Archive for December, 2007

The search goes on

Issue 4/2007 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

The Finlandia Prize-winning author Kjell Westö recalls his literary adolescence, and the moment ­– of a dark January night – when he stopped worrying about writer’s block and began to write

When I was in my twenties, my urge to write was very strong. I was driven, almost consumed, by this ever-present zeal, which tore me apart nearly as inexorably and effectively as love did. But I wrote precious little. Now, some twenty years later, I have a general idea about the traps I so unknowingly walked into. More…

The price of success

31 December 2007 | Authors, Reviews

Tuomas Kyrö. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY

Tuomas Kyrö. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY

A Finnish novel – or any fictitious work – that contains inaccurate historical facts can evoke bafflement in its readers, and public disapproval can follow from these ‘errors’. Finnish readers are unaccustomed to postmodernist stylistic devices. The details connected with Finnish wars, in particular, are examined under a magnifying lens.

The fourth novel by Tuomas Kyrö (born 1974), Benjamin Kivi (WSOY, 2007), stretches the boundaries of realism with its tale of a 100-year-old adventurer, written in the style of a memoir. It encompasses changing identities, periods of societal crisis, and war, which protagonist Benjamin Kivi calls simply ‘the killing’. In Finland we’re accustomed to regarding the Winter War (1939–40) and the Continuation War (1941–44) as honourable efforts to defend the country from the Soviet Union. More…

On the make

31 December 2007 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Benjamin Kivi (WSOY, 2007). Introduction by Lauri Sihvonen

Benjamin Kivi alias Into Penger, the 1930s

What was Kuihkä worth? What were this little man and his sons worth? What was I worth?

I drove where the little man told me to, with no lights, through a densely populated area. I could only see half a meter in front of me, trying to sense the bends and curves in the road and still keep Tallus’ car in good shape. When we got to the woods I turned on the lights and glanced at the little man sitting next to me. He was stuffing a handkerchief into his sleeve like an old housewife. The top of his head was sweating. He brushed his hair back and shoved his cap down on his head.

I had two hours to think as I drove, but it felt like a few minutes. If I didn’t drive the car, someone else would have, everything would happen just like the little man had planned, and I wouldn’t know anything about Kuihkä. What was I going to do, watch while he was thrown to the wolves? Kuihkä rescued me once. Was it meant to be that I should drive the car? Was I meant to change the course of events? How many coincidences can there be in one lifetime, and what do they signify? If events weren’t random, then what the hell was I supposed to do? More…

Dead calm

31 December 2007 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel En lycklig liten ö (‘A happy little island’, Söderströms, 2007)

In the beginning the computer screen was without form, and void, and the scribe’s fingers rested on the keyboard.

The scribe bit his lower lip. His gaze travelled like a fly from the workroom’s crowded bookshelves to the rocking chair in front of the window and the coloured prints of birds on the walls. He went out into the kitchen and drank some water. Then he sat down in front of the computer again.

To create from nothing a fictitious world assisted only by the tools language places at our disposal, surely that must be a great and exacting undertaking!

The scribe hesitated and racked his brains for a long time before finally typing the first word: ‘sky’. Then after long thought he typed another word: ‘sea’. More…

Word and non-word

Issue 4/2007 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

For the poet Gunnar Björling (1887–1960), writing was experence, not complete, finished thought. One of his contemporaries, the writer Hagar Olsson, said: ‘Björling doesn’t write Swedish, far from it, he simply writes Björlingian.’ Trygve Söderling introduces the world of his poems, translated into English by Fredrik Hertzberg

Strange tensions and fields of energy exist between words. In the work of the Finland-Swedish modernist poet Gunnar Björling (1887–1960), with its separation of the barriers between them and its re-creation of grammar, the magnetism of words, their attraction and yearning for one another, becomes visible. More…

It takes a life to say

Issue 4/2007 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems, published in You go the words (Action Books, Scandinavian Series, Indiana,  2007). Introduction by Trygve Söderling


We go and search
and we wander
we go and search
it is not in the words

it is not words
words not
but of a nothing
o your day


You go the
and where,
where you, it was
I know not and
that to your ear
and with the eye
just with finger


And spread out
the earth, rose
As a moment
burst from the breast

To only
that and we have
o that in you
it lives
through the room


The song
Hear me no more
in spaces captured
the song
the worldall songs
and worldsongs
in spaces captured
the song


One time
but not some one truly
and no one knows

I have a name
and name have
it only
o that one


a longing
and oflight
and on your
and in eye’s
like tights hut
and oflight
and on your
A longing
and of light


