Archive for March, 2012

Markku Kuisma & al.: Hulluja päiviä, huikeita vuosia. Stockmann 1862–2012 [Crazy days, amazing years. Stockmann 1862–2012]

29 March 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Markku Kuisma & Anna Finnilä & Teemu Keskisarja & Minna Sarantola–Weiss
Hulluja päiviä, huikeita vuosia. Stockmann 1862–2012
[Crazy days, amazing years. Stockmann 1862–2012]
Helsinki: Siltala, 2012. 532 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-234-086-3
€37.90, hardback
Also available in English- and Swedish-language editions:
Crazy days, amazing years. Stockmann 1862–2012
Galna dagar, svindlande tider. Stockmann 1862–2012

The largest department store in the Nordic countries, whose current building was completed in 1930 to a design by the architect Sigurd Frosterus, is celebrating its 150th birthday. The Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (Academic Bookstore), owned by Stockmann, is the biggest bookshop in the Nordic countries. The shop founded by the German-born H.F.G. Stockmann has grown into an international business, trading in 14 countries (including Russia, where it has stores in St Petersburg and Moscow). Now quoted on the Finnish stock exchange, Stockmann, owned by a conglomerate of families and foundations, has survived recessions, financial crises and wars. In the 19th century Stockmann was considered an expensive shop for gentlefolk, but as a result of growing competition it has been forced to focus strongly on a diverse concept of service. For decades one of the capital’s best-known meeting places has been ‘under the clock’, outside the main entrance of the department store. The book’s writers are historians from various fields. The generously illustrated work offers new information about the history of trade and the city.

Under cover

29 March 2012 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Soul-bird: crested tit. Photo: Heikki Willamo

The photographer and writer Heikki Willamo lived for a year in the forest – not full-time, but for long periods in all seasons, sleeping in his lean-to. This two-hundred, preserved hectare fragment lies in the midst of felled clearings, farmed forest and habitation in southern Finland.

Many Finns still say that being in a forest is a peaceful and empowering experience; Willamo recorded his thoughts on this as well as his black-and-white photographs in his book, Vuosi metsässä (‘A year in the forest’, Maahenki, 2012. See also extracts from Viimeiset vieraat [‘The last visitors’] here) More…

And the winner is…?

27 March 2012 | This 'n' that

Playing your cards right: Todd Zuniga talks to Riikka Pulkkinen on 20 March in Helsinki. Photo: courtesy/T. Zuniga

The writer Johanna Sinisalo’s words lash the stage like the tail of Pessi the troll in her best-known novel. The novelist Riikka Pulkkinen bursts into deconstructive dance. The singer Anni Mattila translates the poet Teemu Manninen’s explosive poetic frolics into rhythmic dictations and the Finlandia Prize-winning author Rosa Liksom’s conductor’s glittering moustaches see the audience off on a train journey to Moscow.

On a March evening, a Literary Death Match has begun in the Korjaamo Culture Factory in Helsinki’s old tramsheds. The creation of the American author and journalist Todd Zuniga, the Literary Death Match combines an evening of readings with stand-up comedy as well as the judging familiar from reality TV shows.

‘It all started with me eating sushi with two of my friends and talking about some of the readings we’d been to. We all loved literature and loved to listen to writers reading from their own work. But the audience was always the same circle of people. We wanted to expand it beyond literary circles,’ Zuniga explains. More…

Coming up…

19 March 2012 | This 'n' that

Landing: a red-throated diver. Photo: Heikki Willamo

Photographer and writer Heikki Willamo specialises in the fauna and flora of Finnish forests. Fascinated also by abandoned houses, he has caught of glimpses creatures claiming windowless buildings and deserted rooms as their own: raccoons, birds, mice and foxes.

His new book examines the seasons in an area of 200 hectares in southern Finland, protected from forestry and other use. Willamo spends days and nights capturing what he sees in black-and-white photographs. His thoughts also wander, taking stock of his experience of life. We publish extracts and photos from Vuosi metsässä (‘A year in the forest’, Maahenki, 2012).

A gay fantasy on national themes

19 March 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Pirkko Saisio. Photo: Laura Malmivaara

Why does the private become political? Who makes it happen? Why should religious doctrines define private matters such as sexuality? Why should those who wield power in the political system define personal sexuality?

