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Dreams about and in the Eternal City. Leonard Cohen who plays a shanty by the Swedish poet Dan Andersson on the lute. The narrator of these prose poems gives birth to a daughter who is as small as a fountain pen, but perfect and just the right size – and she brings up a litter of puppies too.
This and much more is included in the wonderful new collection of prose poetry, Tärnornas station – en drömbok (‘The Lucia Maids’ station – a book of dreams’, Ellips, 2014) by Susanne Ringell (born 1955), one of the most personal voices in Finland-Swedish literature today. After an early career as an actress, she made her debut with a short story collection in 1993, and since then she has written short prose of different varieties, poetry, and plays. In Ringell’s work there is nothing amiss in the style and language, in the audacious combinations, in the chronicled sadness and the unwaveringly discrete humour. With fantastic clarity she approaches the most elusive of motifs, the deepest content of the soul, making it vivid and recognisable.
In one of the opening poems, the narrator experiences how alienation in one’s home town is interrupted by a streak of inclusion before the common obligation of sleep and dreaming: ‘In our most defenceless state we sleep ourselves nearer to one another, open and at rest we are not as entrenched as in the day when our limited will prevails, selects and deselects.’ Yes, when we are awake everything is more difficult, as the little girl with her burning candle at a school celebration on St Lucy’s Day, 13 December, experiences:
‘Once, when I was a little girl, I walked proud and glowing in the aisle for the school’s Lucia procession at the front of the grand hall. Once, when I was one of the little girls, I set fire to the actual Lucia’s blonde hair. I walked too close. I was too keen. / It was a mistake. /How do you walk closely but not too closely? How do you walk closely without making a mistake?’
The most important themes in Tärnornas station are perhaps just that, closeness and belonging. It grows from childlessness, a motif which has been strong throughout Ringell’s works, leading to the idea that a woman who is mother to no one can be mother to everyone. She who speaks sees her daughter everywhere, in all the Lucia maids she, with fond identification, observes around her. They also become a road to introspection, and to the reliving of relationships with her mother and other important older relatives. For those who have not reproduced, Ringells poems say, belonging is not self-evident. It has to be built up through the attentive reflection process that writing involves.
If this sounds abstract it is completely misleading. Ringell has an extraordinary eye for the concrete details, whether dreamed or real. This is her starting point when she creates a fictional world which feels completely familiar whilst at the same time being subject to its own laws. The boundaries between dream and reality, between internal and external, are fluid.
A large proportion of the poems occur during a trip to Rome and the stay in the city, at one time unknown and part of every normally educated westerner’s mental landscape, becomes a symbol of the narrator’s journey between dreams and memories, well known and unknown.
Translated by Claire Dickenson
Here it is, finally: Pajtim Statovci’s debut novel is the first book of literary merit written in Finnish by an author who originally came to Finland from the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo. Kissani Jugoslavia (‘Yugoslavia, my cat’, Otava, 2014) is a wild depiction of identity, told simultaneously from the perspectives of the mother of an immigrant family and her son. Statovci builds a keen sense of tension between the narrative of the Albanian woman and that of her youngest son.
Born in Podujevë, Kosovo, in 1990, Statovci came to Finland at the age of two. He is studying comparative literature at the University of Helsinki and film and television scriptwriting at the Aalto University. The French and Norwegian translation rights to Kissani Jugoslavia were sold before the book had even been published.
Emine, a girl from the countryside, is married at the age of 17 to the handsome Bajram who, despite his university education, behaves in typical macho fashion, subjugating and humiliating his wife from the very first day of their marriage. When the family flees the restlessness and arrives in Finland in 1994, now with four children in tow, Bajram continues in his previous role as the master of the family.
But in a foreign culture things gradually change: Bajram loses his job and, eventually, his family too. Emine, meanwhile, becomes more independent and emancipated, the new environment finally offering her a life of her own. The cost of this, however, is the loss of contact with her own family and children. As a family they don’t seem able to cope in the new environment without emotional scars.
The son’s story is completely different from the realistic historical narrative used to tell the mother’s story. Young Bekim is a sexually confused young man now forced to find a place for himself in an often unwelcoming Finnish culture. The novel’s narrative style incorporates fantasy and elements of the grotesque as Bekim explores human relationships and sexuality.
Cats and snakes represent everything previously shunned, the despised and the desirable associated with human sexuality and, in particular, with the inherent use of power. In Kosovo the cat is a ‘dirty’ animal, but Bekim nonetheless tries to build a shared life with a handsome man – in the feline form – he meets in a bar.
In her homeland Emine too has previously been frightened of cats, but at the end of the novel she takes a cat as a pet. In the world of the novel both characters bravely confront their fears – and transcend them.
The figure of the snake is more multifaceted. The terror associated with snakes that Bekim experiences as a child is very real: he suffers from debilitating nightmares and anxiety attacks – for which his father is largely responsible. Therapy helps him, and as a young student he takes a boa constrictor as a pet, and thus begins a fascinating exploration of his own fears.
The novel succeeds in giving cats and snakes strong, vivid characters. These fantasy animals nonetheless retain their realistic personae too: when, as an adult, Bekim returns to Kosovo, the land of his ancestors, he captures a poisonous adder and hurls it at his grandfather. The scene can be read as a final greeting to the restrictive patriarchy which has ordained the fate of his family.
Translated by David Hackston
In recent years the Finnish novel has been refreshed by central European tones in the work of authors including Kristina Carlson, Katri Lipson and Sofi Oksanen. Among these reforming powers is Satu Taskinen, whose first novel, Täydellinen paisti (‘The perfect roast’, 2011), won the Helsingin Sanomat prize for a debut work.
The novel, set over a day and describing a Viennese family’s All Saints’ Day lunch and, in particular, its demanding preparations, aroused admiration, but also wonderment at its slow, thoughtful monologue, in which absurdist humour and irony mixed with a melancholy atmosphere.
Satu Taskinen, who studied philosophy and German philology at Helsinki University, has lived and worked in Vienna for a long time. Her second novel, Katedraali (‘The cathedral’), is also a one-day novel describing a Viennese family.
