Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Maaria - 6

from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)

Maaria handed me a letter she had found, it bore a date in January 1998. Raija wrote that she had prepared five large bundles of firewood and carried them indoors to dry; now she felt safe for the winter. The novel she was writing was still unfinished, it did not interest her at all. Instead she was thinking of starting a career as an inventor and making her fortune from it, that would be more fun, and easier. She wondered why the iron had no switch; another typical male invention, a strange oversight. In the last paragraph she outlined plans for another journey, to Spain by car, Marbella and the mountains, Portugal and finally Africa, would Maaria come with her? For a week, at least?

It was late afternoon and I put the letter on the table. Maaria said she felt a little guilty, that she ought to be able to remember more. Now she realized there were many things they had never talked about, and that saddened her. I got to my feet and asked if she would call me later if she remembered anything. Maaria nodded and wrote her husband’s name on a piece of paper. Perhaps he may know something, Maaria said, folding the slip of paper into my hand, pressing it into my fist.

Outside it was dark and I walked down the hill, across the bridge to the other side. Later I stopped in front of the church, saw the brilliant lighthouse beacon shining up in the tower. It was cold and I walked briskly to the shore, but had to wait for a ferry. As I shivered under the shelter the dark water gleamed in front of me, and further away was the ferry, its lights swaying on the waves in their gradual approach.

I thought about Ingeborg Bachmann, and the book that had rested on Raija’s table. She read a sentence now and then, wrote another few words, watched through the window an icicle beginning to slide along the telephone wire. What was that doom which had swept over everything? I felt the same sorrow in myself, was that why I was here? I saw Yves Navarre sinking slowly into sleep, heard the rattling in the stair passage as Raija tried to open the door. The lock was stuck, until suddenly it gave way and opened. October 17, 1973, and later: February 7, 2004. Between the two fires lay thirty-one years. I was certain that Paul Roux had come back to try to find the woman he once met. I was certain that he was still there, behind the slowly undulating water, behind the lights.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Maaria - 1
Maaria - 2
Maaria - 3
Maaria - 4
Maaria - 5

Monday, 28 June 2010

Maaria - 5

from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)


When Maaria returned to the room and asked what I had found, I was startled and felt that I had been caught doing something I was not supposed to. I apologized for trespassing on her books, but my eye had been struck by the name of Ingeborg Bachmann. I explained that Raija had written that name on the sheet of paper I had found in the Finnish Literature Society's archives.

Maaria smiled and said that Ingeborg Bachmann had been important to Raija, and especially this particular book, Word for Word. When Raija was writing she did not usually read books by other people, Maaria explained, but Bachmann was an exception. Ingeborg Bachmann’s work stirred her to action. Raija had even called her cat “Max” after Max Frisch, Bachmann’s husband. That had always made Maaria laugh.

But it certainly was strange, Maaria said, that Raija had died in a fire like Ingeborg. In fact, she remembered that Raija had always kept her stove lit, even in summer. Maaria told me that Raija also smoked in bed, even though she was afraid of fire. In one of her books Raija had written about bush fires that raged for days and weeks, driven by the wind; she wrote about a woman who stared at the television pictures of the sea of flames, then went back into her house, where something had happened from which she could not get away. The woman soaked a cloth in linseed oil, put it on the window ledge in the sun, waited, and when eventually the fire broke out she opened a bottle of wine, her best, sat by the window and watched the flames slowly begin to rise.

Yes, I said, it was a strange coincidence, but what was Maaria’s opinion of the fire? Had there been something deliberate about it, did she know what had happened? Maaria shook her head and said she had never thought the fire was deliberate, it had been a pure accident. Though it was true that Raija was in a bad state that autumn, thin, not eating anything. And perhaps it was true what Raija had once said, that a person’s attitude to food summed up their relation to life.

Maaria told me, still with a slightly absent air, about Raija’s last years and about the island, which Raija no longer visited. She had also begun to get rid of her books, and that had seemed strange to Maaria; as though all Raija’s ties with the world were being broken, one after the other, and suddenly she was free of all the things she once had loved.

