Saturday, 31 July 2010


“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” The story reveals the meaning of what otherwise would remain an unbearable sequence of sheer happenings. “The silent, all-embracing genius of consent” that is also the genius of true faith — the Hebrew Kadish, the death prayer said said by the closest relative, says nothing but “Holy is His Name”— rises out of the story because in the repetition of imagination the happenings have become what [Dinesen] would call a “destiny”. All her stories are actually “Anecdotes of Destiny”, they tell again and again how at the end we shall be privileged to judge.
-Hannah Arendt, ”Isak Dinesen”, Men in Dark Times

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The house of forgetting - 7

from Kastelimme heitä runsaasti kahvilla (ntamo 2009)

by Timo Harju


Granny in a cardigan that's fading
slowly evanescing
hands before her on the table
lost in warm grey reflection,
rocking snowflakes in hair’s cradle
eye-sockets full of snow.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Two poems

by Laus Strandby Nielsen


Let it be now. Good old now. While the cat is asleep, and the mice are gnawing at the electric cables. Before the wide-awake deep water turns into a sleepless puddle. While the background still keeps in the background and there is peace and quiet in the freezer.


Just after dinner time the phone rings while I am cooking. It’s a faithless old friend who wants to sell me a garden sofa. I get rid of him by promising to call him back later. But when I actually do – having made certain that the garden is still there and still does not have time to talk to me – I get a consultant on the line:
- You only need one battery, so it should all work fine, and now allow me to let you in on a secret, young man: If you keep what you promise, you will have your hands full!
- Young man! I think, hang up and give my dinner to the house pet, my little bear, who eats it with relish. He is cute and strong, my bear, and he will never be quite tame.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

from: Hvis der ikke er sandstorme, så er der nok noget andet, Gyldendal, 2010

Friday, 23 July 2010


There's an interesting discussion on World Literature Forum of the strategies and tactics adopted by non-English-language publishers when endeavouring to enter the English-language publishing market. Stewart writes:
I found an article on Three Percent to be very interesting. It revolves around a Serbian publisher, Geopoetika, taking on the task of translating a number of Serbian novels into English and making them available to interested publishers. 
The discussion has some relevance to publishing export strategies in Finland, which is mentioned in the course of the debate.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


In the current issue of Poetry Review (Volume 100, No 2, Summer 2010), Aviva Dautch writes ('Existential Otherness and Constant Readjustment'):
In PR (100:1) Pia Tafdrup recounts a childhood memory. A bleeding knee impelled her to ask her father, "Why do we have to die?". Tarkovsky's Horses explores her father's illness and death. This is foreshadowed in The Whales in Paris (the Other Poems of the title, a very different collection full of existential questions. "What is death, when it doesn't come as punishment?" reverberates through a sequence of 'Three Replies to Derrida', but while Tafdrup's questions may be philosophical, her responses are aesthetic:

The thought, the dreamed, the not-yet-born,
the far, the near, the much-desired
                            − the whole of it
I let go of, 
allow the images to be what they are.
('Journey Without End')

This is an ars poetica she returns to again and again; it echoes her essay Walking Over Water (1991), in which she explored Tafdrup "the weight and force of images[...], the momentary clarity a poem can produce." Tafdrup frequently writes without formal stanza breaks, but with fractures: lines split or indented, cantilevered across the page. The poem is a kaleidoscope of fragments, question piled upon question, image upon image, until a scale of perspective emerges that is both resonant and hermetic:

You are beyond yourself,
while perhaps you recapitulate days and nights,
and in a gleam
gather them into a single figure,
                          one only graspable by you.
('Fossil Sleep')

Tarkovsky's Horses "recapitulates" the days and nights of her father's battle with dementia, when "calendar leaves / imperceptibly send out / shortcuts to the dark, / if they're not turned by the nurses" ('Of A Life's Dignity'). 'Mirroring' asks "Is time a star / ground to dust / or dust / gathered to a star?" but in the "mortal chasm" she explores in 'The Sky's Gravity', "I hold on to his hand, / time doesn't pass at all." It is here that the ontological meditations of Tafdrup's earlier poems are realised in tender description:

In no time my father's hair becomes
thin and white
         the month of May 
can be glimpsed through it,
the way the skin swiftly changes colour. 
('On the Opposite Coast')

Tafdrup's writing is at its strongest when her deconstruction of identity is located in in a precise image, but what I enjoyed most about her work was the clear sense of a thinking mind: a sensuous intelligence finding its lyricism in the creative tension between content and aesthetics.

It is to David McDuff's credit that Pia Tafdrup's poetry retains a gratifying multi-facetedness in English. Tadrup has spoken about the difficulty of reproducing a writer's "signature" in translation...

Friday, 16 July 2010

The house of forgetting - 6

from Kastelimme heitä runsaasti kahvilla (ntamo 2009)

by Timo Harju


From the sofa a voice was heard: "Suffer the old to come unto me, and forbid them not."
And on the second day: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as an old person shall in no wise enter therein. "
The old people’s home is the strange hand of God with which he strokes his thinning hair,
a sudden shower of cackling in the dry linen closet, a bit sad and lonely
God looks out, stirring his cup of tea as though it were on fire.
Had Jesus lived to grow old and gone into an old people’s home
He would have been like these.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

See also in this blog:

The house of forgetting
The house of forgetting - 2
The house of forgetting - 3
The house of forgetting - 4
The house of forgetting - 5

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Journeys - 2

By Mirjam Tuominen


Here again the people seemed neither happy nor cheerful - if one judged by their outer appearance. They looked dreadfully tormented, pale and sickly, and indeed the children - viewed with the inexperienced gaze of a stranger - were pure cripples. Instead, it could be said that here the cause was radiant, and there really was no reason to doubt people when they claimed to be happy in the service of the common cause.

Here prejudice was exalted into a religion. It had been said that the old religion had lost its grip on people's minds precisely because it was not prejudiced, but on the other hand it was clear that in the long run people could not live without belief; the belief that there must be something that was exalted above temporal existence was actually just as necessary to them as their daily bread; to proceed from any other hypothesis was to undervalue man - or to overvalue him, whichever way one wishes, but in any case absolutely wrong. Now it was desired to unite the social or the useful with the religious and it had been discovered that it was to society's detriment that man had been created so: with a left eye and a right eye, one hand that spread to the left and another that spread to the right. His inner being tried to conform to the physical, but could only do so in a dilatory, useless and therefore harmful way: what succeeded for the body, so that for example the two eyes saw a single image instead of two, was impossible for the soul and the consequence was dualism, disunion, splitting. Now what was desired here, in contrast to what had always been the case everywhere else, was to proceed not from the outer but from the inner. The physical must be adjusted, and as the basic tenet of the common religion a single saying from the annals of the old, inapplicable religion was borrowed: 'If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.' More dogma than that was not really needed, for this one tenet gave rise to a countless number of variants and above all it fostered unity in a way that had hitherto been unknown.

Like people who had acquired an absolute formula for mutual happiness, they gave themselves up to selfless labour for the education of the growing race. To this end they set to work in the way that adults in every country usually do when children and the disciplining of children are involved: the adults pretended to do what the children had to do in earnest.

I visited one of their schools and I shall never forget that visit, such a powerful impression did the whole experience make on me. The teacher was a young man, pale, earnest, with the same tormented expression that seemed to be a part of people's physiognomy here. He wore a thick white bandage round his head, his right hand was in a splint and was held still in a broad, black-gleaming silken sling. After him followed the his little disciples, similarly bound up, in exactly the same manner, the only difference being that their bandages concealed real wounds and bodily injuries. They had that same morning had their right arms broken and their right optic nerves sprayed with a poison that had made them blind forever in that eye. But none of them complained, none even moaned, they walked silently and earnestly all the way to their work, which consisted of carrying heavy loads of bricks, and on the left side of their backs one could see the hint of a hump-like protuberance which in time would inevitably grow much bigger.

The young teacher fixed his burning dark gaze on me. Quite certainly he saw through me, for agnostic and foreigner unfamiliar with their customs as I was, I could not help watching the small children with growing anxiety. - You see, said the teacher, how happy they are, no adult can serve more selflessly than a child and make sacrifice for the sake of a great goal. When this race has grown up it will be invincible.
Thus did the teacher speak, but as I looked into his eyes, which could in their fanatical misery be called beautiful, there came over me an oppression so immense that never since have I been able to breathe naturally as I could before. I saw that the teacher was right, that these children might perhaps just as well be called happy as unhappy, and I saw for the first time full confirmation of the fact that man is prepared to make any sacrifice at all, just as long as he is assured of the existence of a clearly-defined good and is trained in the years of his youth to serve that good.

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Anti-Semitism in Sweden

In an extensive article published in Haaretz, Donald Snyder of the Forward looks at how growing levels of anti-Semitism in Sweden are forcing Jews - who have long looked on the country as a haven of tolerance and decency - to leave.

The problem, Snyder says, is not confined to conflicts between Sweden's Muslim and Jewish communities:
“[There is] quite a high level of anti-Semitism that is hidden beneath critics of Israel’s policies,” said Beate Kupper, one of the study’s principal researchers, in a telephone interview with the Forward, citing this data and a tendency to “blame Jews in general for Israel’s policies.”