Taskinen (born 1970) examines the world of the European middle class: how to live in a world that is growing increasingly unequal without becoming anxious and without a sense of guilt; where do the limits of personal responsibility lie? The author’s style and the works’ intense world have been compared to Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek or W.G. Sebald; Finnish critics have also placed a positive emphasis on the moral philosophical approach of the novels, which is felt to be un-Finnish.
The narrator of Katedraali is a lonely woman in her forties who is not quite all right; Tea’s internal disorganisation is also visible on the outside. She is clearly a compulsive hoarder, at least in the eyes of her family and her neighbours.
It is the day of the funeral of Tea’s younger sister: Kerstin has died at the age of only 37 after a long genetic illness. For years, Tea has been living in near isolation in her apartment among things and rubbish. Death has drawn the family together. Anxious, at her older sister Bea’s house, Tea gathers the guests’ serving plates into too-tall piles, the same as the yogurt-pot pyramids she makes at home.
The novel is an excellently told monologue which wanders from global catastrophe to intra-family trauma. How did the daughter of a bourgeois Viennese family, a doctor’s wife and the mother of a clever young man become a builder of yogurt-pot towers? As you might guess: there is no one reason for the depression of the human mind. Her childhood home and her mother’s loveless distance gradually emerge as the foundation for Tea’s powerlessness. The family’s attempts to make themselves look balanced to the outside world have resulted in Tea taking refuge in conserving solidity. She has become a chatelaine who has abandoned herself. ‘The best we can do is stay to one side, save and sort.’ Tea’s marriage has broken up and she retreated to her solitude.
The novel’s questions are big ones: what to do, how to live a good life. Tea has come to the conclusion that whatever a person does, the result is the end of the world. All great efforts, such as the Stephansdom in Vienna, which took centuries to build, are senseless projects. Nothing is redeemed by the knowledge that the cathedral was built to honour life.
Interleaved with the sombre sorting through of Kerstin’s estate are glimpses of the openness of the world: dissent, choice, passing by, letting go. Tea’s son Mark attempts, perhaps in vain, to open the sick woman’s locks: the collector becomes distraught when her rubbish dump is destroyed. It is her world; it is just that its organisation is incomplete.
Katedraali’s narrative, employing free associations and stream of consciousness, allows multiple interpretations. Even though Tea appears to end in despair, the centuries of building of the cathedral may also be interpreted as a person who is continually under construction: every family and every period leaves its own mark on the monument, for good or ill.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins
On my wall at home are paintings given to me by the artist and poet Aulikki Oksanen. A watercolour from 1966 is a stylised depiction, a little in the manner of Modigliani, of a room with a girl by the window. In the background are a harbour and ships.
The work reminds me of the time when I got to know Aulilkki when we both moved in University Theatre circles and I visited her in the room shown in the painting. The flat was later the scene for Lapualaismorsian (‘Lapua bride’), a film which Aulikki (born 1944) took part in.
To me, with her blond, straight hair, she was like a beautiful, slender young filly, so I was not in the least surprised when her debut work included some enchanting horse symbolism. Her first book, an original, fresh collection of poems entitled Hevosen kuolema (‘Death of a horse’, 1966) gained immediate attention.
The musical, corn-blonde young woman was a multitalent who gained her spurs as a writer and poet, an artist, a singer and songmaker, even as a film star. But writing and literature seemed to be at the heart of her world. As a writer she found herself addressing feminism; after all, this was a time when the role of women was being discussed passionately and in a new way.
In one of Aulikki’s works which is in my possession, Madonna and child, the ‘child’ nestling against the mother’s middle is in fact, when you look closer, an adult, tiny, big-nosed man. The painting appears to show a disproportioned loving couple. Some time later Aulikki published her successful novel Tykkimiehen syli (‘The gunner’s embrace’,1968), a story of extremely difficult love. The book made her famous. The work was, in the opinion of a Swedish critic, as fresh in the context of the predominant Finnish realism as a lone cornflower in a field of rye.
Just such a field, with a grey barn and a couple of birch trees, appear in one of Aulikki’s small watercolours, in which the eye can just make out a pair of lovers hidden in the meadow. The watercolour is like an illustration to the songs which Aulikki was writing at the time. Among the finest of these are Puhu minulle rakkaudesta (‘Speak to me of love’), Hyvästi (‘Farewell’) and Sinua, sinua rakastan (‘You, you do I love’), that poem expressing simultaneously extreme suffering and extreme tenderness – has been voted the most touching Finnish love song.
Niin liikkuu pehmeä kätesi / kuin vene varhain aamuisella joella.
Like a boat on an early morning river / moves your soft hand.
The individual seeks his or her place in the world at a time that falls between the twentieth and thirtieth years of life. For us it marked an impassioned period, the cultural radicalism of the 1960s, when earlier values and ways of life were questioned. Life was extremely concentrated and pulsating. A huge amount of happenings and actions were contained in a single year. We knew no fear – there was no time even to consider such a thing. We provoked irritation and sometimes bloodthirsty spleen, but also admiration and gratitude when our contemporaries in Finland felt themselves to have been liberated from something heavy, outdated and stifling. Widely listened to, Aulikki’s songs were inspirational. At that time we began to be conscious of the world beyond the borders of Finland and even of Europe. The Vietnam War and the Third World fluttered before our eyes like a quickly opened fan.
Aulikki Oksanen’s poetry has become widely known as song lyrics. Her poems have been set to music above all by Kaj Chydenius, Henrik Otto Donner and Eero Ojanen, as well as Kerkko Koskinen and Tuure Kilpeläinen, composers of a younger generation. Aulikki herself has also written music for some of her poems.
The collection Helise taivas! Valitut runot 1964–2014 (‘Ring out, heavens! Selected poems 1964–2014’) demonstrates the breadth of the themes and techniques that have welled up in her work over the decades. The stylistic features range from one extreme to the other, from light songs to dark, fateful ballads and symbolic poetry. Sometimes the poems follow the rhythms and imagery of folk songs or pop songs (although they also wilfully vary them), sometimes the moving, unbroken rhythm, moving from one verse to the next, seems to well up directly from the innermost being of the author. The tone varies from shout to whisper, from battle-song to intimate lyrics, from world and universal catastrophe to homely warmth and intimacy.
