Translated by Sarka Hantula
Leevi Lehto (b. 1951) published his first collection of poetry, Muuttunut tuuli (Changed Wind), in 1967. After his second collection, Rakkauden puheesta (Of Speech of Love, 1969), his poetic voice went silent for more than 20 years. Lehto’s third collection, Ihan toinen iankaikkisuus (Quite Another Eternity), came out in 1992, Kielletyt leikit (For
bidden Games) in 1994 and Ääninen (Ääninen) in 1997. In addition to poetry books, Lehto has published a novel, Janajevin unet (Yanayev’s Dreams, 1992). He has also proven a versatile translator. One of his translations is John Ashbery’s Flow Chart (Finnish title Vuokaavio, 1994).
The style in Quite Another Eternity is refined and lyrical. The tempo is slow, the poems demand silence and listening. The poet Risto Ahti says of this collection: “Key issues are said very quietly, almost silently.” Besides delicacy another characteristic of the collection is the way many poems are built around a person addressed as “you”. Lehto pays a lot of attention to the rhythm that he varies with different typographical solutions.
Lehto’s following collection, Forbidden Games, exhibits new stylistic facets and more experimentation. The book retains the same lyrical tone, but the poems display new, surreal traits. The form varies from long prose poems to verse poems, from speech-like flow to fragmental phrases. One of the most interesting forms can be found in the last poem, “Lumisade” (Snowing), which consists of 102 fragments. The poet reaches over several octaves, the unifying element being the skillful variation of rhythm and musicality.
With Ääninen, a collection of sonnets, Lehto plunges into experimentation entirely. The words may come and go as they like, play as they like. In Ääninen, it is the language, not the meaning, which carries the poems forward. Verbal merrymaking plays the main role. Or what do you think about the titles of the following sonnets: “Bulls We Get Frequently!”, “Volter Kilpi Blues” or “He Abandoned the Porridge, Let It Burn!”? The sonnets are followed by an appendix where Lehto shortly introduces the methods he had used when writing the collection. Lehto had created poems out of randomly selected material with the help of different recipes. In addition to the printed version, Ääninen can be read, listened to and recomposed on Lehto’s homepages, where the reader can create new sonnets out of the title poem “Ääninen”.
During the 1990s, Lehto increasingly engaged in experimenting on the boundaries of poems and playing with language. The search for new modes of expression shows also in Lehto’s interest in the Internet and its possibilities. On his homepages, Lehto has published poems that are not included in his collections, palindromes, and a funny poem constructed of random headings published on the Art and Culture Section of the Helsingin Sanomat. The visitor can change the form of the poem with the help of the mouse. It seems that Matti Visuri’s prediction, which was published in Kaltio in 1970, has come true: “It seems to me that Lehto will be in his fifties, living his second youth, before he really gets going.”