When I was sure that Maaria had no more to add to this, I asked if she had heard the name Paul Roux. Had Raija ever talked about him? And what about Mariankatu 24, did Raija have any connection with that address? Maaria thought for a moment and then said she had never heard that name, but knew Mariankatu well enough, Raija had lived there. After giving up the beloved Ahlqvist House, Raija had moved to an apartment block on Mariankatu, but was not very happy there, and before her death she had moved again, to the Custom House on Korkeavuorenkatu. Maaria remembered that to Raija this had seemed a kind of new beginning.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

(to be continued)

Maaria - 1
Maaria - 2
Maaria - 3
Maaria - 4

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Maaria - 4

from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)


I listened to Maaria and through the window saw a twinkling, slowly moving light. Perhaps it was a ship, further out at sea. That journey must have been a real escape for her, Maaria thought, pouring a drop of mate into the bottom of a glass. Because if she had understood correctly, Raija's second marriage was in trouble, and she had embarked on the journey to get away from it, she herself hardly knew for how long. Maaria remembered that Raija’s husband, Tarmo, had two sons by his previous marriage who were likely to come and stay with them for a while, and perhaps that had scared Raija, though she had not talked about it.

Maaria related that she had gone back to Helsinki, but Raija stayed on, and when she later returned to Finland, Tarmo was taken ill, and died soon after. It had all happened so quickly, Maaria said, within the space of a few months, and at around the same time Raija's father also died, and now she felt that the two consecutive losses must have been too much for Raija; as though some cold and foreign object had been inserted under her skin.

Yes, Raija travelled again even after that, Maaria said, and even though those journeys were often disappointing and she came back earlier than planned, for one reason or another. In recent years they had not been in contact very often because Raija drank and did not always answer the phone, and there were fewer and fewer letters from her, too.

Then Maaria was silent for a long time, and I did not say anything either, feeling that the words had suddenly exhausted her, and that there were many things she did not really want to remember, and soon she began to talk about something completely different: how an apple tree grew in the yard, in a place where it should not be possible, yet it kept on growing and every spring it bore new white blossoms.

Maaria got up and said that she might still be able to find some of Raija’s letters, though she had not the faintest idea where they might be, because she was not very tidy, even less so this late in life. One day she had even lost her spectacles, and searching for one’s glasses without glasses was rather hard.

Maaria flitted away into the other room and in her absence I studied the bookcase, trying to make out the titles of the books. At the end of one shelf I found a volume by Ingeborg Bachmann, a collection of short stories called Word for Word (Simultan). I took the book in my hands and read the note on the back cover: "Ingeborg Bachmann was born in Klagenfurt in 1926 and died in Rome on 17 October 1973, as a result of serious burns sustained in a fire. She studied the philosophy of Heidegger and Wittgenstein, and after receiving a doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1950 she worked in radio and also in a mental hospital, and lectured at the University of Frankfurt. From poetry which received wide recognition she soon moved to imaginative prose. Malina, Bachmann’s only surviving novel (1971) was translated into Finnish and received the Finnish State Prize in 1984.” The translation was published by Weilin + Göös in 1988, and the front cover showed a painting of a woman's face. One of the woman’s eyes was black; the other seemed to be empty, a gaping hole.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

(to be continued)

Maaria - 1
Maaria - 2
Maaria - 3

Monday, 21 June 2010

Maaria - 3

from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)


Maaria’s apartment was located in the second storey of a large stone house. She led me up a spiral staircase to a small two-roomed flat, where she asked me to take off my coat in the hallway. One of the windows looked out on the sea, but it was a grey afternoon and I couldn’t make out the landscape very well. Next to a bookcase was the guest bed with a colourful Turkish bedspread. Maaria asked me to sit down and asked if I would like something to drink, she had some yerba mate drink in the refrigerator. There had been a wonderful Chilean film last week on TV in which everyone drank mate from morning till night, and it had given her a truly obsessive craving to try it. Though the film had probably been financed by some mate-manufacturing multinational company, for that was the way of the world nowadays.