A morning’s
or that
that in everything
a memory, hope
or presence
leaf air, as everything
and everything – as
something or
as in forgotness play
and day turnedto


Words are words
and things are in my room

But word’s image
image and word and to word

Alas stay not
delay not, remember not:
it is no more It is


Fly out, my day
fly, fly day to meet
fly, fly, you the wretched's
                 their, everyone's
in all times
               peace and day
on ground's floor
               floor ground
o you
               in man's name


like a flame’s
day’s snow melt
in golden a black
– this beforemaydaycoolness


Dog bolts happy
boy mountainclimbs
day over earth
earth’s light and autumn


  And to not speak more
   it takes a life to say
  but –
   as the everyday moment
O no beauty But your light
  – a smile
   what and to know


And allthesame
and allthesame
the wordlight

The white day
and like facial
hand and ease eye’s featuers



Vi går och söker
och vi vandrar
vi går och söker
det är ej i orden

det är ej ord
ord ej
men av ett intet
o din dag


Du går de
och var
var du, det var
jag vet ej och
att till ditt öra
och med ögat
blott med finger


Och bredd ut
och jord, steg
Som en stund
sprängd ur bröstet

Att endast
det och vi har
o att i dej
det bor
genom rummet


Hör mig ej mer
i rymderna fången
världsalltet sånger
och världssångerna
i rymderna fången


En gång
men ej någon riktigt
och ej någon vet

Jag har ett namn
och namn har
det blott
o att ett


en längtan
och av ljus
och på din
och i ögas
likt tillslutet
och av ljus
och på din
En längtan
och av ljus


En morgons
eller att
att i allt
ett mine, hopp
eller närvaro
löv luft, som allt
och allt – som
något eller
som i glömdhet lek
och dag tillvänd


Ord är ord
och ting står i mitt rum

Men ords bild
bild och ord och till ord

Ack stanna ej
dröj ej kvar, ej minnes:
det är ej mer Det är


Flyg ut, min dag
flyg, flyg dag till möte
flyg, flyg, du de armas
                  deras, allas
i alla tider
                lugn och dag
på marks golv
                golv mark
o du
                i människans namn


som en flammas
dags snö smält
i gyllen ett svart
– denna föremajdagssvalka


Hund skenar glad
pojke bergsklättrar
dag över jord
jords ljus och höst


  Och att ej tala mer
  det tar ett liv att säga
  men –
  som vardagens stund
O ingen skönhet Men ditt ljus
  – ett leende
  vad och att veta


Och alltjämt
och alltjämt
det ordljus

Den vita dag
och som ansikts
hand och lätta ögats drag


Translated by Fredrik Hertzberg

Hearth, home – and writing

Issue 4/2007 | Archives online, Extracts, Non-fiction

Extracts from Fredrika Runeberg’s Min pennas saga, (‘The story of my pen’, ca. 1869–1877). Introduction by Merete Mazzarella

The joy and happiness I experience at being able to see into [her husband] Runeberg’s soul, at living with him in his heart and his thoughts, belong far too firmly to the mysteries of my soul that I should wish to attempt to express them in words. But of the life that existed around us I should like to try and give an impression of sorts.

We moved to Borgå in 1837. I was unfamiliar with the town and knew only a little old lady, weak with age, and found myself very lonely indeed, accustomed as I was to living with relatives and a genial circle of friends. I did, however, still have my two eldest sons at home to keep me happy and occupied. More…

A womanly pursuit

Issue 4/2007 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Fredrika Runeberg

Fredrika Runeberg. Photo: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland

The wife of the national poet was not herself expected to write – quite the reverse, in fact. But, says Merete Mazzarella, Fredrika Runeberg (1804–1877) did

She was married to the national poet.

What is a national poet? Someone who is hugely admired in his own time, who helps to forge a national identity, who appears to bear the responsibility for the future of his people on his shoulders. Young nations like Finland – before 1809 a part of Sweden, from 1809 to 1917 an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Russian tsar – need national poets; old nations – like Sweden or Denmark – do not. A national poet is a father figure, thus almost inevitably a man.

Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804–1877) was to become the national poet of Finland; a journalist, teacher and writer. The first poem from his collection of epic poems, Fänrik Ståls sägner (‘The tales of Ensign Stål’, 1848–60), became the national anthem. Since he was Swedish-speaking – as was the whole of the educated class at that time – we have an interesting paradox: his concept of the Finnish national character was actually created in Swedish. More…