Author: Jyrki Kiiskinen

Me by myself

20 June 2013 | Authors, Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

In this series, Finnish authors ponder their profession. Jyrki Kiiskinen casts light on the process of getting his books written: who is it that actually does the job?

People think I am a writer. But I am not. At literary events they sometimes come up and praise my most recent work, if they have happened to like it, not knowing that I have not written a single book. I try to ignore negative criticism, although it is not easy to put up with being blamed for other people’s work. I accept praise unhesitatingly, on those rare occasions when I receive it, although it feels strange.

It’s as if the person I’m talking to thinks I was someone else. He talks about the book’s style, its characters and its narrative voice, supposing that they are my invention.

At that moment I feel like a trickster. But I can’t be bothered to correct the misconception. I slurp my red wine happily and nod in false modesty, gazing deep into my interlocutor’s eyes. I keep chatting, to give him the impression that he’s met a living writer, myself – the person behind my words.


Living inside language

23 February 2010 | Essays, Non-fiction

Jyrki Kiiskinen sets out on a journey through seven collections of poetry that appeared in 2009. Exploring history, verbal imagery and the limits of language, these poems speak – ironically or in earnest – about landscapes, love and metamorphoses

The landscape of words is in constant motion, like a runner speeding through a sweep of countryside or an eye scaling the hills of Andalucia.

The proportions of the panorama start to shift so that sharp-edged leaves suddenly form small lakeside scenes; a harbour dissolves into a sheet of white paper or another era entirely. Holes and different layers of events begin to appear in the poems. Within each image, another image is already taking shape; sensory experiences develop into concepts, and the text progresses in a series of metamorphoses. More…

One more time

Issue 4/1999 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Kun elän (‘As I live’, Tammi, 1999). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka


Here is a treetop
with three
thousand branches,

three thousand
names, whose
syllables no one

knows, three
thousand minds,
one murmur

traversed by a
breath, a sentence,
I’m afraid to say

a million leaves
sough, speechless,

a thousand dark
branching roots,
names in the soil,

a million words
in humus heaven
a thousand sprouts

bloom yet are lifeless,
dead heroes,
pointless tales,

three million
wrinkles. faces

by branches,
in the brain’s roots
a new person’s thought

is born and
hums through branches,

the smoke disappears
through the branches,
the smoke disappears.


He saw faces behind the glass,
heard himself breathe.

With his fingertips, he brushed the glass surface
but it was not the same as skin.

Slowly, he arranged what he saw,
that blurry motion, but it did not work

as an architecture, the kind
a living city is perennially building.

He opened up to a gaze, froze,
lost the game altogether.

Then the scythe disappeared. He opened
a window onto the street, heard

leaves rustle as if waking up
to life, one more time.


But I did not sing,
I chased her away,

flushed the toilet, paced
circles in the living room

like a moth that looks for
a place to land

or a solution that does not exist
to a problem that probably

does not exist either,
just a wall full of

leather-backed books
and seats among which

the moth chooses one, a
commodified insomnia

a landscape someone
invented once: palaces,

persons, tensions,
systems and maps

constructed by language insects
on top oft he void,

in the air, an imago mundi
never seen before

never before heard-of
utopias, illnesses

people prefer to endure
rather than

giving up, once they have
forgotten the war’s causes

or the cornerstone of their learning
ground up to gravel

long ago, they still love
the country they have

destroyed, for love
is stronger than

its object, and who
needs it, the group

eats reason and everything learned,
it turns us into beasts,

the congregation executes
its christ, the state

its sages, but the sleepless
animal keeps wrestling

in the mud with its inner
hero, the beast; yearns, spits,

rages and grieves, looks for
reconciliation, tries

to mediate and interpret
between invisible enemies

to whom only sleep and murmur
can lend a shape, until the image

finally shatters
into sentences, steps

into line between covers,
on the shelf: in the closed pages

simmers yet another delirium
no one has ever seen before.

Four o’clock

Don’t know why I burst out laughing
in bed, but someone instantly answered
as if by rote, as if
comprehending eternity,

laughing without malice, life
and soul of the party, cruel
as a certain hero
who was asked to hold up

the roof while they were still making
speeches in the hall, while the fool
scratched his belly, raised his cup
to the host. while a woman

raised her skirt, the whole forest laughed
and every demon claw
inscribed history. from which
the laughter freed him.

All of a sudden the clock struck four,
but I heard only my heartbeat,
the rush of systole and diastole,
tides of a muddy delta,

the sleepless whimper
of birth and death, the streams of cellular fluids,
the pulsing of stars, the animal’s paws
as it padded along the runner,

all in step; not long now until the wolfs hour,
nothing stirred on the plains, I felt
a thundercloud push down on my forehead,
and the wind died, the grass

stopped rustling, sugar coagulated, and then
lightning stopped my heart with one blow,
in one rapid motion my hand
tore off the pillow case, my body

sat up in bed, my mouth shouted,
the primal animal, evolution howled.
Upright. he stood in front of me,
in the rearview mirror the car came closer

struck me again and again from behind
with a huge iron fist, made words burst
from my mouth, the car rose into the air: a plane,

a pegasus galloping straight at the pillar,
now muteness, the windshield
cracked, flew out in one piece
to rest on the hood

in the rearview mirror the car
came closer again, I saw how I flew
into the foliage, in my mind
two separate memories:

thus memory shatters time, and so
one can look at the past as true,
barely, barely endure it: she
bent over me, said something.