Maaria returned from the kitchen and said that after I called her she had considered matters and reached the conclusion that perhaps she had not known Raija as well as she had imagined. She had also tried to remember when she had first met Raija, but was not sure. It was probably back in the 1980s, although at that time they were not yet close friends, only later on. After that she had paid occasional visits to Kotka, where Raija lived in the beautiful hundred-year-old Ahlqvist House, opposite the cathedral. Maaria recalled that Raija had been involved in setting up a cooperative which had acquired that dilapidated house and gradually begun to renovate it. The house had been important, and Raija had often written about it, so it was particularly sad that later on money worries had forced her to abandon the house and move to another location.

Maaria said that although the house had been Raija’s base she had often wanted to go away, made long trips abroad. Maaria said she had accompanied Raija on one of those trips some time in the early 1990s, 1993 it would have been. Raija set off on the journey alone, but one day when she had been gone for several weeks, the phone rang and Raija asked Maaria to come to her immediately. Something was amiss, Raija was frantic, and because Maaria had nothing particularly important to do at the time and happened to have some money, she had flown to Nice and met her friend in Antibes.

It was autumn, and a couple of months earlier Raija had arrived in the nearby town of Grasse, where she rented a house. But this time everything seemed have to have gone wrong. The house was small and gloomy. It rained incessantly. Mildew and greenish flowers grew on the walls, the pots and pans were rusty, she had not really eaten anything. The shower did not work properly or did not work at all, each new day brought more small setbacks. When they met, Raija was lonely, almost in a state of panic, and had for a long time been suffering from writer’s block.

Maaria said that that not even then had Raija explained in much detail what the real trouble was, except of course for the wretched living conditions and the dispiriting rain. Instead, they had talked about everything else, and if it was not raining they had sat on the beach and drunk wine. One day they had taken the train across to the Italian side of the border, to Ventimiglia. They had bought shoes, Raija loved shoes, they put her in a good mood. And though Maaria herself was often timid on the journey, Raija coped with the practical things for her, too, whatever the situation; and that was really how she wanted to remember her friend: she had the sudden, surprising bravery that others lacked. As if Raija were sometimes a little above the world, as if the world’s rules did not apply to her in the same way.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

(to be continued)

Maaria - 1
Maaria - 2

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Maaria - 2

from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)


At around noon I went to see my colleague in the next room and said I would be out for the rest of the day. I had arranged the meeting for two o’clock on Suomenlinna Island, where the woman lived. Her name was Maaria, and when I called her to arrange the meeting, her silence was so prolonged that I thought she had put the phone down. At last I heard her voice, and she had said that mornings were no good, nor were evenings, because that was when she usually did her writing. But at two in the afternoon nothing much happened.

I did not know much about Maaria at all. She was in her sixties and had been acquainted with Raija  for about ten years. They had met for the first time in connection with some journey, and had then exchanged correspondence. Maaria wrote several novels, but I had not read a single one of them, though the titles of the books seemed vaguely familiar. I hoped that she would know something about Paul Roux; perhaps Raija had sometimes happened to mention the man’s name.

I walked to Kauppatori marketplace, which at that time of year was empty. By the seafront stood the ticket booth, and further away gleamed the red-roofed tower of Klippan Island. The sky was overcast and the wind blew off the sea. Perhaps the first falls of snow would be coming soon. The Suomenlinna ferry waited at its berth, rocking gently, and I entered the chilly cabin, choosing a seat near a window. There were only a few passengers, a solitary woman and a couple of parka-clad Asian tourists, heaven knew why they had strayed to Helsinki in October. Soon the sound of the engines grew louder and we moved away from the quay. I gazed out at the open sea beyond, which was like a large waiting room, a dim, undulating hall. I saw the quays gliding past, the other boats in the harbour, and I thought about the fear, the fear of all waiting rooms, the doctor’s office just before the results of the tests were announced; the paper tape that slowly ticked from the printer, the numbers on the screen which from now on would determine the direction of a life. I thought about what lay ahead and could not be imagined before it happened.