As time goes by fiery, possessive love can become a fragile, tender image of two old apple trees, leaning against each other, and direct accusation of the wrongdoers of the world can become an exhortation to the heavens to throw the crystal chandeliers of its starry head towards the darkness so that even time might be ashamed of itself.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins
From the point of view of both form and content, Kaarlo Sarkia’s poem ‘Älä elämää pelkää’ (‘Don’t be afraid of life’, 1936) is among the best examples of Finnish poetry. It crystallises several typical themes and features of his work: a declamatory absoluteness and existential courage, a faith in beauty, and the presence of death.
Don’t be afraid of life,
don’t shut out its beauty.
Invite it to sit by your fire,
or should your hearth expire,
to meet it outside is your duty.
– – –
Älä elämää pelkää,
älä sen kauneutta kiellä.
Suo sen tupaasi tulla
tai jos liettä ei sulla,
sitä vastaan käy tiellä,
älä käännä sille selkää.
– – –
Sarkia (1902–1945) is a Romantic. For him ‘beauty grows from under weights of pain’: the awareness of death gives rise to an ecstatic love for life and the flowers of a garden glow most intensely just before the autumn frosts. Art is sacred, and the longing for the unattainable produces a mysterious happiness: ‘the unattainable remains / the only thing that is your own’.
In Sarkia’s poetry the emotions spring from the dream and from death. The titles of his four collections of four names reflect the core of his work: Kahlittu (‘Chained’ ,1929) , Velka elämälle (‘Debt to life’, 1931), Unen kaivo (‘The well of dreams’, 1936) and Kohtalon vaaka (‘The scales of fate’, 1943). Powerful contrasts dominate the cosmos of the poems: darkness and brightness, ecstasy and pain, hope and despair. Recurring motifs are the road, the window and subjects drawn from nature, especially flowers. The ‘I’ of the poems is fully conscious of its fate, which is often associated with the experience of strangeness and alienation. One of the reasons for this – observed by later research – was Sarkia’s homosexuality. In ‘Kuvastimesta’ (‘In the mirror’) the speaker is a stranger even to himself, and the poem can be read as a portrayal of the divided ego: Strange and truly wondrous / in the mirror you look at me. / All I really know is / that you I cannot be.
In the spirit of the Romantic tradition, love is fateful and usually hapless. The lovers have been forced to part for reasons that are not disclosed, and tragedy intertwines with memories of happiness, creating a ‘a beauteous / sorrow’. Some of these poems, like ‘Erottua’ (‘Separated’) have lived on as classics of Finnish love poetry. The poem ‘Paennut’ (‘The one who fled’) refers to the riddle that separates the lovers: Did I love you? / That I do not know. / In my soul I trembled / when you turned to go.
Kaarlo Sarkia has remained in the history of Finnish poetry as a composer of words: his poems are masterful in their euphony and rhythm. In their metrical structure they not only employ end-rhymes but also chains of assonances and rhythmic repetitions that cross the verse lines and create the impression of musical echoes and patterns. It is not surprising that many of Sarkia’s poems have been set to music – by, for example, the composers Erik Bergman and Kaj Chydenius – and neither is the fact that they have remained almost untranslated. When modernism conquered Finnish poetry in the 1950s, metrical verse became unfashionable; on one occasion Sarkia’s formal virtuosity became the target of parody by the eminent modernist poet Eeva-Liisa Manner.
Some of Sarkia’s poems imitate the rhythm of the actions that they portray. For example, ‘Rukkilaulu’ (‘Spinning song’) uses the rhythm of the spinner’s foot kicking the wheel to make it rotate and carry the yarn. The poem presents two images at once: on the one hand an idyllic childhood memory of the poet’s mother treading the wheel, and on the other a view of human destiny as a spinning wheel, of life at the mercy of a kind of wheel of fortune.
A skilled translator, Sarkia focused in particular on Finnish versions of French and Italian poetry. Among the poets he translated were François Villon, Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Gabriele D’Annunzio; his translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Le Bateau Ivre’ is considered brilliant. The Swedish Romantic E.J. Stagnelius and the French poet Alfred de Musset were among his kindred spirits.
Although to the modern reader Sarkia’s language sounds old-fashioned and his burning idealism may seem unfamiliar, many of his poems are still fresh and thought-provoking. A good example is ‘Älä elämää pelkää’, whose ethos (or aesthetic pathos) of living in the moment and fearlessly confronting life is ageless.
– – –
Do not ever say:
this is mine alone.
Drink from life’s cup
and once again give its pain up.
If you never beg to own,
the world’s riches are yours today.
Be bold, stake all on one card:
ahead you will always see death’s gate unbarred.
Älä koskaan sano:
‘Tämä on iäti minun.’
Elon maljasta juovu,
taas siitä, jos tarpeen, kivutta luovu.
On maailman rikkaus sinun,
kun mitään et omakses ano.
Elä pelotta varassa yhden kortin:
näet aina avoinna kuoleman portin.
Translated by David McDuff
The state of poetry in Finland has been the subject of heated debate in recent years. The focus of much of this attention has been so-called ‘experimental poetry’. Some commentators have gone as far as to suggest that, in its ability to reshape and reinvent itself, contemporary poetry serves as a model for other forms of literature.
In such a literary climate, a writer like Lars Huldén might easily be overlooked, a writer whose poems give honest expression to thoughts and moods. This Huldén achieves in a manner that is at once recognisable and inventive. His poems are, perhaps, close to what many assume poems should be: concise speech expressing the wisdom of experience and often revealing a clear sense of resignation – which is hardly surprising when you have reached the age of 88.
Huldén has composed many different kinds of texts. Alongside poetry he has written songs, revue scripts and, in collaboration with his son, translated into Swedish the national epic Kalevala and many other works besides. He has lectured in Nordic literature and has worked extensively in the theatre and various organisations.
