Archive for March, 2007

Subterranean, pre-verbal

Issue 1/2007 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

Claes Andersson, poet and psychiatrist, ponders the difficulties of writing, and how to get down to it. These are extracts from the collection of articles, Luova mieli. Kirjoittamisen vimma ja vastus (‘The creative mind. The rage and burden of writing’, Kirjapaja, 2002)

Some subjects or ideas need years on the back burner before they submit to being written about. The wise writer learns the basic rule ofthe good midwife: don’t panic, don’t force, wait, and help when the time for birth is at hand, but know also when a Caesarean section is advisable or even necessary. More…

Countryside revisited

Issue 1/2007 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

European philosophy and experiments with post-modern forms dominated Finnish literature in the 1990s. The cultural circles of the capital saw the long tradition of Finnish provincial prose as dull grey epic realism. At the same time, reformers of the tradition appeared, such as Sari Mikkonen. She is especially convincing as a master of the short form; her dialogues have a caustic edge and her narrative satiric eloquence.

Mikkonen won the Helsingin Sanomat literature prize with her debut collection Naistenpyörä (‘Woman’s bicycle’, WSOY, 1995). Yönseutuun (‘Around nighttime’, WSOY, 2006) updates the picture of the Finnish countryside for the 2000s. It shows how the ’empathetic blowflies’, the gossipy grannies of the village, enter the age of the mobile telephone, and smalltime entrepreneurs try their hand at mail-order businesses on the internet. More…

Night decorator

Issue 1/2007 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from the collection Yönseutuun (‘Around nighttime’, WSOY, 2006). Introduction by Jani Saxell

Hardly a night went by.

I didn’t want to offend him in any way by my indifference, but as I went to bed I was totally beat, squeezed dry by my day. My most important chore at home was to guard my own rest; people’s survival depended on it being consistent and nourishing. I didn’t concentrate on anything else in my free time.

But often when I was ready for bed, a sharp metal ‘zzzip’ would come from the direction of the living room. A little later I would hear a drawn-out ‘clllack!’, which told me the measuring tape had retracted into its case, the newest interior design had taken shape on the back of some receipt, and Y would soon be coming to see if I was awake and open to suggestions. More…

Paradise lost

Issue 1/2007 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

The working-class writer Toivo Pekkanen (1902–1957) broke sharply from the idealism of his contemporaries. In the short story Kaukainen saari (‘The faraway island’, 1945) he gives poetic voice to the sense of disillusion that the traumatic events of the first half of the 20th century engendered in him. Introduction by Juhani Niemi

An ever-shining, sun-blushed island on the horizon draws two brothers instinctively toward it; it offers a projection of their fantasies and an embodiment of their ideals. They must go there, but they don’t have their parents’ permission to use the rowing boat. Finally winter and a frozen sea make the journey to this version of earthly paradise possible.

Toivo Pekkanen’s story ‘The faraway island’ (from the collection Elämän ja kuoleman pidot, ‘The feast of life and death’, 1945) is the story of two schoolboys and the distant landscape that is the object of their infatuation. From its layered symbolism it is possible to draw connections with the writer’s own life as well as the condition of Finnish society in the 1940s. After the war, amid the pressure of changing political realities and movements for literary reform, Pekkanen followed his own personal path. His break-through novel was the autobiographical working-class novel Tehtaan varjossa (‘In the shadow of the factory’, 1932), but the traditional image of the people, the workers, which he began with in the 1920s didn’t satisfy him for long; in his later works there is a kinship with European modernists such as Franz Kafka and Albert Camus. More…

The faraway island

Issue 1/2007 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Kaukainen saari, a short story from the collection Elämän ja kuoleman pidot (‘The feast of life and death’, 1945). Introduction by Juhani Niemi