Pirkko Saisio (born 1949), a theatremaker as well as a prolific and versatile author of plays, novels, film and television scripts, has written a play for the Finnish National Theatre entitled HOMO! and subtitled, ‘An anarchist musical farce’.

Answers to the above questions – and they are complicated – are to be found in, for example, historical, psychological and sociological research.

In the last century, Stalin and Hitler condemned gays. Thirty years ago homosexuality was considered an sickness in Finland; forty years ago it was a crime. Today, it is still illegal in more than 75 countries: punishments vary from flogging to life imprisonment or death. In democratic societies, the ‘gay problem’ is a question of human rights, and hence a subject for public debate – for example, in a musical play, for of course the issue also involves that eternally fascinating and entertaining feature of human life, love. More…

In pursuit of a conscience

19 March 2012 | Drama, Fiction

‘An unflinching opera and a hot-blooded cantata about a time when the church was torn apart, Finland was divided and gays stopped being biddable’: this is how Pirkko Saisio’s new play HOMO! (music composed by Jussi Tuurna) is described by the Finnish National Theatre, where it is currently playing to full houses. This tragicomical-farcical satire takes up serious issues with gusto. In this extract we meet Veijo Teräs, troubled by his dreams of Snow White, who resembles his steely MP wife Hellevi – and seven dwarves. Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

Dictators and bishops: Scene 15, ‘A small international gay opera’. Photographs: The Finnish National Theatre / Laura Malmivaara, 2011

Veijo Teräs
Hellevi, Veijo’s wife and a Member of Parliament
Hellevi’s Conscience
Rebekka, Hellevi and Veijo’s daughter
Moritz, Hellevi and Veijo’s godson
Agnes af Starck-Hare, Doctor of Psychiatry
Seven Dwarves
Tom of Finland
The Bishop of Mikkeli
Adolf Hitler
Albert Speer
Josef Stalin
Old gays: Kale, Jorma, Rekku, Risto
Olli, Uffe,Tiina, Jorma: people from SETA [the Finnish LGBT association]
Second Lieutenant, Private Teräs, the men in the company
A Policeman
Big Gay, Little Gay, Middle Gay
William Shakespeare
Hermann Göring
Hans-Christian Andersen
Teemu & Oskari, a gay couple
The Apostle Paul
Father Nitro
Winston Churchill


On the stage, a narrow closet.

Veijo Teräs appears, struggling to get out of the closet.

Veijo Teräs is dressed as a prince. He is surprised and embarrassed to see that the audience is already there. He seems to be waiting for something.

He speaks, but continues to look out over the audience expectantly.

Snow White's spouse, Veijo (Juha Muje), and the dwarves. Photo: Laura Malmivaara, 2011

This outfit isn’t specifically for me, because… I mean, it’s part of this whole thing. This Snow White thing. I’m waiting for the play to start. Just like you are. My name is Veijo Teräs and I’m playing the point of view role in this story. Writers put point of view roles like this in their plays nowadays. They didn’t use to.

Just to be clear – this isn’t a ballet costume. I’m not going to do any ballet dancing, but I won’t mind if someone dances, even if it’s a man. Particularly if it’s a man. But I don’t watch. Ballet, I mean. Not at the opera house, or on television, or anywhere, and I have no idea why we had to bring up ballet – or I had to bring it up – because this is a historical costume, so it’s appropriate. This is what men used to wear, real men like Romeo and Hamlet, or Cyrano de Bergerac. But we in the theatre these days have a hell of a job getting an audience to listen to what a man has to say when he’s standing there saying what he has to say in an outfit like this. People get the idea that it’s a humorous thing, but this isn’t, this Snow White thing, where I play the prince. Snow White is waiting in her glass casket, she died from an apple, which seems to have become the Apple logo, Lord knows why, the one on the laptops you see on the tables of every café in town. More…

Best theatre, best play

16 March 2012 | In the news

On 11 March Finland’s theatre organisations gave their awards to last year’s best theatres and theatre-makers. Theatre of the Year was the Finnish National Theatre: according to the jury, it has both ‘opened all its doors, from cellar to attic’ and also left the building to make theatre and offered space for initiative. Audience figures have risen by more than 50,000, and the theatre’s repertoire has ‘cut keenly into the life and reality of contemporary audiences and the key national questions behind them without becoming bogged down in familiar stereotypes.’