Those who know Huldén will expect humour, irony and sardonic asides. His new volume Inga stjärnor i natt, sir* (‘No stars tonight, sir!’) presents life as a sea journey, a cruise. ‘Captain Nemo and his crew/trust you have had / the wonderful cruise/that you’d hoped you / deserved, especially as / it will be your only one.’
Transposing the traditional sea-journey metaphor on to a cruise ship is an effective and gently satirical trick: cruises have become trivial and mundane. At the very outset of the journey we meet ‘an old, old man’, who is never seen at the ship’s cabaret evenings or in the ballroom. All he wants to do is see the stars.
‘Before long, we’ll forget that there are stars in the sky,’ the eminent poet Paavo Haavikko once commented in an interview. This is precisely what has happened on the cruise, concentrating as it does merely on entertainment. Huldén’s critique is at its sharpest when he presents it subtly, almost by stealth. We have run away from fundamental elements, from nature. Without underlining matters, Huldén succeeds in pointing out that though the cruise ship offers lots of diversion, it is ultimately only a another way of running away from death, something none of us will escape.
At the end of the collection, Huldén convincingly links images of death to nature. He comments that from the window of a train running through fields of crops ‘you can see peculiar little islands, / sparsely covered with ash or aspen.’ The poem ends with the image of bails of burning straw, traditionally lit in the autumn ‘to the memory of our fathers’.
Huldén has written a great deal of dramatic lyrics for the theatre, so it is understandable that he wishes to give a clear warning of the destructive nature of our throw-away lifestyles. However, he is at his most impressive in apparently calm poems that seem to open up across an expansive landscape or time span.
Behind the mask of a resigned elderly man is the familiar old trickster who comes to warn us of confusing views from a train with those at sea, and who challenges us to write about things as they truly are – ‘if you dare’. That being said: ‘Poetry, by definition, has fled, / fled from things that / happen all the time.’
Huldén reminisces, dreams, ponders (ever)lasting love. We are left with the firm impression that he himself would flee no subject at all.
Translated by David Hackston
Once upon a time there was a boy called Sulo. Just a normal lad, more a middle-of-the-road character than winner material. And not even always brave, let alone cheerful. An ordinary sprog isn’t enough for Sulo’s parents, so they take the boy to a child repair shop. There, new parts are fitted to children: virtuoso fingers, football-feet and angel-faces.
In addition to Sulo, Alexandra Salmela’s Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’) introduces us to the misunderstood Flabby Monster, Adalmiina, who wings through trees like an ape, and a father who absentmindedly loses his head. The work is the second book by Alexandra Salmela, who was born in Bratislava, in what was then Czechoslovakia, and now lives in Tampere.
A-L E: How did the idea of a story-book come up?
A.S.: Sort of by accident. At first I hadn’t thought of writing the stories in Finnish – after all, I didn’t spend my childhood in Finland, so the imagery was foreign to me. But I had written stories for a Slovakian magazine and when I mentioned that to my editor, he wanted to see what I had done. Then I translated something for the publishers and they liked it.
A-L E: The book was published simultaneously in Finland and Slovakia. Were the stories born at the same time in the two languages?
A S Yes, I wrote the book simultaneously in Finnish and Slovakian, sometimes literarily, so that I had Finnish and Slovakian files open at the same time on my computer. It’s hard to say which book is the translation…. Writing in two languages was like a multiple sieve, it taught me to spot mistakes and inaccuracies effectively.
A-L E: You have two children. Are they trial readers for your stories?
A S: No, that never really occurred to me. It turns out that I am much better at writing stories than telling them. When I tell stories I tend to get stuck on some detail or I begin to meander.
A-L E: The richly detailed, colourful illustrations are by Martina Matlovičová. Could you describe your illustrator a little?
A S: The world today is a very global place, and many illustrators use the same generic style, wherever they’re from. Martina is a find, she has her own distinctive style. The pictures in the Finnish edition of Kirahviäiti, by the way, are slightly paler than those in the Slovakian edition – and they’re still very colourful by Finnish standards.
A-L E: Four years ago you rose like a comet in the Finnish literary world with your first novel, 27 eli kuolema tekee taiteilijan (‘27 or death makes the artist’). It was interesting, among other things, for the fact that you wrote in Finnish, even though Finnish is not your native language. The novel received the Helsingin Sanomat Prize for the best debut novel and was also on the shortlist for the Finlandia Prize. What do you think of the media circus that surrounded it now?
A S: Everything happened very quickly and at once. Suddenly there was too much attention, for me as well as, I’m sure, for the reading public. The media attention may actually have harmed the book. The hoo-ha ended as quickly as it had begun, and afterwards there was a long, long silence. The manuscript of my new novel has been stalled for a long time – but I have begun to find the right form.
A-L E: There’s a lot of absurd humour and dizzying twists of the plot in the stories of Kirahviäiti. But beneath the wildness there’s often a serious tone and themes – for example an ecological message and acceptance of difference.
A S: Certainly. I wanted to write a book that would be as readable and rewarding for adults as it is for children. But I tried to conceal deep and serious subjects in the stories in such a way that they wouldn’t seem too humourless or ranting. This balancing act sometimes caused headaches in the writing. It felt as if I was just pursuing my own agenda – the texts were too heavy, boring for children, ranting. A that point I just had to let imagination take control: the wilder and more absurd the story, the better and more digestible it became, the excess weight was dumped on the sharp bends. 1800 characters per story was my aim, and I didn’t exceed it by very much.
The short form is best, in my opinion – children can’t be bothered to read a couple of pages of description of the door that leads to Sleeping Beauty’s castle. My stories also begin and end abruptly: they invite the reader to imagine what happened before the start and what might happen after the end of the story.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins
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
Welcome to Twilight Grove, a Helsinki home for the elderly – the bright, institutional lighting in its parlour creating an atmosphere like a dentist’s office, the odd resident dozing on the sofas, waiting for the next meal. The menu often includes mashed potatoes, easy for those with bad teeth. Residents seeking recreation are offered chair aerobics, accordion recitals, and crafts. A very ordinary assisted living centre, or is it? In Minna Lindgren’s novel, Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death at Twilight Grove’, Teos), the everyday life of a home for the elderly is the setting for absurd and even criminal happenings, suspicious deaths and medical mix-ups.