The trip took around fifteen minutes and Maaria was waiting for me on the quay, we had arranged it that way. Even from afar I knew it was her. The boat bumped softly against the quay and I walked to her side. We greeted each other and Maaria said it was unlikely I would have been able to find her apartment on my own, because most people who came got lost on the way and had to be searched for in the labyrinths of the walls or along the shores. We set off up the hill and past the church. I explained that, as I had mentioned on the phone, I was looking for information about Raija, I planned to write something about her, though it was all still very vague. I had heard that she, Maaria, had known Raija and might perhaps be able to throw light on certain points in her life.

We walked across a bridge to another island, past a dry dock and up a hill. Maaria said she had moved here at the turn of the millennium and now felt as though she had always lived here; at any rate she no longer wanted to leave. Many people had wondered how Maaria could live in such a windy place, but it did not bother her, quite the opposite, the windier it was the better. Except that her neighbours had nearly lost their roof last winter. She said she also liked the capricious nature of the wind here – quite different from the cold, harsh mistral of the Rhône, which was said to drive people mad. At least she had not heard of anyone being driven mad by this wind; by other causes, yes.

(to be continued)

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Maaria - 1

Friday, 18 June 2010

The house of forgetting - 4

from Kastelimme heitä runsaasti kahvilla (ntamo 2009)

By Timo Harju

You stumble you tumble, you don’t find your way home,
the vaults of your tongue collapse. The hut of speech falls from the tree,
the shed of words ignites and burns in spring’s forest fire,
the forge of sentences is cold and still, you crouch, don’t rise,
scratching your nose with your absent mind. A nose that’s quite some size.
Goodbye nose.

All round let's sing, make papillotes, we’ve
time for lots of bedtimes, many plates of stew,
much talking.
while, carefully you
bent double
for hours and hours,
pick the crumbs from your pants
goodbye your pants that hold you in
goodbye your veins that keep you full of blood
goodbye your insides wriggling in a sack of skin.

Now, heap of wrinkles and furrows, I want to say
goodbye by having an early night,
by making my hands go every which way.
I start to wave in the empty room, goodbye goodbye...
How to say it, tomorrow you may not be here.
Your toenails, your dry soles, the fallen arches of your feet,,
your swollen ankles will be gone, your listless painful calves, their skin,
your knees, your knee joints, resting place of hands on thigh,
the thinning hair, the yelping tremors of your legs,
your worn out willies, dented hips
and all the body’s other scrips and strips.

When I asked you to get your stick from your room
you came back leaning on a toilet brush.
Hallelujah you cried when you couldn’t remember hi-de-hi.
You don’t cry hallelujah any more. Apart from that I don’t know much.
I've seen a photo album, which is hidden well,
so you won’t shred more photos in your zeal
yes and I’ve seen the harmonica you could sometimes play,
I’m here in my overalls, and so are you.
Which is why I’m saying goodbye to you.
I’m trying not to sit on top of you.

Goodbye your memory which I don’t know.
Goodbye your memory which you don’t know.
Goodbye chairs, carpets, ceilings, cabinets,
goodbye path of rooms, shadows of objects
whose flowering the others didn’t see.
Why the hell have you gone and broken now?

The care home’s in a mess old women burst from heads,
the stuffing rolls down the corridors hairy and sprattling
shy and smarting and kicking and sparkling and
softly eyeglass-like screaming prattling
and why has the stuffing in your head run out?
Why hasn’t your life stopped, is some soul alive in you instead?
What is really going on here?
goodbye your stooped and crazy mornings
goodbye your squelching
goodbye your vulnerable tenacity
goodbye your name
goodbye your nameless you
a closet bright with clouds
you can flap your hands
Bye bye airy reeds, and sea and sky,
suspenders stuck in a wc. goodbye.