The Finnish Dramatists’ Union awarded its Lea Prize for the Playtext of the Year, worth €5,000, to Pirkko Saisio’s HOMO! (This is Saisio’s fourth Lea Prize since 1986.) HOMO! is currently running, in a musical, or rather, operatic form in the National Theatre, in a production directed by the playwright herself; the composer is Jussi Tuurna.

In art as elsewhere, it is worth thinking about things from new angles – a few years back, for example, the National hardly did any musical theatre at all. (However, the company of actors in no way hinder the staging of musical theatre: under Tuurna’s direction, the entire cast burst into spectacular flower, alone and in chorus.) Besides, musical theatre was thought to be the province of the Helsinki City Theatre, where imported commercial musicals (Cats, Les Miserables, Mary Poppins etc) have lately represented a considerable part of the theatre’s income. On this production line, however, there are few chances for writers, composers and other theatremakers to develop a specifically Finnish musical theatre.

The Finnish National Theatre’s most recent success, Kristian Smeds’s Mr Vertigo also used original music, produced by young jazz musicians, which was on exactly the same wavelength as the text and its interpretation.

Lassi Nummi in memoriam 1928–2012

16 March 2012 | In the news

Lassi Nummi. Photo: Jouni Harala

Poet and author Lassi Nummi died on 13 March at the age of 83.

His first collection of poems, Intohimo olemassaoloon (‘A passion for existence’) appeared in 1949. Nummi worked as a journalist, chairman of the Finnish PEN Club and as a member of the Bible translation committee.

Nummi published a couple of prose works and more than two dozen collections of poems;  in an interview by Tarja Roinila* he said he was ‘a prose writer who has strayed into poetry’ and that he regarded himself ‘a fairly old-fashioned poet’.

Nummi attempted to find a synthesis between traditionalism and modernism – the prevailing ‘ism’ in the 1950s Finland – and wrote both metrical, traditional and speech-like, free verse.

Religious, philosophical and existential themes are found in his poetry, strongly featuring imagery of nature, music and travelling. His poems have been translated into six languages.

Nummi’s two sons, Markus and Ilari, became artists as well – Markus, an author, Ilari, a filmmaker.

Above and through everything

Above and through everything
the thin web of life. On an evening like this,
its strands
are stretched to breaking
under the moment’s significange, the light’s
weight. So much empty space,
so much lovely desolation
freed from significance
in us, in the world,
it makes you grow faint.
And here, all dreams have to be dreamed by oneself!
When I am dead, a stone
will dream my dreams.

From Hengitys yössä (‘Breathing in the night’, 1995), translated by Anselm Hollo , *) published in Books from Finland 1/1998

Success after success

9 March 2012 | This 'n' that

The women of Purge: Elena Leeve and Tea Ista in Sofi Oksanen's Puhdistus at the Finnish National Theatre, directed by Mika Myllyaho. Photo: Leena Klemelä, 2007

Sofi Oksanen’s Purge, an unparalleled Finnish literary sensation, is running in a production by Arcola Theatre in London, from 22 February to 24 March.

First premiered at the Finnish National Theatre in Helsinki in 2007, Puhdistus, to give it its Finnish title, was subsequently reworked by Oksanen (born 1977) into a novel – her third.

Puhdistus retells the story of her play about two Estonian women, moving through the past in flashbacks between 1939 and 1992. Aliide has experienced the horrors of the Stalin era and the deportation of Estonians to Siberia, but has to cope with the guilt of opportunism and even manslaughter. One night in 1992 she finds a young woman in the courtyard of her house; Zara has just escaped from the claws of members of the Russian mafia who held her as a sex slave. (Maya Jaggi reviewed the novel in London’s Guardian newspaper.) More…

Beautiful books

9 March 2012 | In the news

Design: Markus Pyörälä. The cover of Runojä (‘Poemms’) by Harry Salmenniemi

The Finnish Book Art Committee chooses the most beautiful books of the year from various categories of publications, and awards the prize of the Most Beautiful Book of the Year.