Anna-Leena Ekroos: You’re a journalist and writer. Formerly you worked for the Finnish Broadcasting Company. In 2009 you won the Bonnier journalism prize for an article of yours about the last phases of your father’s life, and his death. Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa is your first novel. How did it come into being?
Minna Lindgren: I’ve always known I was a writer but the mere urge to write isn’t enough for a novel – you have to have a meaningful story. The more absorbed I became in the life of the old, the more important it felt to me to write this story. Writing a novel turned out to be carefree compared to working as a journalist. Many of the stories I heard would have become bad social porn in the media, dissolved into banality, but in a novel they become genuinely tragic, or tragicomic, as the case may be.
A-L E: This book could be classified as a mystery, but is it above all a description of aging and society’s attitudes about the aged?
M.L: I didn’t know I was writing a mystery, but you could think of it that way. Perhaps it’s an adventure satire. Of course, an assisted living centre is an environment conducive to criminal activity; the residents’ medications are powerful drugs, monetary transactions are handled without the residents’ knowledge, and no one is monitoring what the private sector is up to when it provides elderly care.
A-L E: There are three main characters in the novel: Siiri, who always makes the best of things, Irma, who is fond of red wine and music, and the realistic Anna-Liisa, who’s always correcting their grammar. How did you come up with this charming trio?
M-L: I used the same technique that Richard Wagner used in his operas – I put my own characteristics into every person. Irma was actually based on my own mother; Siiri was probably more a portrait of my own future; and Anna-Liisa’s personality reminds me of my father, who liked to concentrate on the matter at hand and not get sidetracked, and used to give us long lectures. Anna-Liisa’s tremendous interest in Finnish language is also my own passion.
A-L E: Irma, Siiri and Anna-Liisa are in their nineties. It is quite rare nowadays to read a novel with protagonists who were born at the beginning of the previous century.
ML: I wanted them to be unmistakably old. Nowadays even a 85-year-olds can get offended if they’re called old. Someone who’s over 90 had seen war and seen the progress from times of real want to today’s over-consumption. Members of the younger generations are travelling all the time to different parts of the world, but nobody has any money to spare for taking care of the elderly. 93 years of life gives the problems we wrestle with a suitable sense of proportion.
A-L E: The vast technological changes over the course of Irma, Siiri, and Anna-Liisa’s lives cause difficulties but also create humorous situations in everyday life. You have to remember your one code to pay for groceries with your debit card, another code to turn on your phone. Attempting to deposit money into your own bank account nowadays is an unusual thing to do.
ML: Yes, my three characters were already retired before computers conquered the world. They don’t even know how to look for a lost walking stick online, so they’re completely isolated from modern society.
A-L E: These old women’s families are noticeable mostly by their absence in the book. They’re in too much of a hurry, can’t fit them into their weekly schedule.
ML: I’ve visited a lot of assisted living facilities, and I haven’t run into people’s relatives – many of them store their older relatives in assisted living precisely just because they won’t have to worry about them. Grandma’s supposedly safe and sound. Lately there’s been a lot of interest in technological possibilities for increasing the safety of the elderly: floor sensors, motion sensors and timers that allow a family to relax and monitor their beloved mother’s life from thousands of kilometres away.
A-L E: Your novel has quite serious themes, but it is by no means gloomy. There’s plenty of humour in it, verging on parody. Friendship also brings its light to the story – friendship among the three women, between Siiri and her grandchild’s boyfriend, for example. In the words of poet Aale Tynni, ‘Of all, of all that we can have, friendship is the greatest.’
M.L: That’s right. A person can make friends, and even fall in love, at any age they want.
A-L E: This book is also a portrait of Helsinki by tram: Siiri takes several trams every day, and her tram rides are also journeys into her memories of the city.
M.L: My grandmother was run over by a tram when she was 10 years old and lost one of her legs. In the 1970s she had a crude, heavy prosthesis, but she wanted to see the world. So she used to take one of us grandchildren with her, tear the map of Helsinki from the front of the phone book and put it in her purse, and we would go for tram rides. I loved that, and I’ve always lived near a tram line. Siiri Kettunen seeks meaning and adventure in her life by riding the tram around her beloved city, most of it built during her own lifetime.
A-L E: Is it possible that Siiri, Irma, and Anna-Liisa’s saga could continue?
M-L: I’ve promised to write a trilogy, because it sounds impressive: The Twilight Grove Trilogy. In the next installment the characters are the victims of a plumbing remodel and they encounter home care and consider euthanasia.
Translated by Lola Rogers
JO: How did you decide on Queen Victoria? I remember you once commented that you only had a very general picture of her, but once you started rooting around you must have found a wealth of information.
ST: I didn’t make any sort of concrete decision to write a book about her; she fascinated me in a peculiar way. I would return to her every time I was working on a new collection of poetry; I’d already written so much poetry that there was almost a hint of routine about it all, this was something I could really get my teeth into. Because we know so little about Victoria’s childhood, I actually had quite a lot of freedom. Of course, there are reams of books about her! But I’ve never found a novel about her.
JO: How did you go about creating her voice?
ST: I read a couple of deathly dreary books about Victoria and gave up several times. It was mostly only politics and things that didn’t interest me in the least. All the delicious little details were brushed aside in appendices. Then I happened upon the book We Two by Gillian Gill, which focuses largely on how the relationship with Albert affected Victoria, and vice versa. The books about her by Lytton Strachey and Edith Sitwell have also been important.
Finding her voice was painstaking and took me a long time – I thought how absurd it was that I of all people should be writing a book from Victoria’s perspective. Who am I to do such a thing? I knew that Victoria’s diaries were available, but I decided not to use them in finding the tone of the book. I travelled to London, walked around rooms she had also walked around, looked at the bed in which she slept, her toys, her clothes. But when the voice finally came to me, there was no going back: the first person gives you such freedom! She became ‘I’, or rather I became a vessel for her. Many of the books I read about her were so tedious because they tried to distance themselves from her. I wanted to access the intimate, the forbidden. I wanted to get right inside her. Of course, her voice changed a lot on the way. The child becomes queen, then marries and becomes a mother herself, is widowed, and slowly ages.