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

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Maaria - 1

from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)

During those days I felt as though I were preparing to commit a crime and therefore had to move with soundless steps, feel my way in the dark, beware of a switch, of a light that could scare it all away. I was entering a place that was no one else’s business, another person’s life, and the most frightening thing was the certainty: that no one could stop me, forbid me, not even she could say anything now. And while the mornings were windy, while the windows rattled and the roar of the city increased, overwhelming other sounds, I had to stop, listen, open the doors of rooms quietly; in case she was really standing there and seeing it all.

Perhaps I was also aware of the crime’s self-regarding aspect, the desire to take possession of something that belonged to another person, to make it a part of myself before anyone else could; like all the robbers of lives before me. Or perhaps calling it a crime was going a bit too far: I was really stealing a life that had already been lived, something that no longer existed.

After my visit to the archives of the Finnish Literature Society I made a few phone calls and found out a couple of names: people who had known Raija [Siekkinen]. And as I sat in my third storey consulting room on Albertinkatu that morning, I noticed that my thoughts kept wandering to the forthcoming meeting, returning to that moment, then straying again, and so everything I heard – and at the same time remembered – mingled in a strange texture; as though I were looking at the world through a kaleidoscope, through multiple mirrors; slipping backwards and forwards in time, yet still remaining in the same place.

The man who sat before me was middle-aged, about ten years older than me, he had come to my consulting room for the first time at the beginning of summer. But unlike my other patients, there seemed to be nothing at all particularly wrong with the man, and I wondered why he had come. His problems appeared to be very vague, until one day he said that yes, there was something that preyed on his mind; that was really why he was here. And then he began to talk about a memory that had come back to him, unexpectedly, in early spring, when the first warmer days had arrived.

The memory was connected with his mother, and with water, and week by week he appeared to remember more and more, though each time he also seemed to doubt his memory, seeking confirmation from me, calling me as a witness. By September the memory was out in the open, and only a small part of it remained obscure. Now he remembered the sun-splashed water, the beach, his mother's eyes, their colour, bright blue, the pattern of her skirt, orange and green, the water coming up to her waist, the cloth slowly getting wet, its heaviness. The man remembered how he had pressed his mother's neck, fastening his hands tighter and tighter, and how the two of them had suddenly stood still in the water for a long time, and the cool water had splashed her ankles, and how they had then returned to the sandy beach as after a very long journey.
Now the man was considering all the decisions of his life in that light; as if every action had had ever taken in his life were somehow linked to that moment on the beach; as if at every moment, from then on, he had had to try to persuade his mother to turn back, not to go on moving deeper into the water, not to take her son with her. And now, in this room, the man still felt he was there, as if to this day a part of him had remained in the water and he had to go back to look for it over and over again.

As I listened to the man I forgot about everything else. The things he had confided to me shocked and moved me. We continued to talk for a while and then the man fell silent, rose and took his coat. At the door he paused in front of the Vermeer reproduction and stared at it for a long time. This is new, he said, touching its surface with his finger; in case the woman in the picture was actually alive. I said that the picture had been there for a week, and that many others had also wanted to touch it. The man laughed and closed the door behind him. I thought of the chain that the second-hand bookseller had reeled off; how the original painting had moved from one owner to another, changed continents, and perhaps that unbroken chain had fascinated me more than the painting itself; the mere thought of how it was all in motion, continuing, secretly becoming part of another person’s life.

(to be continued)
translated from Finnish by David McDuff

See also in this blog: Vanishing Point

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Words in Nature

I've put an electronic version of my early poetry collection Words in Nature (1971) for sale in Amazon's Kindle e-bookstore. For a change, these are nearly all original poems, not translations. The Kindle Store looks as though it may be a useful way to bring back titles that once sold reasonably well but are now out of print, and I may eventually broaden the experiment to include some Nordic titles for which I have the publishing rights.