At the wake, lips moved. behind
the glass stood a fair boy
whom I knew, even though
he had already grown up to be a man.

Translated by Anselm Hollo

Gospel truths?

31 March 1999 | Authors, Reviews

Lauri Otonkoski

Photo: Irmeli Jung

Lauri Otonkoski (born 1959) has the reputation of being a poet who passes attentively by and always has room for doubt.

He assumes a chatty tone, full of an irony often at his own expense, though his schooling as a music critic has given him a fine ear and the art of producing structures comparable to music.

Otonkoski has published six collections, two of them prizewinning. In 1996 he received the Nuoren taiteen Suomi-palkinto (‘The Finnish Award for Young Artists’), and in 1997 the Finnish Radio Poetry Prize, ‘Dancing Bear’. More…

Simple things

Issue 2/1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Among the poetry published in Finland in 1997, Jyrki Kiiskinen identifies four voices that continue to reverberate long after their books are put down. Markku Paasonen is one of the four poets he discusses

‘I did not choose the cause, the cause chose me,’ wrote Pentti Saarikoski in the Sixties, when he thought he had found his life’s purpose in communism. Thirty years later, Markku Paasonen in his first collection Aurinkopunos (‘Sunweave’) writes: ‘I did not choose; the sea but the sea chose.’ More…

Slow, beautiful snow

Issue 2/1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Among the poetry published in Finland in 1997, Jyrki Kiiskinen identifies four voices that continue to reverberate long after their books are put down. Sirkka Turkka is one of the four poets he discusses

Sirkka Turkka welds demotic expressions, Biblical overtones, and Finnish pop songs together like a Jesus hanging out with publicans and prostitutes. She does this quite seamlessly, creating a lively verbal landscape: ‘Poetry / is completely senseless, like a mind / open all the time, babbling.’ But as it moves along in its self-identification with a farrago of phrases and sayings, the babble turns dense and multidimensional. The reader of Nousevan auringon talo (‘The house of the rising sun’) is invited to watch the construction and continuous renewal of an identity. More…

Death, the Stranger

Issue 2/1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Among the poetry published in Finland in 1997, Jyrki Kiiskinen identifies four voices that continue to reverberate long after their books are put down. Rakel Liehu is one of the four poets he discusses

Rakel Liehu takes her walks in the garden of life and death, with not even a low hedge between her and the realm of the dead. We live in a world of absurd suffering, one that Liehu aptly names the ‘circular (saw) circus.’ We see a woman striving for balance in a splendid storm of words.

Skorpionin sydän (‘The scorpions heart’) finds much of its inspiration in the mythology of ancient Egypt, not least in its physical relationship to death. Liehu’s strong woman is closely attached to life: worms perform a symphony in her innards, and her ovaries are as punctual as the stationmaster’s watch. More…

Paradise apple

Issue 2/1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Among the poetry published in Finland in 1997, Jyrki Kiiskinen identifies four voices that continue to reverberate long after their books are put down. Pentti Holappa is one of the poets he discusses

Pentti Holappa’s collection Älä pelkää (‘Do not be afraid’) is a mausoleum for murdered love. The poems speak from a juncture between present and past, in the obscurity of their own consciousness: ‘As soon as light penetrates the ambiguity of being, / the fruit falls outside the bounds of paradise.’ More…

Word as gospel

Issue 2/1997 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Prophetic tones have entered Gösta Ågren’s work since he won the Finlandia Prize in 1989. In his collection of poetry, Timmermannen (‘The carpenter’, Söderströms, 1996) he brings new life to St Mark’s gospel, that universally known archetypal folk-tale of the West, like the church painters of the Middle Ages.

Ågren nevertheless leapfrogs over his base text, with its overwhelming meaning: not satisfied with illustrating the Bible in a suitable form for modem people, he uses Jesus’s story as a springboard toward universally human questions. He reaches the living quick of the myth. The reader must listen carefully to his lines, for even the Pharisees did not understand the proofs of Christ’s identity. ‘Every miracle is an answer, / and they did not have a question.’ More…

Fair game

Issue 4/1996 | Archives online, Authors

“In today’s world, the car is a male
 environment, a tool with which he
 controls the world,’ commented Heimo
 Susi (born 1933) in a recent interview 
in Helsingin Sanomat in connection with 
his first novel Virkamatka (‘Business 
travel’, Otava, 1996).
’And then the car sort of breaks down at 
the end of the book.’

The action of Susi’s novel takes place 
for the most part in a brand-new Opel
 Vectra; at the end of the book, the car is 
in collision with an elk. In traditional 
Finnish style, nature is always stronger 
than humankind, technology and 
civilisation. The book is a mischievous
 account of a department head in the
 ministry of labour on a wild-goose chase up and down the country: he sits 
in meetings, lectures in employment 
bureaus and shows on the overhead
 projector diagrams wittily illustrated by 
his daughter. More…

Goodbye to all that

Issue 3/1996 | Archives online, Authors

It is a couple of years since the appearance of Monika Fagerholm’s Underbara kvinnor vid vatten (’Wonderful women at the sea’), which has been bought by a number of foreign publishers. Now Fagerholm’s nostalgic and accurated description of the moodscape of the 1960s has received a companion volume which records the objects of the 1970s and opens the dark record and clothes cupboards of a different young person.

Kjell Westö’s Drakama över Helsingfors (’Kites over Helsingfors’) is, nevertheless, more extended in its trajectory than Fagerholm’s novel because it reveals how the events of the 1990s were included in the values of the 1970s and were born directly from them. More…