JO: Now to Albert: there is a duality about the image of him we read – idolised by his wife, reviled by his newly acquired people. How did you find negotiating his character? Though Victoria narrates throughout, we see him through her: is there a love-power binary at work here?
ST: Albert, yes… I empathised with him rather a lot. He was Victoria’s poor little cousin, and initíally she was more interested in his older brother Ernest. But then Albert grew into a muscular, tall man, and this was important for Victoria. He was enormously cultured and, to top that all, very handsome. In many ways he was her polar opposite.
The relationship of love and power was in fact the doorway into this project. When I first caught sight of the enormous, golden Albert Memorial, a monument in itself, I was taken aback – it seems the taciturn queen knew something about passion after all. The sculpture is the proof of her adoring love. She herself stands outside Kensington Palace in modest marble form. I couldn’t help but think of the balance of power – their relationship was an ongoing power struggle, and nine pregnancies certainly took their toll on her. Victoria could not show herself in public when she was pregnant. This, meanwhile, represented career opportunities for Albert. Victoria retaliated and Albert retracted. She bought some land and asked him to build another castle, and with this they were reconciled. And so it continued.
JO: Humour is also an important element of the narrative; it lends the text a sense of playfulness. This is perhaps not what one would expect in a novel about a queen – how did you come up with this?
ST: Well, she is so endlessly amusing, absurdly funny! Humour is part of the text right from the start; indeed, the era itself seems to invite a certain humorous levity. I’m drawn to the kind of comedy that gets stuck in your throat. Victoria’s position and the power that brings with it opens the doors to a great deal of black humour too, such as when she suddenly decides to lock Albert out of Windsor Castle, then proceeds to enjoy his humiliation from behind the curtains.
Victoria… she still fascinates me. It’s like having a stone in your shoe. Eventually you have to take your shoe off and examine the stone.
Translated by David Hackston
A melancholic diplomat’s wife in Turku recalls her childhood in 1970s Leningrad. This is how one might describe the new novel by Zinaida Lindén – then one might be surprised encountering nuance after nuance that challenge our expectations.
The melancholy in Lindén’s novel isn’t soft and misty; it is sharp and metallic. The life of the protagonist Galina, a diplomat’s wife, is far from glamorous, and consists mostly of standing over the ironing board in the family’s one-bedroom flat, ironing shirts for her conscientious and overworked husband at the consulate. The 1970s Leningrad of her memories is not an arena for ideology or culture, but serves as the backdrop for an intimate familial drama, in which the child always remained on the outside and was eventually left alone after the death of her parents.
Zinaida Lindén’s perspective is unusual in its sheer diversity. She was born in Leningrad in 1963 and grew up in the Soviet Union, but now lives in Finland with a career as a Swedish-language writer. She has seen the land she left behind undergo violent convulsions, a change of name, while she also indulges a fascination for Japanese culture. This diversity is reflected in her literary output which, including her new novel För många länder sedan (‘Many lands ago’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2013) comprises three novels and two collections of short stories.
Lindén’s prose tends to display a distanced, ironically self-reflective quality, but all of a sudden it may dive, like a tern, deep into the world of emotions, at once violent and precise. ‘Did I love him?’ Galina asks herself when she thinks of Igor, her husband, the man who saved her from the loneliness of childhood. ‘If a stranger had asked me that, I would have replied with something rather brusque. Whoever said that marriage was made in heaven alone? And what of us that end up in hell, what shall we do? Turn to a life of celibacy?’
The novel is meticulously constructed around the notion of vertical movement. For the most part, the narrator succeeds in remaining above ground through a bittersweet commentary on contemporary phenomena from her family life to the differences between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Russians.
However, the reader is constantly reminded of elements from the underworld: the vaults beneath the small church where eleven-year-old Galina encounters a bizarre ‘flasher’; the imaginary dungeons in the Carceri suite by 18th-century artist and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi, with which Galina becomes fascinated during her studies; Yerebatan, the enormous underground cistern beneath Istanbul where, as a middle-aged tourist, she immediately feels at home.
It becomes apparent that beneath Galina’s understanding of her parents’ happy marriage as one of carefree equality, in a time before ‘sexism became fashionable under Khrushchev’s Thaw’, there ran deep complications.
Despite the novel’s geographical reference points, the nomadic diplomatic lifestyle as a symbol of contemporary society’s compulsion for change and assimilation, vertical motion is nonetheless paramount. För många länder sedan is not a dark book. The tern, as the symbol of the style, both dives deep down and rises up again. So does Galina, who is drawn, on the one hand, to Piranesi’s fantastic subterranean spaces and to her parents’ grave, but to the street on the other, a space that is home to sparrows, signposts, trams and pedestrians.
Perhaps this novel ends somewhat abruptly, before it has time to examine its subject thoroughly. As I reached the final pages I found myself wanting to follow Galina a while longer, both higher up and further down.
Translated by David Hackston
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.
The writer’s role has over the years become an important part of my identity. I have almost begun to believe in it myself, and I could probably no longer life differently. Dressed as a writer, I go around teaching writing and telling schoolchildren about the writer’s work and other deep questions, just as if I knew all about them.
Writers are expected to give oracular answers to everything. That is why I even answer polls.
Small performance fees are paid into my bank account. I have also been given grants for literary work. I used the money to buy my children shoes, bicycles and phones. I pay the rent on my apartment and buy food.
I also feed the writer, if there is food left over. He eats at my table. I would like to say he is a parasite. But that’s not quite true. I do not know how to write. And I do not like writing. It is the worst thing I know. That is why I do his laundry, shave his beard, soap his armpits. He has just one responsibility: he has to write every day.
Look at this man: he spends his days hunched over his desk, suffering from shoulder pain. He peers at the computer screen, his eyes red, at the mercy of his invisible tormentors.
When he stops writing for a moment, he takes a book in his hand and begins to read other people’s work, just as if he hadn’t already had enough of words. He can’t escape his role even in cafés: he’s always gathering material, examining other people, sacrificing his life to letters without ever completely living it. He dreams of an ordinary life: a job as a postman, a ski trip with the children, a happy relationship.
