Search results for "herbert lomas"

Poetic excercises by the sea: Herbert Lomas (re)visited

21 November 2009 | Authors, Interviews

Down by the sea: Herbert Lomas in Aldeburgh. - Photo: Soila Lehtonen

Poet ahoy: Herbert Lomas in Aldeburgh. Photo: Soila Lehtonen

The prize-winning British poet Herbert Lomas has been translating Finnish poetry – much of it for Books from Finland – for more than thirty years. Soila Lehtonen, our Editor-in-Chief and his long-time collaborator, interviews him on the occasion of the publication of his collected poems, A Casual Knack of Living

The shoreline and the seaside promenade stretch out along the windy East Suffolk coast in Aldeburgh, where Herbert Lomas lives in a pink house called North Gable.

In summer thousands of tourists frequent the picturesque village, particularly during the music festival in June, founded in 1948 by the local composer Benjamin Britten. A poetry festival, too, takes place every autumn, this year for the 21st time.

Herbert – Bertie to those, like us at Books from Finland, who know him well – has just published a handsome tome of poetry, A Casual Knack of Living, containing poems from nine earlier collections plus a selection of previously unpublished poems, entitled Nightlights. The home of his publisher, Arc Publications, is in the village where he was born, 85 years ago, Todmorden in the Pennines. More…

In memoriam Herbert Lomas 1924–2011

23 September 2011 | In the news

Herbert Lomas. Photo: Soila Lehtonen

Herbert Lomas, English poet, literary critic and translator of Finnish literature, died on 9 September, aged 87.

Born in the Yorkshire village of Todmorden, Bertie lived for the past thirty years in the small town of Aldeburgh by the North Sea in Suffolk. (Read an interview with him in Books from Finland, November 2009.)

After serving two years in India during the war, Bertie taught English first in Greece,  then in Finland, where he settled for 13 years. His translations – as well as many by his American-born wife Mary Lomas (died 1986) – were published from as early as 1976 in Books from Finland.

Bertie’s first collection of poetry (of a total of ten) appeared in 1969. His Letters in the Dark (1986) was an Observer book of the year, and he was the recipient of several literary prizes. His collected poems, A Casual Knack of Living, appeared in 2009.

In England Bertie won the Poetry Society’s 1991 biennial translation award for one of his anthologies, Contemporary Finnish Poetry. The Finnish government recognised his work in making Finnish literature better known when it made him a Knight First Class of Order of the White Rose of Finland in 1987.

To Books from Finland, he made an invaluable contribution over almost 35 years – an incredibly long time in the existence of a small literary magazine. The number of Finnish authors and poets whose work he made available in English is countless: classics, young writers, novelists, poets, dramatists.

Bertie’s speciality was ‘difficult’ poets, whose challenge lay in their use of end-rhymes, special vocabulary, rhythm or metre. He loved music, so the sounds and tones of words, their musicality, were among the things that fascinated him. Kirsi Kunnas’ hilarious, limerick-inspired children’s rhymes were among his best translations – although actually nothing in them would make the reader think that the originals might not have been written in English. A sample: There once was a crane / whose life was led / as a uniped. / It dangled its head / and from time to time said:/ It would be a pain / if I looked like a crane. (From Tiitiäisen satupuu, ‘Tittytumpkin’s fairy tree’, 1956, published in Books from Finland 1/1979.)

Bertie also translated work by Eeva-Liisa Manner, Paavo Haavikko, Mirkka Rekola, Pentti Holappa, Ilpo Tiihonen, Aaro Hellaakoski and Juhani Aho among many, many others; for example, the prolific writer Arto Paasilinna’s best-known novel, Jäniksen vuosi / The Year of the Hare, appeared in his translation in 1995. Johanna Sinisalo’s unusually (in the Finnish context) non-realist troll novel Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi / Not Before Sundown, subsequently translated into many other languages, appeared in 2003. His last translation for Books from Finland was of new poems by Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen in 2009.

