Author: Anselm Hollo

In the woods

30 June 2008 | Authors, Reviews

Riina Katajavuori

The tale of Hansel and Gretel is an ancient one, woven around the themes of abandonment, cannibalism, and the terrors of dark forests in those forests’ ancient heyday. Told, edited and retold by the German Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century, the tale’s archetypal magic has inspired composers, writers and artists for hundreds of years.

Riina Katajavuori’s new book of poems, Kerttu ja Hannu (‘Gretel and Hansel’, Tammi, 2007), is an imaginative de-and reconstruction of it. By reversing the traditional order of the names, Katajavuori (born 1968) gives notice that her poems are a her-not-his version of the story, a retelling from Gretel’s perspective. More…

Question time

Issue 2/2006 | Archives online, Authors

Ei. Siis kyllä (‘No. That is to say, yes’, WSOY, 2006) by Paavo Haavikko, the incredibly productive and versatile grand old man of Finnish letters, is a series of apothegms – ‘short, witty, instructive sayings,’ according to your basic dictionary definition. Formally, these may remind one of the Egyptian-born French writer Edmond Jabès’s works, Le Livre des Questions (The Book of Questions), but  is not so much a book of questions as it is a book of statements.

As the editor and translator of a number of Haavikko’s works over the past forty years, including two versions of a Selected Poems, two prose works, and, most recently, Kaksikymmentä ja yksi (One and Twenty), a wild mock epic of a band of Finnish Vikings travelling down to Constantinople and on to Africa, I have gained familiarity with the poet’s favourite images and strategies. He employs indirection and ambiguity with great skill:

‘There is no answer without a question, and without knowing the question you cannot understand the answer. But it has always been our habit to ask the question ourselves, then answer it ourselves. That is the only way to gain scientifically valid answers. Therefore, questions must be constructed with exactitude, to prevent their turning into answers.’ More…

Romantic and political

30 June 2004 | Authors, Reviews

Tomi Kontio

Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

If I had to describe Tomi Kontio’s new book of poems, Vaaksan päässä taivaasta (‘A span away from heaven’, Teos, 2004, page 93) in ten words or less, I would say that it is a succession of deep breaths taken between catastrophes great or small.

Since I have a few more words at my disposal here, I’ll also say that it meets every expectation set up by his previous three volumes of poetry: sonorous language, an essentially Romantic but not egocentric worldview, and extraordinary skill in combining straightforward narrative with spectacularly effortless runs of metaphors, as in these lines from the poem ‘Pietà’: More…

Intense whispering

Issue 2/2003 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

I have never heard Timo Hännikäinen read his poems out loud. On the page, the voice I hear is something like an intense but laconic whisper. There are times when the poems in the 23-year-old author’s first book, Istun vastapäätä (‘I’m sitting across from’, WSOY, 2002), skirt the edges of despair:

My thoughts are hurting,
my hands numb.
The newsprint raises a racket: even the
   unbuilt cities
already bombed.


Creatures in the family

Issue 4/2002 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Riina Katajavuori (born 1965) writes a poetry of quick shifts, cinematic cut, changes in point of view: in a translator’s note for Five from Finland (Reality Street Editions, London 2001), I said that they ‘incorporate voices, observations and acts of speech from the street, television, radio, lectures and books. These hums and buzzes are then distanced by being framed as laconic and ironic propositions.’

That observation still holds true for her new book. Koko tarina (‘The whole story’, Tammi, 2001). Ironic titles seem to be in vogue in contemporary Finnish poetry (e.g. Kai Nieminen’s Lopullinen totuus. Kaikesta, ‘The ultimate truth. About everything’, Tammi, 2002): while these eighty-some pages of poetry cannot literally tell any ‘whole story’, they show that Katajavuori’s work has become more expansive. It delineates a contemporary sphere of urban life in a more richly detailed way, employing an overall syntax that seems less discontinuous than before. More…

Epic labours

Issue 3/2000 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews

Kai Nieminen has translated the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, from its ancient poetic Finnish into modern language. Anselm Hollo has in turn translated an extract of Nieminen’s version into English for Books from Finland; here the two poets and translators discuss the process by e-mail between Pemaja, on the south coast of Finland, and Colorado

Anselm Hollo: Why translate Finnish into Finnish?

Kai Nieminen: It may seem like an odd idea to translate from a language into the very same language, but as you, Anselm, may recall: a few years ago, I taught a workshop at a summer session of the department where you teach, the Writing and Poetics Program of Naropa University in Boulder, with the theme ‘Poetry as Translation of One’s Thoughts’. I started out with the notion that writing poetry – perhaps writing literary works in general really consists of translating personal recognitions into more generally recognizable utterance, recognizable even to oneself. Writing poetry, one translates one’s thoughts for oneself. In that workshop I had the students translate English into English, and they thought it was a good idea, an enlightening exercise, a way to learn to read texts in a new way. As a poet-cum-translator I have probably always done something like this when writing my own poems – and also while reading poems by others. Translation is a two-way process. Secondly: As a translator from Japa­nese, I have grown accustomed to the Japanese practice of equipping modern editions of classical literature with a translation into modern Japanese. The modern version is not meant to replace the original, it is a way of helping the reader to appreciate the original all the more – which is what I, too, aim at doing. More…

A Note on Nine Contemporary Poems from Finland

Issue 1/1987 | Archives online, Articles, Fiction, Non-fiction, poetry

Contemporary Finnish poetry, translated and introduced by Anselm Hollo

The last couple of months, it has been my pleasure to browse around in a tightly ­packed shelf of books of poetry published in Finland in the last five years. On the showing of these, and of the excellent anthology Modern finlandssvensk lyrik (‘Modern Finland-Swedish poetry’, 1980), edited by Claes Andersson and Bo Carpelan, poetry certainly seems to be alive and well in the old homeland. In a way, the sheaf translated here is just first travel notes, individual works that struck my fancy seemed translatable: thus, by no means a ‘representative selection’.

Claes Andersson’s poem ‘When I was born, Helsinki was…’ was quite simply a direct hit (perhaps an unfortunate metaphor in that it deals, in part, with the WW2 air raids on Helsinki) – it brought back personal memories from my early childhood. But beyond those immediate circumstances, it is also a very moving evocation of the magnificent and terrifying world of magic children inhabit. Helena Anhava’s ‘These years…’, with its marvelous image of the great hinge turning in the human psyche at certain points familiar to anyone who has lived into middle age, seemed a fine example of her impressive body of meditative lyric poems, sharing a tenor of wistfulness not uncommon in Finland’s poetry with Bo Carpelan’s ‘You drive up…’, which is also a poem of the pangs of change. In Carpelan’s text, the clash between ‘wonderful clear Vivaldi’ on the protagonist’s car radio and the perceived tawdriness of the environment is beautifully balanced between genuine revulsion for the latter and a self-irony directed against the self-declared ‘finer sensibilities’ of the class that can afford them. Tua Forsström‘s ‘Do you want to hear something’ moves in a lovely dance figure from myth to everyday present: we see the interior world that is Nausicaa’s island shimmering through the exterior in which ‘someone’s/ balcony door whines all night like a cat’. More…