But that is why he exists. Not to live an ordinary life. But to dream of it. His work is to dream of the impossible.
He didn’t like writing either, to begin with. He set words down on paper so as to be able to live. He wrote in order to be himself and tried to work out what that might mean. He wanted to get a picture of how far shared beliefs have diverged from reality. He wrote into explore the possibilities of freedom. He wrote to escape the trap.
Over the past four years he has been working on my latest novel, Jonglööri (‘The juggler’*). I have to admit that our collaboration was a challenge. He dreamed he was a circus star who could control fire. He dreamed of love, but did not suspect that it brings death with it.
As he wrote he returned to the Helsinki of the late 1970s in order to understand how his main character became who he was and how punk freed minds. He imagined how a friend’s death would have changed life. The writer was forced to leave no stone of the story unturned.
Sometimes he rebelled and refused to write. Then I had to negotiate with him patiently, making his working conditions clear. He whined that he was suffering from writer’s block.
‘Well then,’ I answered, ‘take a couple of days off. Get some rest.’ He returned to his work room, repentant, and wrote, just as I wished. I have my methods of getting him in line.
Once when we had had a particularly difficult period, I let him go and play tennis. From experience, I knew he would write a poem about it later. I sold it to a tennis magazine, and they took my photo, too.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins
It is a different kind of travel book: instead of faraway places, it explores things nearby, where our gaze and our thoughts don’t usually pause – the little things at the bottom of a pocket, in a dark closet full of outdoor gear, quiet moments in noontime traffic.
The travellers are perhaps Nobody in Particular, or somebody called Random. We keep on travelling, but we don’t get any farther than the corner store. What’s small becomes large, what’s supposedly large shrinks. Our self-image is off-kilter, there’s a hole in our CV, and the world is pleasantly tilted.
A-L E: The book is in the form of short prose – a page, half a page. What was it like to write these compact texts?
K T: I love having constraints; the short form is very rewarding. Focus and compactness make your whole life clear. And this has been good for me to learn because I’m naturally prone to long, extended forms of expression.
A-L E: Your first collaborative short prose work, Ihmetyksiä – Tarinoita ja kuvia hämmästyneille (‘Wonders: Stories and pictures for the bewildered’, Tammi), which appeared six years ago, was similar in theme and tone to Mahdottomuuksien rajoissa. How did you come to look at the world differently from the way we usually do?
K T: The books had their origins in pain and poverty. At the time of the first book, I had an injured leg, but was still able to walk, slowly. That’s how it started. At the time of this second book, I was poor. I would put my hand in the pocket of my old quilted jacket hoping to find a coin and find something quite different… and that something eventually became the thread of the book.
A-L E: So they have a fairly solid foundation in reality?
K T: Yes, they do. All the stories are actually things that happened to me – although of course I did condense and polish and focus them in the writing process. I believe that we all have these encounters and collisions with small objects and things like that. A writer’s job can be to take up these kinds of things as subjects for writing.
A-L E: Your stories convey a warm, forgiving attitude. For instance the story ‘Calendar cleansing’ makes me think about how real the hurry that gnaws away at almost everything actually is. When you start to consciously look at your calendar, not many truly unavoidable items are written there.
K T: Exactly. It’s a question of focus. Stopping time. Of course, I’m really not a besserwisser who knows how to cleanse my own calendar as well as in the story! But you can at least try to turn your attention in that direction. It’s nice to look at things differently and tilt your gaze or turn it inside out. When you change your point of view, many things change their shape. A small thing can become large and idleness can get the respect it deserves.
A-L E: You’ve given the stories a large dose of humour, as well.
K T: Humour yes, but no irony. Humour is important because it brings us together, gives us some relief. I think that there is more that unites people than divides them.
A-L E: Virpi, how did you come up with the illustrations for Katri’s texts?
V T: When I do these books with Katri, we discuss them extensively, usually by email. That way we have a record of our thoughts, ideas, and words and they might even end up in the book. The words and the image click into place and the shared world is easy to find because we’ve created a shared world of expression where we hang out and marvel at things, work and discuss, encourage each other, egg each other on. This shared world is a sort of mental space where there’s a lot of mutual understanding, trust and humour. It’s very fertile and inspiring, a wild but also safe place to do bold creative work.
A-L E: How do you see the role of illustration in these picture books for adults?
V T: I think that the pictures in these books don’t ‘illustrate’ or ‘accompany’ the text, but carry on a dialogue with the texts.
A-L E: When did your literary collaboration begin?
V T: About ten years ago. In addition to these adult picture books we’ve done five children’s books together. We were born in the same year (1961) and are from Ilmajoki in Ostrobothnia, but we were only distantly acquainted in childhood. Our shared environment growing up has certainly given us plenty to draw on as adults.
A-L E: What techniques did you use in the illustrations?
V T: A mixed technique that I developed myself, using a specific type of strong, thick oil pastels, water-colour that pearls up on the surface and in the folds, and patterns and details scratched into the surface with a blade. The colours are important to me. So are the juxtapositions and layers, both pictorially and symbolically.
A-L E: Are there more of adult picture books that marvel at the world in the works?
K T: Absolutely. It’s too tempting not to. You have to do something else between projects, but yes, we’ve already got a third book largely conceived. Its working title is Välitilassa – opas tuulikaappiin ja takaisin (‘In-between places: a traveller’s guide to the vestibule and back again’). In-between space interests me. After all, our whole life is an in-between place, for all of us – between birth and death. And the best stories are conceived ex tempore – in chance encounters in vestibules and places like that.
Translated by Lola Rogers
The Finland-Swedish poet Tua Forsström publishes rarely, and so when she does the expectations are always high. It is a pleasure to note that her new book, En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (‘One evening in October I rowed out on the lake’), once again lives up to them.
Forsström’s poetry is simultaneously concrete and existential, rooted in attention to the everyday and open to symbolic readings. The highly-charged images in her poems mostly grow out of the sort of things that anyone can observe around them.