Graphic design, typography, cover and binding are all taken into consideration. Honorary diplomas are awarded to the designers, publishers, printers and other production units of the prize-winning books.

The Finnish Fair Foundation makes an annual grant to the Finnish Book Art Committee, which works in cooperation with the National Library of Finland. Representatives from various fields participate in the work of the juries. The prizes has been awarded since 1947.

This year the Most Beautiful Book of the Year was a collection of poetry by Harry Salmenniemi, Runojä (Runoja, ‘Poems’, deliberately misspelt in the title – ‘Poemms’?). The graphic designer is Markus Pyörälä, the publisher, Otava.

The jury commented: ‘Just as in the poetry itself, all the senses are engaged on the cover. The typography, so instrumental to prose poetry, provides structure and surprises…. All traditional beauty is there too: the tender touch of the paper, the snappy binding and the skillfully chosen fonts. Gold on the cover, overall, platinum.’

Indifference under the axe

9 March 2012 | Essays, Non-fiction

In the forest: an illustration by Leena Krohn for her book, Sfinksi vai robotti (Sphinx or robot, 1999)

The original virtual reality resides within ourselves, in our brains; the virtual reality of the Internet is but a simulation. In this essay, Leena Krohn takes a look at the ‘shared dreams’ of literature – a virtual, open cosmos, accessible to anyone, without a password

How can we see what does not yet exist? Literature – specifically the genre termed science fiction or fantasy literature, or sometimes magic realism – is a tool we can use to disperse or make holes in the mists that obscure our vision of the future.

A book is a harbinger of things to come. Sometimes it predicts future events; even more often it serves as a warning. Many of the direst visions of science fiction have already come true. Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth are watching over even greater territories than in Orwell’s Oceania of 1984. More…

The edge of wordlessness

1 March 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Harri Nordell. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro

The poems of Harri Nordell are a mystery to me. Each time I open one of his books, my reading begins afresh. I have analysed and translated his poems, but the texts have still not become familiar. I have not begun to comprehend them. They always speak to me as if for the first time.

I could not wish for a greater gift from a poem. These poems create a special state of being; I could call it not-knowing or marvelling. I feel I am involved in an unfolding event.

Nordell’s poems open me up, but I am unable to prise them open. I do not want to interpret cryptic expressions, or seek out more explicit meanings for them. I would not wish to write on top of these poems, to mute silence with superfluous words. More…


1 March 2012 | Fiction, poetry

Harri Nordell breaks up grammar, invents words and leaves sentences unfinished. His poems are like minimalist, language-shattering sculptures of words. In her introduction Tarja Roinila compares Nordell’s poems to windows on to another world

Poems from Sanaliekki äänettömyydessä. Valitut runot 1980–2006 (‘Word-flame in silence. Selected poems 1980–2006’, WSOY, 2011)

You are beautiful
light-cupola-ecstasy of the eye

I look at you
from I-silence

daughter, bringer of the Word

involvement has been inscribed
with the name’s black reed

Girl, salt-grain of light
the mighty river of blood rinses memory,

otherness has come through us



Henriikka Tavi wins the Dancing Bear Poetry Prize

1 March 2012 | In the news

Henriikka Tavi. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

The Dancing Bear Poetry Prize, worth €3,500, is awarded annually by the Finnish Broadcasting Company to a book of poetry published the previous year. The prize has been awarded since 1994.

This year’s winner – announced on 27 February – was Henriikka Tavi for her new collection, Toivo (‘Hope’, Teos;  see the selection of her poems, translated by David Hackston, we published in December, as well as the introduction by Mervi Kantokorpi).

According to the jury, Tavi’s Toivo, reflecting and contemplating sorrow and loss with its childlike imagery of lullabies and butterflies, creates a feeling of togetherness we all need.

The winner was selected by a jury of two journalists, Tarleena Sammalkorpi and Marit Lindqvist and the poet Ilpo Tiihonen. The other shortlisted poets were Kristian Blomberg, Suvi Valli, Markku Into, Harry Salmenniemi and Wava Stürmer.

In addition to the Dancing Bear Poetry Prize, the Finnish Broadcasting Company also awards a prize for the best poetry translation; this year it went to poet Caj Westerberg for his excellent poetry translations from the past two decades of the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer.