Archive for June, 2005

The poetic absurdism of Catharina Gripenberg

30 June 2005 | Authors, Reviews

Photo: Linda Stråka

Photo: Linda Stråka

The wind blows a great deal in Catharina Gripenberg’s second collection of poems, Ödemjuka belles lettres från en till en (‘Humble belles lettres from one to one’, Schildts, 2002). In the first poem we meet three siblings who, on their way across a bridge, are scattered and thrown about by the wind. In another poem a house blows away as a family sit around the dinner table – an event that does not, however, give rise to feelings of vulnerability, but becomes an opening to the world instead.

Perhaps the wind can be seen as an image of Gripenberg’s poetic strategy, a poetry in which nothing is really held in place and where anything may happen. Behind this strategy one senses a resistance to rigidity and outward fixation and a defence of the power of the imagination and of poetry’s ability to create freedom. More…

Travelling alone

30 June 2005 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Ödemjuka belles lettres från en till en (‘Humble belles lettres from one to one’, Schildts, 2002)

Blind Alley Travel Bureau

We arrive on the last arrival.
Turn the lights out when you go, the airport staff ask.
To this place you and I must travel. It was the only departure
that was called. The only place there is, said the guide.
One’s vision is blocked by the view. We’ll find no somewhere else.

‘When I fall asleep, drive the last stretch by yourselves,’
says the driver.
A last summer family lift him into
their homeward-returning back seat. More…

Saikansalo the racing cyclist

Issue 2/2005 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from the collection Heta Rahko korkeassa iässä (‘Heta Rahko at a great age’, Otava, 1947). Introduction by Vesa Karonen

Saikansalo was a racing cyclist and the country’s best, unquestionably. His Achilles tendons were superlative.

So when he found no rival in his own country. the athletics bigwigs put their heads together and hinted at the idea of sending him abroad to win a further reputation somewhere in the south – France, Italy or the like. They warned him that he’d have to be in good trim because of the enervating heat in the southern climes.

‘Heat!’ Saikansalo said. ‘There’s an old saying “Heat never broke anyone’s bones”….’

‘But it melts you like lard,’ his chum kept claiming. ‘The sun climbs really high there – scorches right down on your topknot, and boils your brains….’ More…

The Schoolmaster’s bicycle trip

Issue 2/2005 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from the collection Heta Rahko korkeassa iässä (‘Heta Rahko at a great age’, Otava, 1947). Introduction by Vesa Karonen

He was an old teacher, retired, mostly known as ‘the Schoolmaster’ in this small town. It was common knowledge that he’d always been a keen gymnast and sportsman, and after retirement he began pursuing his favourite pastimes in earnest. Evidently he revelled in moving about, like a baby on the crawl, or a feisty youth. He was a man with no personal ties, with no one to patronise or distract him.

‘You grow no wiser, even with age,’ the small-town folk kept sighing. In response to one of these groans, Porki the factory owner said what they thought was almost blasphemy:

‘When did old age ever produce any wisdom? It’s always demolished any little there was….’

And meanwhile, covertly envious, he watched the youthful-looking Schoolmaster striding along his path, lean, sinewy, stern-faced, his tuft of beard only reluctantly thinning and greying. Well, there was a person who’d realised life was motion – and believed it! But Porki and the other bigwigs in the town grew bloated and obese, huffed and puffed, and yawned. More…

In the backwoods

Issue 2/2005 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

A solitary writer who spent all his life in the Finnish wilderness, Pentti Haanpää (1905–1955) wrote hundreds of short stories, often using ambitious male characters to shine a satirical beam on Finnish society. Vesa Karonen introduces two of Haanpää’s short stories, ‘The Schoolmaster’s bicycle trip’ and ‘Saikansalo the racing cyclist’ from Heta Rahko korkeassa iässä (‘Heta Rahko at a great age’, Otava, 1947)

Piippola is a village in the precise middle of Finland on a boggy forest terrain, with meagre fields, far out in the wilds. The writer Pentti Haanpää’s parents had emigrated to the United States but returned in 1904; he was born in Piippola in 1905 and lived there until he drowned in a lake during an autumn storm.

Haanpää wrote ten novels and hundreds of short stories about people living surrounded by forest. His stories, often about lumbermen, vagabonds and ‘backwoods philosophers’ blend gloomy primordial backwoods life with satirical comedy and philosophical wisdom. More…

A toast before dying

Issue 2/2005 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Voin jo paljon paremmin. Tšehov Badenweilerissa (‘I already feel much better. Chekhov in Badenweiler’, Loki, 2004). Introduction by Hannu Marttila

I went to meet them Friday and I did not plan to take other patients that week. They had a small but comfortable room with striped wallpaper.