One of Forsström’s central themes has always been memory and its way of functioning; more specifically memory as the constructive force that reconciles us to the uninterrupted and destructive work of time, whose end point is the obliteration of the self. Her poetic ‘I’ is extremely vulnerable, perpetually threatened by loss, while friendship, love, and trust rest on a knife edge. A wind blows constantly over human beings: ‘Blows snow against the face / Blows feathers and rubbish away across the water ‘.
But against this threat stand on the one hand epiphanies, sudden, brief encounters with life’s fullness, and on the other experiences of an unexpected reassurance, of a force that takes one under its wing. Thus the new collection both begins and ends in a spirit of trust, despite the journey through the landscape of loss that it describes.
Forsström (born 1947) is one of the most important Swedish-language poets of her generation, has received many literary awards in Finland and Sweden and been translated into several languages. Six years after its predecessor Sånger (‘Songs’) comes En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön her eleventh book of poetry since her debut in 1972. With less than fifty pages, the book is by no means large, but it is every bit as compressed, intense and through-composed as one would expect of Forsström.
Typically for Forsström, the new collection is anchored in a recognisable environment and in everyday tasks. The book’s very title indicates this: the season is autumn, October, a cold month with early evenings as winter clearly prepares for its arrival. The lake marks the presence of the natural scenery that often plays an important role in Forsström’s poems, and rowing is a rural everyday chore which here acquires a significance that is ambiguous and hard to define.
A recurring symbol in the collection, which in this way links concrete reality with an abstract, dreamlike feeling of discomfort, is the dead fish of which the ‘I’ tries to rid itself: ‘I rowed out to drown those fish scraps / I had begged at the market with the compost / in mind and which had occupied my freezer / ever since. Not even the axe had any effect on them. ‘
Many of the poems are about the place of the ‘I’ between the parents, dead long ago, and the children who take possession of the world as if it were new. The feeling of abandonment can be strong, as at the end of the following poem, dedicated to the poet’s mother: ‘Soon it will snow on the water, the snow will melt / in the water, soon it will snow on the islands and I / will remember what it was like to come home, someone / had taken care of everything in the meantime. ‘
As so often in Forsström’s poetry, snow has an important place in the collection, emblems of approaching cold, death and destruction, on the one hand, and of renewal, beauty, playfulness on the other. Then in the book’s final poem reconciliation is achieved between the two perspectives, obliteration and being looked after, in a sudden and typical experience of reassurance: ‘And then I hear again that voice, / mysterious and clear / You are old now little child / don’t be afraid little hare.’
Translated by David McDuff
I try to write books whose reading will bring enjoyment, in other words not entertaining ones.
Suomentajan päiväkirjat (‘Translator’s diaries’, 1970)
The term ‘world literature’ was invented by Goethe to describe the importance of Goethe.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1978)
A work of art is bad if it ‘makes you think’. About something other than itself. What is wrong with ‘art for art’s sake’ – or bread for bread’s sake? Art is art and bread is bread, and people need both in their diet.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1978)
Translation is moving a fish from one waterway to another.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1981)
It is said that you can have command of a language but you can’t command languages; they command you.
Euroopan reuna (‘The edge of Europe’, 1983)
Literature is not a message, newspaper, news report, it is its own reality like trees and mountains and animals in the yard.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1983)
Yesterday I looked at young birch trees. Is there not, in their pallor and lightness, their special immateriality, much of the most beautiful and purest femininity? An ugly woman has no right to exist, because a woman is unable to live for herself.
Nuoruuden päiväkirjat (‘Youthful diaries’, 1954)
The happiest marriages are those in which the man is impotent and the woman frigid, but such good fortune seldom occurs. Generally marriages are second-hand shops in which the woman sells old stuff and the man buys it.
Prahan päiväkirjat (‘Prague diaries’, 1966)
Sex gives new energy for living, like eating, but it does cast any light on one’s world’s view. The importance of sexuality has been extraordinarily exaggerated since it became possible to speak openly about it.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1982)
Only a continuous revolution prevents the revolution from devouring its children. In a continuous revolution children devour their parents.
Ihmisen ääni (‘The human voice’, 1976)
Revolutionaries are the true conservatives: the world can only be preserved by changing it.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1977)
A sure way of becoming a statue is to start one’s career by smashing statues.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1980)
I loathe officials, that whole bloody class of ne’er-do-wells, primates with ties round their necks and rectangular cases in their hands. Milk-drinkers!
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1978)
Life has generally left a bad taste in my mouth. If I were to write my memoirs, they would be the world’s most dishonest book. It is only with children that I’ve been able to form authentic human relationships; I abandoned my own children, I didn’t ever take a single one of them to school.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1981)
Be a jester, not a poet laureate, for a poet laureate will lose his head; a jester, never.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1982)
My home would be like this: the entrance hall in Dublin, the living room in Paris, the bedroom in Rome, the study in Budapest, the kitchen in Athens and the sauna in Kerimäki.
Euroopan reuna (‘The edge of Europe’, 1983)
I have been accused
of not taking the realities into account
as if I were not myself a reality
Hämärän tanssit (‘The Obscure dances’, 1983)
I have never cared for relatives, what is the sense of that? Everyone is related, after all.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1983)
I do not consider myself to be responsible for interview comments, or even, really, for what I write; I am a living person and will say it differently tomorrow.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1978)
The number of people in the world, right now, can be supported by the world, but there is not enough room for all the opinions of these people.
Euroopan reuna (‘The edge of Europe’, 1983)
Of course one will never learn to understand the world, one just has to try pass, squeeze oneself, through it. We shall never receive an answer to the question why we are here and build houses, roads, religions, sciences and arts. Birth is the subject of death and the reason for it, this is how one must accept it, simply: because once the world (ours) has started to exist, it will also have to cease to exist.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1983)
Translated by Hildi Hawkins
Today I’m going another way
coming to the meadow from the west
I want to see the mountain in unfamiliar marine light
the air is soft paper
on which the trees are blurred signifiers
I’m roaming the meadow
longing to be a poet whose song
would move stones and
organise city walls
make trees walk to carpenters
that build homes for people
An unsubstantial sorrow
is a heavy burden
but still, I still I want to see
everything in unfamiliar marine light