It was always fun to talk with Bertie about translations, language(s), writers, books, and life in general. He himself said he was a schoolboy at heart – which is easy to believe. He was funny, witty, inventive, impulsive, sometimes impatient – and thoroughly trustworthy: he just knew how to find the precise word, tone of voice, figure of speech. He had perfect poetic pitch. As dedicated and incredibly versatile translators are really hard to find anywhere, we all realise our good fortune – both for Finnish literature and for ourselves – to have worked, and enjoyed with such enjoyment, with Bertie.

Poet Aaro Hellaakoski (1893–1956) was not a self-avowed follower of Zen, but his last poems, in particular, show surprisingly close contacts with the philosophy. ‘Secrets of existence are revealed once one ceases seeking them’, the literary scholar Tero Tähtinen wrote in an essay published alongside Bertie’s new Hellaakoski translations in (the printed) Books from Finland (2/2007). Bertie was fond of Hellaakoski, whose existential verses fascinated him; among his 2007 translations is The new song (from Vartiossa, ‘On guard’, 1941):

The new song

Uusi laulu

No compulsion, not a sting. Ei mitään pakota, ei polta.
My body doesn’t seem to be. On ruumis niinkuin ei oisikaan.
As if a nightbird started to sing Kuin alkais kaukovainioilta
its far shy carol from some tree – yölintu arka lauluaan
as if from its dim chrysalis kuin hyönteistoukka heräämässä
a little grub awoke to bliss – ois kotelossaan himmeässä
or someone struck from off his shoulder kuin hartioiltaan joku loisi
a miserable old bugaboo – pois köyhän muodon entisen
and a weird flying creature ja outo lentäväinen oisi
stretched a fragile wing and flew. ja nostais siiven kevyen.
Ah limitless bright light: Oi kimmellystä ilman pielen.
the gift of lyrical flight! Oi rikkautta laulun kielen.


A thankless task?

24 November 2011 | Letter from the Editors

Translator at work: St Jerome, translator of the Latin Bible in the late 4th century, is the patron saint of translators and librarians. Leonello Spada's 1610s painting, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome. Picture: Wikimedia

Why translate, asked the late Herbert Lomas thirty years ago in an issue of Books from Finland (1/82) – the pay’s absurd, one’s own writing suffers from lack of time, it’s very hard to please people. And public demand for translation from minor languages into English was almost non-existent.

But he also admitted that translating is generally a pleasurable experience: ‘You have the pleasure of writing without the agony of primary invention. It’s like reading, only more so. It’s like writing, only less so.’ More…

Weird calm

31 March 1998 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

A selection of poems, translated by Herbert Lomas and Anselm Hollo. Interview by Tarja Roinila

Agnosis IV

Set your altar up in the evening,
 in the morning clear it away:
 the wandering goes on. Don't persuade yourself
             of anything, or anyone else:
 fearful forces are epidemic,
 no place is sacred
 for long.
                                 Again and again
                                 the sacred
                                                If you happen to be
 there don't refuse to see.

a light wind
            stirring a treetop:
 a shoal of fish
            in blue abyss

From Hiidentyven (‘Weird calm’, Otava, 1984) More…

The height of the night

15 October 2009 | Letter from the Editors

pallokarttaThe autumnal equinox is past; and as we tilt towards the winter solstice, here in these northerly latitudes, the darkness expands palpably from day to day, giving more space for introspection – high on the list of Finnish national pastimes – and for reading.

We want to make our website primarily a place for reading – not, in other words, for clicking, going on to the next thing. To think to the end what cannot be thought to the end elsewhere, as the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam said of his experience of staying in what was, at the turn of the 20th century, still Finnish Karelia. So you will not find our texts littered with links; for the most part, links appear at the end of a piece, not in it. More…

The best thing

30 September 2004 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Valekuun reitti (‘The path of the false moon’, WSOY, 2004). Introduction by Herbert Lomas

At first light I put my hand
     in the hollow of a white willow –
once someone's cigarette box
had been left there –
     now a bird flew out
going seaward.
Touch of a wingquill on the back of my hand.
     It flew higher.
          In the evening
I felt its touch on my shoulder blade.


No one can tell

31 March 1999 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Ahava (WSOY, 1998)

And life went on, went on as a kind of weird fugue,
               a forked path that drops across your eyes,
                    rejecting simple questions.
Which summer was that,
               I ask in December,
in a high room, with a tiled stove, a bricked up
          nostalgic sentence about the warmth of other times,
               a crossing where all the world's words
                         discover the the comparative degree of silence,
                                        the one with meaning.
Should I peep across a couple of cloudy stanzas to get a better view,
     but again my eye conjures up a medieval constricted soul.
All that's left is a thirst of all the senses, a frigid study of sentences,
                              of bones.


Why translate?

28 January 2015 | Essays, Non-fiction

Down by the sea: Herbert Lomas in Aldeburgh. - Photo: Soila Lehtonen

Down by the sea: Herbert Lomas in Aldeburgh. – Photo: Soila Lehtonen

‘People do not read translations to encourage minor literatures but to rediscover themselves in new imaginative adventures‚’ says the poet and translator Herbert Lomas in this essay on translation (first published in Books from Finland 1/1982). ‘Translation is a thankless activity,’ he concludes – and yet ‘you have the pleasure of writing without the agony of primary invention. It’s like reading, only more so. It’s like writing, only less so.’ And how do Finnish and English differ from each other, actually?

Any writer’s likely to feel – unless he’s a star, a celebrity, a very popular and different beast – that the writer is a necessary evil in the publisher’s world, but not very necessary. How much more, then, the translator from a ‘small’ country’s language.

Why do it? The pay’s absurd, you need the time for your own writing, it’s very hard to please people, and translation is, after all, the complacent argument goes, impossible. I’m convinced by all these arguments, and really I can’t afford to go on; but I don’t regret what I’ve done and, looking back, I can find two reasons for translating Finnish writing, one personal, the other cultural. More…

The engineer’s story

30 June 1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Maailman kivisin paikka (‘The stoniest place in the world’, 1980). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

Coffee was going to be served down by the river. The engineer took my elbow and led me across his paved courtyard and over his lawn; we settled ourselves down in cane chairs under the trees. Mirja came out of the house with a tray of coffee and coffee-cups, a loaf of sweet bread, already cut, some marble cake and some biscuits. The engineer said nothing. My eye wandered over the ample weeping birches by the river, the mist creeping up in the cool of the evening and shifting in the cross-pull of the breeze and the current, and I watched Mirja moving under the trees back to the house and then down again to the riverbank.

As we sipped our coffee we spoke about chance, and the part it plays in life, about my husband – for I was able to speak about him now: enough time had gone by. The engineer eased himself into a comfortable position, gave me a quick look and then launched off into an account of his own, about his trip abroad:

I spotted the news item as I was going through the morning paper on the plane. I sat more or less speechless all of the first leg, listening to Kirsti and her husband confabulating. I didn’t say anything during the stop-over in Copenhagen, either, where they wanted to get some schnapps and, of course, some chocolate ‘if Kirsti would really like some’. We came rushing back into the plane just as the last English, German and Danish announcements were coming over, and then we sat waiting for the take-off. That was delayed too because of a check-up (not announced), and then we were off again for Zurich, me without a word and they whispering together. Then it was the bus as far as the terminal, and after that a taxi to the hotel. Quite clearly Kirsti hadn’t heard a thing about it yet, and probably hadn’t had much contact with Erkki for quite some time, her new husband even less. More…

Dread and happiness

31 March 1993 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

A selection of poems. Introduction by Herbert Lomas


He stands at the edge of the market,
not much to look at himself,
with a stare:
across the black dome a shooting star
draws its portrait – and is not there.

His bag weighs on him heavy –
a hard day's 
skychart inside.
He fumbles for... a formula –
some old saw, or a soaring phrase –
     to lay the moment wide.

He’s nailed fast to the world,
but before he goes away –
what did he come here to say? More…

In memoriam Mirkka Rekola 1931–2014

20 February 2014 | Authors, In the news

Mirkka Rekola. Photo: Elina Laukkarinen/WSOY

Mirkka Rekola. Photo: Elina Laukkarinen/WSOY

The poet and author Mirkka Rekola died on 5 February at the age of 82. From 1954 onwards she has written aphorisms, essays and 18 collections of poetry. Rekola was awarded many literary prizes, among them the Eino Leino prize (1979), the Finland prize (Suomi-palkinto, 1995) and the Dancing Bear poetry prize (1997). Her intellectual, linguistically brilliant poetry was not easy to translate – however, translations have appeared in Swedish, German, French, Hungarian, English and Macedonian.

The poet and translator Herbert Lomas wrote in his introduction to Rekola’s collection Valekuun reitti (‘The path of a false moon’) in 2004: ‘Mirkka Rekola was a minimalist before minimalism was invented.’ Her poems are, he said, ‘moments of crossing an edge towards an intenser awareness of the universe’s continuum, requiring us to wake up from sleep, as we do at times of heightened consciousness and love.’

At first light I put my hand
      in the hollow of a white willow –
once someone's cigarette box
had been left there –
      now a bird flew out
going seaward.
Touch of a wingquill on the back of my hand.
      It flew higher.
            In the evening
I felt its touch on my shoulder blade.

From Valekuun reitti, translated by Herbert Lomas


Speaking about the heart

30 June 1991 | Archives online, Articles

New Finnish poetry, translated and introduced by Herbert Lomas

The ‘modernist’ revolution in Finnish poetry is now 40 years old, and the art must be ripe for changes.

Of course, the modernism of post-war Finnish poetry was not – except in Haavikko and to some extent in Saarikoski – extremely modernist. The poets were more interested in their content than their experiments. They were perhaps closer to ancient Chinese poets and early Pound than to Eliot in their elided brief juxtapositions and meditations on nature, society and moment-to-moment transience. The poets picked up a few liberties that unshackled them from metrical and rhyming formalities uncongenial to Finnish stress, syntax and phonemics; and they took off to speak about the heart. That is the strength of this poetry, and its originality, since all originality consists in being oneself – which includes one’s national self, and ultimately other people’s selves. And every generation still has to make a new start, admittedly in new circumstances, with the experience of its forefathers from birth to death. More…

The only time for loving

31 December 1998 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Iloiset harhaopit (‘Happy heresies’, WSOY, 1998). Introduction by Herbert Lomas


Down from the top floor crept
a kind thief

and loaded a bed with silver,
nicked from a house in the harbour.

‘Ah,’, he said, like Weiss: ‘an
impecunious lot – no hope of swag.

The lady’s purse is empty, nothing but
matches, sugar, a teabag.

Too few frocks in the wardrobe too
for a pretty lady.’

Morning, and the bedside chair
is piled with frocks from the neighbour’s line.

A proper thief is smitten
and shows his philosophy of crime,

and I’m a poet!
Neither foxes nor police dogs stir my heart

but I do love the sheer out-and-out howling
dottiness of our time. More…

If grief smoked

31 March 1989 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from six collections of poetry. Introduction by Herbert Lomas

The City

How the houses have ascended in this city,
the abysses deepened, the water blackened,
soon to be creeping along the streets.

The railings are rusting through,
the water table’s rising,
the cellars are slopping.

Fear is rising, or being covered up
behind strangling discretion,
outbreaks of crime.


Choosing a play

30 September 1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Leiri (‘The camp’). Introduction by Vesa Karonen

The local amateurs were having their theatre club meeting on a Friday evening in the main part of the parish hall. It was late August, the light was beginning to fade and no one had remembered to put the lights on. First the stage grew dark, then the floor, then the ceiling. The light lingered on the inside wall for the longest. There were creaks and groans from the rooms at the back and from the attic. The caretaker had been moving around in there about three in the afternoon, and his traces lingered, as they do in old buildings.

“Something of that sort but short, and it’s got to be bloody funny,” said the chairman, a carpenter called Ranta.

In the store cupboard there were 108 old scripts. Tammilehto, the secretary, hauled out about 30 scripts onto the table. His job was running a kiosk down the road.

“Nothing out of date,” said Ranta.

“There’s got to be a bit of love in it, I say,” said Mrs Ranta.

She had a taxi-driver’s cap on her head and was wearing a man’s grey summer jacket, a white shirt and a blue tie. Her car could be seen from the window. It was in the yard. She always parked her car so it could be seen from inside. More…