The Russian was a tall man, but stooped. It soon became apparent that his wife spoke fluent German because she was of German descent. That made it much easier to take care of things.

Of course I knew who the patient was. I have always enjoyed literature and other forms of art. I could play several pieces rather well on the piano. When I was younger I had even written a couple of stories set in the mountains, though I had never offered them for publication. As for Chekhov, I had read a couple of his stories that had just come out in German translation, and I had liked them quite a lot in a way, even though they of course reflected that characteristic Russian nature, with its vodka and untidiness.

The patient’s wife seized both my hands when I entered. It was a bit confusing, but not necessarily unpleasant.

‘Our name is Chekhov. We have come from Russia,’ the woman said in a strong, carrying voice. ‘I trust you’ve been told?’ More…

The last glass of champagne

Issue 2/2005 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Anton Chekhov, at Yalta on the Black Sea to treat his tuberculosis, travels to Moscow in spring to meet his wife Olga, who is working as an actress in Stanislavsky’s Moscow Art Theatre. They have long had to maintain their relationship by letter. Now the doctors believe the patient must be sent to Germany for treatment at a spa. He himself does not want to acknowledge his condition, although as a doctor he cannot be unaware of the signs of approaching death. Olga accompanies him with mixed feelings, for she does not wish to interrupt her career.

Raine Mäkinen (born 1938) has been a rather unfamiliar name in literary circles. His novel Kuuma syksy (‘Hot autumn’) was selected as the best first Finnish-language novel of the year 1974, and in his long, rather than productive, career as a writer he published a few more novels before retiring from his position as chemist and industrial hygienist. Voin ja paljon paremmin (‘I already feel much better’, Loki, 2004), a novel about Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper, is the work of a mature writer: biographical facts, understanding of human nature and imagination are well balanced. Mäkinen’s novel seems to have grown out of a virtually lifelong admiration and love for Chekhov. He does not try to write about Chekhov using Chekhov’s own style, of course – but his text breathes a simplicity, naturalness and purity impossible to achieve without hard work and humility. He does not try for pretty words, but he writes beautiful text. More…

Hidden under the words

Issue 2/2005 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

The short story ‘Kimalaisen hunajaa’ (‘The honey of the bee’) offers an excellent glimpse into the work of Juha Seppälä. The chain of generations is strongly present in it, as well as the changing nature of society and the wrongs people commit against each other. War also looms behind the narrative. The people are characterised by a rugged, Finnish stoicism – round here it is customary for the greatest feelings to be dealt with amid the greatest silence.

For the past couple of decades Juha Seppälä has published a book almost every year in a disciplined fashion. His idiom is also disciplined and controlled; everything trivial has been eliminated from each sentence. Seppälä (born 1956) started with internalised prose in keeping with the ideals of the Finnish literary modernism born in the 1950s, in which the painful parts of the human condition are presented without artifice. More…

The honey of the bee

Issue 2/2005 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

 A short story from the collection Mitä sähkö on (‘What electricity is’ WSOY, 2004). Introduction by Jarmo Papinniemi

Five days before I was born my grandfather reached sixty-six. He’d always been old. The first image I have of him gleams like a knife on sunny spring-time snow: he was pulling me on my sledge over hard frost under a bright glaring-blue sky. In the Winter War a squadron of bombers had flown through the same blue sky on their way to Vaasa; the boys leapt into the ditches for cover, as if the enemy planes could be bothered to waste their bombs on a couple of kids. Be bothered? Wrong: kids were always the most important targets.

Now it’s summer, August, and I’m sitting on the grassy, mossy face of the earth, which is slowly warming in a sun that’s accumulated a leaden shadiness. I’m sitting on my grandfather’s land. It’s the time when the drying machines buzz. Even with eyes shut, you can sense the corn dust glittering in the sun. Even with eyes shut, you can take in the smell of the barn’s old wood, the sticky fragrance of the blackcurrants barrelled on its floor, the tins of coffee and the china dishes on the shelves, and the empty grain bins; there’s the cupboard Kalle made, with its board sides and veneered door, and the dust-covered trunk that was going to accompany my grandfather to another continent. The ticket was already hooked, but Grandfather’s world remained here for good. When Easter comes we’ll gather the useless junk out into the yard and burn it; Grandfather’s travel chest will rise skywards. Grandfather stands in the barn entrance, leaning on the doorpost. He’s dead. Over all lies a heavy overbearing sun. Beyond the field the river’s flowing silently in its deep channel. At night time its dark and warm. More…