Foreword to “En antologi av (mestadels) översättningar från (mestadels) finska till (mestadels) svenska”, in a special Finnish issue (suOmEI) of the Swedish poety magazine, OEI

Jag är född i ett nordligt land vars namn är Hysteria.
Men jag har ingenting mera kvar därifrån än något uttryck
när jag någon gång om natten stiger upp
och hukar framför elden.
– Paavo Haavikko: “Agamemnons grav”, translated by Bo Carpelan

“I’m fed up with all these localized anthologies….. of Irish, Japanese, Mexican, Iranian poetry… I wish someone for once would come up with An Anthology of Poetry“.

While the selection that follows will not fully live up to this wish, expressed by my friend the Brazilian poet Régis Bonvicino during a discussion in May 2006, in Sao Paulo, I hope it constitutes a step in that direction. I am presenting a selection, an anthology of new Finnish poetry, yet trying to do this in as unrepresentative a way as possible.

There are 17 poets, of which 14 are native Finnish speakers, represented mostly in translation (except for Marko Niemi and Jukka-Pekka Kervinen who produced their Swedish-like stuff by themselves). The translations are mostly into Swedish – generally without further localization, though you may find some texts closer to the Swedish of Sweden, others again to Finland-Swedish, not to forget tvångssvenskan – with occasional lapses into English and French (in translations, but also as examples of a growing tendency among young Finnish poets to write in other languages as well), and with one poem, by Henriikka Tavi on page xx, rendered in the original Finnish. In a few cases, I have opted for a bilingual presentation – mainly in order to account for emphasis on sound in the original. Among the non-Finnish-speakers, Ralf Andtbacka and Oscar Rossi write in Swedish, Cia Rinne in several languages simultaneously. Their work appears untranslated.

In selecting the fourteen Finnish speaking poets, I made use of two criteria: I wanted to include only poets who started their careers during the 2000’s, and in general only accept texts that in my view give an emphatically positive answer to the question as to whether “there really is something new in the new Finnish poetry”. Since I believe that anything really new will always first emerge in the marginal, what follows is evidently not a representative selection of new Finnish poetry – it perhaps not even a representative selection of the work of the included poets. And since I wish there were more genuinely new poetry in Finland, I would have been happy to make the selection even more unrepresentative than it turned out to be.

As to the quality of the “new”, my emphasis is on the linguistically experimental – in writing against normal and normalized speech, as well as against established poetic practices. Here, Eino Santanen’s somewhat grotesque “grannens grannes grannes grannes granne” (see the very first poem in the selection) and Olli Sinivaara’s monstrous syntax in the sample from his “Itu-udvidgat öga” sequence (the second section: I remember when, back in 2002, Olli offered these poems for Tuli&Savu to publish, and Miia Toivio, who was redaktionssekreterare at the time, told me: “These poems actually give me real headache”) will lend a voice, or a discord, which the reader then – the stuff being basically presented in chronological order of completion / publication – can imagine to echo, to bend, to counterpoint, in subsequent work: from Silja Järventausta’s and Tuomas Timonen’s twitched societal and domestic violence to Silja’s and Reetta Niemelä’s sweet-sour realism (sur-realism) to Aki Salmela’s gentle linguistic anarchy to Janne Nummela’s and Teemu Manninen’s Google-assisted work (and Teemu’s influences from North American Flarfists) to Ville-Juhani Sutinen’s unique way of missing the Train of All Romanticisms to Miia Toivio’s and Henriikka Tavi’s (as well as Cia Rinne’s) often sound-based conceptualism to Juhana Vähänen’s second-hand aphorisms, and, finally, to the machine(ized) languages of Marko Niemi and Jukka-Pekka Kervinen.

The context in which these poets – following, challenging, or forgetting all these kinds of simplifying labels – now write and publish, is characterized by an interesting institutional tension: while the so called traditional publishing houses (and the equally traditional diktsamling format) continue to overdetermine the careers of individual poets, perhaps even more so than in other Nordic countries, the process of actual screening and gleaning of emerging poets, as well as what used to be known as atelier criticism (i.e. the real “gate keeping” function) tends increasingly to take place on a lower level, that of Tuli&Savu and other small publications, and of the rapidly developing blog community. To further the “unrepresentativity” of my selections, I haven’t hesitated to tap into this preceding process: more than half of the texts date from the last six months or so, while almost half of the stuff is previously unpublished (in any language). At the same time, this can be conceived as a compromise with representativity – or mimesis – in that the reader can, if she or he wishes, try to trace repercussions from these structures and pressures – by making comparisons, say, between Silja Järvestausta’s two sections, the former from a magazine context, the latter from her first published collection of poems, or between Aki Salmela’s “established” work and that from his “underground” chapbook, Word in Progress, or, for that matter, by following Olli Sinivaara’s interesting development toward a, at least superficially, more traditional diction.

In translations of poetry, the idea, or ideal, of representativity is usually closely tied up with a presupposed strangeness of cultures or languages to each other. This is why poetry translation projects are apt to involve – at best, un-anticipated – effects and repercussions in the poetry of the target language in general; for the same reason, the poetry of the source language tends (even in the best of cases) to stay wrapped in the veil of a certain “exotism” that so horrified my friend Régis: unaffected: protected by its supposedly authentic, unreachable and untouchable, “way of making sense”. “Having emptied the resources of her own native language, this poet remains untranslatable in the last instance…”

I’m temped to believe in the ability of this selection – or its context – to question and shatter some of these deeply rooted convictions. Indeed, doesn’t “strangeness” here, almost necessarily, contain its own (rejected) familiarity: within the Swedish poetry culture, with its Finland-Swedish Other; within the Finnish one, with the status of the Swedish as (still) (everyone’s) first foreign tongue, and thus the paradigmatic determinant of the Finnish itself – taken that one believes, as I do, that “Finnish” and “Finnishness” cannot ultimately be interesting (or even there) an sich, apart from a relation to their very insularity. In fact, it is my growing conviction that, in speaking about Finnish poetry, that which “remains untranslated” more often than not (more often than we like to think) is not the “poetry” at all – but the unreflected “ideology of Finnishness” instead: this again being something that an interesting and relevant poetry cannot help but be opposed to (to cite one more reason for stressing the linguistically experimental here). Ultimately, the ideal of unrepresentability, as implemented here, will mean that we are (I am) not so interested in influencing contemporary Swedish poetry, but rather, more interested in exposing the participating Finns to an outside reception – as if that would be the norm, not an exception. I am fascinated to note the – at least abstract – possibility for some of the texts here to reach for the status of the original, compared to later “Finnish” “versions” that may will have to accommodate some elements of this Swedish context. In fact, it is my wish that the whole selection be read, first and foremost, as an original, to be complemented, clarified, and modified by the Finnish “translations”. Should something like this happen, the selection would have been instrumental in actualizing the ideal of a World Poetry that I have written about at greater length elsewhere. Maybe not “An Anthology of Poetry” in Régis’ meaning, yet, but still something that will help “en grannens grannes grannes grannes granne” – isn’t this what the Finns, among other things, are to the Swedes, among others? – “att nysta upp sig”.

I wish to thank Jonas (J) Magnusson and others at OEI for the initiative to this project, my colleagues in the Finnish planning group for the anthology and the SuOmEI issue, Marina Ciglar, Fredrik Hertzberg, and Miia Toivio, and all the fantastic, volunteer translators. While there were no general guidelines for the translations (on the contrary, the freedom to experiment with various strategies was stressed), I want to underline the fact that almost all translators are either native Finnish speakers or bilingual Finnish / Swedish speakers. There’s a general trend toward faithfulness to the letter and/or sound and/or or intention in the source texts – something which, to me, does not lessen but add to the proposed status of these texts as (new) originals. Fredrik Hertzberg did a wonderful job in surveying the stuff, and the poets were enthusiastic and cooperative.

Helsinki, August 15, 2006