult form unpopular in Britain, but capable of rhythms differing from both prose and poetry – in line with Susiluoto’s sensibility. Her imagination is neither surrealistic nor realistic but imbued with both. Ordinary language and things are transfigured, reality becomes imaginary, creating rooms the reader can live in too and become visionary in – if one accepts the invitation to become a co-creator in the room’s reality. Then, as we know with poetry, one extends oneself, discovers potentialities.


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