On Sept. 15, 2008, Finnish Radio 1 (the Ääniversumi project) aired 44 minutes of my sound poetry in a feature titled “Akustista ja vuosisadan vaihteen musiikkia” (Acoustic, and turn-of-the-century, music). It was recorded at the Finnish Radio studios, Länsi-Pasila, Helsinki, in May 2008; thanks for Mikko Alanen, the producer, and for Ari Mursula for skillful sound-engineering.
Akustista ja vuosisadan vaihteen musiikkia (mp3, 44 minutes, 40,30 MB)
Tracks (with textual notes)
Eino Leino: Tuulikannel (mp3, 2:01, 1,86 MB)
[The Aeolian Harp, 1905] Eino Leino (1878–1926) was perhaps the most noted poet of the Finnish National-Romantic period, and translator of La Divina commedia by Dante. ”Tuulikannel” was first published in his collection Talviyö (A Winter’s Night). My reading of this, and the next poem by Otto Manninen, is informed by my understanding of some of the best poetry of that period having been a – beneficial – result of a clash between imported, ”foreign” metrical patterns and ”indigenous” Finnish sounds. Thus, I go against the established tradition of doing one’s best to ”hide” the metrics and to foreground the ”natural” flow of language.
Otto Manninen: Vesuvius (mp3, 3:09, 2,9 MB)
[Vesuvius, 1905] Otto Manninen (1872–1950), another master of the Finnish National-Romantic period, translator of, among others, Iliad and Odyssey by Homer. ”Vesuvius” was first published in his collection Runoja (Poems).
Leevi Lehto: Elegia (mp3, 3:19, 3,04 MB)
[Elegy] First published in Ampauksia ympäripyörivästä raketista (Shootings from a Round-Going Rocket, Savukeidas 2004). Author’s Note: ”[This poem incorporates] practically all fragments in a gossip column in Eeva [a popular Finnish women’s magazine] 7/2003 that fit in the five foot measure used by Eino Leino in his ‘Elegia’ (Elegy, 1908) – the latter not quite in the Latin Disticon measure (often associated with ground-swell ‘rolling in and breaking apart against the shore, then withdrawing’), yet one that ‘in its rhythmics, follows the wave pattern of the Disticon’ (quotes from Pekka Mattila: Lyriikan avainsanoja, Kirjayhtymä 1963).”
Charles Bernstein: Herpaantumatonta hilseilyä (mp3, 5:13,4,79 MB)
[Besotted Desquamation, in With Strings, 2001, translated into Finnish by Leevi Lehto] The translation was first published in Charles Bernstein: Runouden puolustus. Runoja ja esseitä kahdelta vuosituhannelta (A Defense of Poetry, Poems and Essays from two Millenia), ed. by Leevi Lehto, poEsia 2006 – cf. my ”Official Statement” there: ”’Besotted Desquamation’ (…) can be seen as consisting of 27 sections, with all the words in each individual section sharing the same initial letter. When I sat down to translate the poem into Finnish, I was disappointed, confused even, to find that the words my dictionary suggested for replacement seemed to begin with just about any letter. Nothing of the harmony and order of the Bernstein original to be found there! I begun to feel desperate, and to have doubts as to the very fundaments of the profession of translation. I mean, how can we imagine to translate anything, when we cannot even get the first letters right? Eventually, I think I did find a problem to the solution. What I did was to put the original away – for good, I never looked at it again. And why should I have?After all, as with all poems (and as we all only too well know), it was only a pale shadow of the original intentions of the poet, whatever these may have been. (…) I then proceeded, not to translate, not even to rewrite, but to write the poem, exactly the way Charles had done before me (…)”
Lars Mikael Raattamaa: Byos (mp3, 3:39, 3,35 MB)
[Pajkerno, in Svensk dikt, Modernista 2006, translated into English by Leevi Lehto] Svensk dikt is a beautiful reworking of a small 60’s popular anthology of canonical Swedish poetry – ”Pajkerno” in its original is based on a poem, ”Pojkarna” (Boys), from 1797, by Anna Maria Lenngren (1754–1817). My version was done by first producing a conventional English translation of the Lenngren poem, then submitting the vowels in that (quite mechanically, and the silent ones – which the Swedish does not have – included) to the same replacements with the Raattamaa version. Both Raattamaa’s original Swedish and the English translation are available online at the Nordic Poetry Center.
Three Sonnets (mp3, 1:02, 0,97 MB)
A compilation of readings of ”Bright Star” (John Keats 1819), ”Negatiivinen kyky” by Leevi Lehto (from Ääninen, Like 1997 – half-homophonical on the Keats sonnet), and ”Negative Capability” by Leevi Lehto (from Lake Onega and Other Poems, Salt Publishing 2006, again half-homophonical on ”Negatiivinen kyky”).
Leevi Lehto: Handy McCoystysen rakkauslaulu (mp3, 10:04, 9,23 MB)
[The Love Song of Handy McCoystynen] First published in Tuli&Savu 3/2007. Author’s Note: ”This poem bears an (almost) line to line relation to ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T. S. Eliot – echoing that of Prufrock with his mermaids, and the distance varying as we go along. Specifically, I don’t believe that ‘Prufrock’ ‘will ever sing’, expressly, ‘to me’.” –Text of the five line motto extracted from an interview given by the Finnish rock star, Andy McCoy, of the Hanoi Rocks fame.
Leevi Lehto: Ananke: pantun (mp3, 4:31, 4,14 MB)
First published in Ampauksia ympäripyörivästä raketista (2004). Published in English as ”Ananke: A Pantoum” in my Lake Onega and Other Poems (2006). From the Author’s Note: ”The bulk of the poem is based on direct quotations from online and newspaper dating services. Additional sources include submissions for productions to be staged during the ‘Turku Poetry Week’ in November 2003, Voltaire’s mini-novel, Candide, and poet Olli Sinivaara’s essay ‘Mitä arvostelemme kun arvostelemme runokokoelmia?’ (What do we review when reviewing poetry collections), Tuli&Savu 4/2002–1/2003. ”
Leevi Lehto: Sanasade (mp3, 7:20, 6,72 MB)
[Word Rain] First published in Ampauksia ympäripyörivästä raketista (2004). The first version of this poem was produced for the panel, ‘Amplexus Poetics: Language, Art, and New Software Forms”, in ISEA 2004, Helsinki, August 2004. In the announcement for the panel, my name was, erroneously, associated with the digital work by Camille Utterbach and Romy Achituv, “Text Rain” – I wanted to retrospectively correct that mistake. For the final version, words of another poem by me, in prose format, were submitted to what I call Alphabetic Reduction: after sorting them alphabetically, I delete in every single word everything that precedes the character determining its placing after the preceding one, for example: abacus > cus, abaft > ft , abalone > lone , abandon > ndon. After that, the new list of word-fragments is again sorted alphabetically, now based on the last, not first, characters. For the reader / listener with knowledge of Finnish, the result retains residue(s) of meaning – yet having performed the poem on three continent now, my sense is the further I go from Finland, the better its narrative structure gets understood. I was especially moved when in Prague, in April 2007, a young woman came to me, telling, ”I think I understood what it is all about. First I thought it was about sex, but then, no, it’s about aging, getting old.” As translator of John Ashbery, I was reminded of his well-known statement about ”the subject matter” of his poetry ”having always been” just that, aging. – Not that getting older, in my experience, would in any way be oppositional to sex – something which make me want to dedicate this reading for my beautiful wife, Kirsi.