Kupper said that in places where there is a strong taboo against expressions of anti-Semitism, such as Germany, “Criticism of Israel is a great way to express your anti-Semitism in an indirect way.”


By Mirjam Tuominen


I came to a land where freedom had been realized or was at least believed to be very close to its full realization. For the people here the word freedom could consequently not be applicable to themselves but only to other peoples who had not yet discovered the happiness-making formula that means the realization of freedom. In this land, therefore, the people talked much and with a strong sympathy for all the people beyond the frontiers of their own land who were not free. It was said that one ought to exert oneself to the uttermost in order to liberate all the lands and peoples of the earth. On the other hand, it would hardly have been the right thing if it had occurred to some compatriot to longingly invoke, for example, the concept of freedom in an internal context, to himself or any of his fellow-countrymen. To be sure, it was not forbidden by law to use the word freedom in that last-mentioned way, but a universally sanctioned convention in reality liquidated the word freedom for any contexts other external ones.

Since everything in this land was so new, so thrillingly and inspiringly new, I became like a child, reborn, receptive and avid for knowledge, and also became involved in teaching in a school. By day and by hour I received proof which confirmed that freedom really was being realized in this land as in no other. On the way to work, in buses, trams and underground trains the workers sat studying books which promised them the chance of experiencing freedom completely realized even in their own lifetimes; a mother married to a simple sailor told me with eyes moist from emotion that there was every reason to expect that her son would attain the rank of admiral one day, and everywhere there was testimony to the fact that here women were acknowledged as beings equal to men with all their human rights acknowledged: among other things the fact that within the military profession they possessed the rank of captain, major and even colonel.

In the light of such experiences, the old world I had left behind receded ever further into my consciousness like some primeval night, half-real. Here I had been born anew, here everyone was happy - there was no talk of anything else - and everyone was firmly resolved to save the whole world, against the whole world's will, if necessary. Everyone lived for the mutual welfare of everyone else.

But of course, I could not forget the old world completely, and as is often the case when one tries to repress painful memories, the past returned in my dreams at night.

And I dreamed that I was trying to invoke the word freedom. That merely to suceed in uttering and adducing freedom on my own inner - melancholy, for example - personal behalf would offer me the most nameless solace and happiness. But I could not utter the word, so strong on the other hand, also in the dream, was my conventional awareness: countless inhibitions made the syllables stick in my throat, until, sobbing with anguish, I reached the point where the four letters: f, r, e, e -- crossed the threshold of my consciousness. I knew they were there, but I did not utter them, I did not even think them.

When I woke up I was soaked through as after the most terrible nightmare.

And I said to myself that this was not suffering but imagined or pretended suffering. But in this dark night my repressed primeval consciousness refuted this assertion and said that it is precisely when we tell ourselves that we are only pretending to suffer that we really do suffer, for why should we acknowledge a suffering about which we can do nothing? The soul is mortally sick - but the soul's suffering is always imagination.

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

Monday, 5 July 2010

The house of forgetting - 5

from Kastelimme heitä runsaasti kahvilla (ntamo 2009)

by Timo Harju


I want to write ofyouforyou, a portrait.
Can I write about you if I don’t dare read this to you?
I’ll try. Now it’s May 25, Ascension Day. I haven’t been
to the nursing home for six months. I don’t know if you're alive or if you’d remember me. I remember you mostly as a little stone: a warm skimming-stone in children’s hands,
the earthworms loosened your heart for good cheer,
but it doesn’t help, we don’t know why
you convulse around me absently, at one corner of your mouth there’s foam.
you dissolve in the blows of your stick, start to cry and howl blindly in all directions.
Wisdom is affection is gone, is a rocking chair
that flies, and you are no more.


shoes, bedspread, reading lamp, window, snake-plant, pile of house picture magazines. three postcards from grandchildren. canary islands, china, pargas. water jug. water mug. juice jug, juice mug. back braces. spectacles. smell. diarrhea. buttoned shirt. trousers. socks. come through. Thank you. empty ceiling. empty floor. plastic mat. sticky stain. next to table leg. battery clock. walls. entrance to WC. door. window. afternoon.


Your shoulders and back are stiff
a cry left alone, which cannot find a mouth.
Yes, you can walk when you’re taken for walks.
You can open your mouth when the porridge spoon is moved towards it.
You can lie in bed and cling to the sides of the bed.
You can sit in a chair for many hours
staring at the magazine in front of you
leaning slowly forward.
You just vaporize me absently into you with your eyes.
What’s it like in there, inside you?
Every day your husband comes to smooth your cheek.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

See also in this blog:

The house of forgetting
The house of forgetting - 2
The house of forgetting - 3
The house of forgetting - 4