Sunday, February 5, 2012

Most spacious meeting places

Eric Jeschke commented about my recent post titles. I tried to write an answer, but it turned into a posting.

Each of these recent post titles is a quote from a poem in English: Bring back chaos out of shape (The Room by Conrad Aiken), The frolic architecture of the snow (The Snow Storm by Ralph Waldo Emerson), But the tune your bones play (Lines for Winter by Mark Strand), and To weave the garlands of repose (The Garden by Andrew Marvell).

I have been trying to read and understand Enlish language poetry, but it is hard going. Poetry is not easy to comprehend if you are not a native speaker of the language, at least it is so for me. But there are also differences between the poets and poems, and some poems seem to transcend the language.

I have read Enlish language poems translated into Finnish, and sometimes this works well, but it can also be that a lot is lost in translation.

Going to the other direction, from Finnish to Enlish, I got a big surprise recently. Namely, a certain Finnish poet has been a difficult one to understand for me, even though I have tried to approach her poetry every once in a while.

The poet in question, Mirkka Rekola, has been the topic of many academic treatises and dissertations, and her poems have been described as the "most spacious meeting places in Finnish poetry". There have comparisons to Sappho's "fragments", or the classical Chinese poets' works, but still, I have been baffled.

Slowly I have grown to suspect that in some of her poems the sense of being perplexed may be the key to understanding. It may be that the poems are not puzzles for the mind, but for the emotions, and thus they are spacious, open to a multitude of interpretations.

But anyway, I'm currently reading a book titled Five from Finland, which is a collection of poems translated from Finnish into English by Anselm Hollo. The five poets are Mirkka Rekola, Kai Nieminen, Lauri Otonkoski, Tomi Kontio and Riina Katajavuori.

And now I'm happy, as I suddenly got a sense of Mirkka Rekola's poetry, out of these English translations. The poems are not easy to explain, at least in words, but suddenly there is an open vista in front of me.

Here is a quote from a poem of hers (poetry collection The Wind's Last Year by Mirkka Rekola, translated by Anselm Hollo):

On the right side, on the left,
still on the same street; but no meeting.
Is that why I look at boats,
sketch a prow,
as if to solve this.
This I would like to leave: a boat like a leaf,
prow in the air, on its way back.

Rekola is described, as a person and as a poet, in Aarne Kinnunen's book "Fulltime Life" (Päätoiminen elämä, 2011). Kinnunen made an impressive career, serving as Professor Extraordinarius of Aesthetics at the University of Helsinki.

Kinnunen tells in his book why it is stupid to explain the works of an author by their living circumstances. However, he also knew Rekola in person (if she could be known at all), and this all is very interesting, I highly recommend the book.

But Rekola's poems are something else than her life. I don't know what they mean when they say that to become a poet you have to live a poet's life.


Eric Jeschke said...

Thanks for the explanation. It makes sense to me now.

Juha Haataja said...

@Eric: Maybe I should have mentioned this poetry reading thing more clearly earlier - I try to pick the titles so that they fit the topic, but I guess the connection can be obscure sometimes.