For as long as they could remember, Hannes and Pekka had felt a great fascination for the lonely little island out in the open sea, clearly visible from the shore at home. Thickly overgrown with unusually tall pines, the island was like a wondrous bouquet in a great vase of sea. It was in sunshine from morning till night. At the very instant that the tip of the sun peeped up over the horizon, its rays were already caressing the tops of the little island’s tallest trees, and when the sun set behind the blackness of the islands to the west, those same treetops were tinged with a bright, hot glow. The winds and storms touched it more vehemently than any other place. No matter which direction the wind came from, the island was always defenseless, but, happily, ready for anything. In stormy weather the waves flung themselves against its stony shore and sometimes nearly as high as the treetops. The wind roared in the dense branches of its trees more wildly and violently than anywhere else. When it rained, it was as if the island were hiding among the grey curtains of mist, looming dimly and secretly. In the autumn, when all the other woods were splashed along their flanks with yellow and russet, and gradually undressed until they were half-naked, the little island’s tall pine trees rose up from the grim autumn surf as lush and green as always. And in the winter, when the sea froze and snow covered everything in a mantle of white, the island dressed itself in ice and rimy frost like royal robes covered in millions of sparkling diamonds. More…

At the Fluctuating Reality Club

30 March 2007 | Authors, Reviews

Leena Krohn. Photo: Mikael Böök / Teos

Leena Krohn. Photo: Mikael Böök / Teos

For Leena Krohn, compromise doesn’t seem to be an option. Although the novel Mehiläispaviljonki (‘The bee pavilion. A story about swarms’, Teos, 2006) is her 26th book, her uncompromising approach doesn’t show the slightest sign of relaxing.

Once again, Krohn (born 1947) spreads before the reader an array of fragments of reported realities, which crisscross the boundaries of imagination and challenge the whole traditional conception of the world.

Since the short-story collection Donna Quijote ja muita kaupunkilaisia (1983; English translation: Dona Quixote and Other Citizens, 1995), Krohn has moved more towards the role of thinker and polemicist than ordinary storyteller. In her work in the 1980s and 1990s, she developed a unique, highly personal hybrid literary form, which combines the elements of fiction and essay. Krohn’s attention has focussed on human consciousness, ecology and moral and social questions. Her work has been translated into 12 languages; she received the Finlandia Prize for Literature for her work Matemaattisia olioita tai jaettuja unia (‘Mathematical beings or shared dreams’, 1992). More…

Really existing?

30 March 2007 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Mehiläispaviljonki. Kertomus parvista (‘The Bee Pavilion. A story about swarms’, Teos, 2006)

There are few old buildings in this town. Most are demolished to make way for new ones long before they reach the end of their first century.

Nevertheless, one brick building in our part of town, built at the beginning of the last century, was spared demolition for a long time. The two-storey building functioned as a Support Centre for the Psychically Ill and later on, for a couple of winters, as a shelter for alcoholics. The board fence that had surrounded the building for decades was taken down long before the building itself, but the maples on the sidewalk cast their shadows on its windows to the very end. When the lilacs and dogwoods in the back garden were in bloom, their heavy racemes shed purple and white on the sand. More…

Say what you like

30 March 2007 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Sanomattomia lehtiä and Leikitään kotia (‘Newsless newssheets’, ‘Let’s play house’, Tammi, 2004 and 2005)

Scent of morning

Say what you like about life, but life’s nothing that’s been said. The sun sets in a sepia setting where together a man and a woman walk out of the picture. At the start of the romantic’s story candles are lit, the girl stoops to hear better. Lonely stones roll from the horizon’s laughter, farewell to the continuity we love. Just for a second you could see from his face what he’d look like in twenty years. More…

Playing games

30 March 2007 | Authors, Reviews

Aki Salmela

Photo: Lauri Mannermaa / Tammi

‘The world’s complete but we’ll make new ones,’ says the poet, and fulfils his project with whatever speech is to hand.

Aki Salmela (born 1976) is among the most promising of the young Finnish poets who are searching for new ways of expression. One of the most encouraging literary features of the start of the new century was the young generation making its poetic début, including Salmela. They showed a wide-ranging interest in the poetry and tradition of Finland and abroad and were well-versed in foreign languages as well as various experimental poetic techniques. More…