Incidentally, you don't need to own a Kindle e-reader in order to read Kindle e-books - the free-of-charge Kindle for PC, Kindle for Mac, Kindle for iPhone/iPod touch and Kindle for iPad all make it possible on the respective devices.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Kindle 2.5

I'm pleased with the Kindle 2.5 upgrade, which finally arrived on my DX Global this morning via Whispernet. Not only are "collections" (folders) now available, but the web browser also works for all sites, not just Amazon and Wikipedia. So although the browser is still quite slow it can be used for things like checking mail and news, anywhere that there's a 3G connection. The E-ink typeface is also clearer and sharper than before,in all the font sizes. All of this is a major improvement.

Mirjam Tuominen - 10

by Tuva Korsström


A biography of love

Mirjam Tuominen's last secular 'signposts' were Rilke and Hölderlin. She published a large volume of her translations of Rilke's letters in 1957 and in the same year the first complete Swedish translation of Die Sonette an Orpheus.

'Whoever has begun to read Hölderlin will return to him and will gradually become a willing captive of his poetry,' she writes in her introduction to Hölderlin. En inre biografi (Hölderlin. An Inner Biography, 1960).

She had herself been for many years been a willing captive both of Hölderlin's poetry and of his life, which bore many resemblances to her own. Hölderlin's loss of his father, his hesitation between his need for contact and his unwillingness to lead a social life, his brilliant career as a poet, his illness and labelling as an unfortunate and madman - all these drew Mirjam Tuominen to an identification and idealising admiration.

As a biographer of Hölderlin, Mirjam Tuominen reveals equal amounts of understanding and intellectual blindness. There is none of the slightly ironical distance from which she considered Kafka and Proust. Her study of Hölderlin has the intensity and the subjectivity with which one looks at one's child or beloved. The biography is in fact just as much about herself as it is about Hölderlin. She defends all the phases in Hölderlin's life, and the same time in her own. She even exalts the long, silent period in the poet's life into something inevitable and sacred.
Hölderlin, with his incommunicable but resigned duty to live for a long time, silent and silenced, without illusions, alone with the wandering clouds, the birds flying outside his window and the minute insights of quietism in his inner being is an inviolable phenomenon. The silence that emanates from the latter half of his life has self-mastery and piety.

God is present

In Under jorden sjönk Tuominen makes Spinoza deduce God's existence:


Out of the simple
into the manifold
composed of the simple
through the simple
deduced from the simple
leading to the manifold
again leading onward
to new manifoldness
simple deductions
all the way to the most
simple of all
the simplest simple
the whole.

When in the mid-1950s Tuominen began to take an interest in the Roman Catholic church, she entered a more varied spiritual context than the Lutheran church had been able to offer her. The Virgin Mary added motherliness and femininity to the image of the divine. There was ample choice of spiritual company to be found among the saints. Mirjam Tuominen chose Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross and St Thérèse of Lisieux.

She converted to Roman Catholicism in 1963 and religion entirely dominated the rest of her life. Her poetry took the form of prophecies and rrevelations, while her prose became a dynamic, often questioning dialogue with the Bible and the writings of the saints.

The meditation Gud är närvarande (God Is Present, 1961) is the last book she published. Her publisher rejected two subsequent and very large manuscripts of religious poetry: Jesu Kristi lyra (The Lyre of Jesus Christ) and Ave Maria. Her own sketches for covers for her last published books were also rejected. Her crayon drawings, including the covers, have been recognized as outstanding and exceptional works of art more than twenty years after her death.

Mirjam Tuominen interpreted these rejections as a last unforgivable insult from the outside world. She considered herself condemned to a silence which she had not chosen herself and which was not, like that of Hölderlin, dictated by God.

Her last, silent years, until she died, from a cerebral haemorrhage, in the summer of 1967, were possibly the most unhappy period of her life. Writing had been her life, the life she had chosen. Writing had given her human dignity and the strength to 'look ahead, always ahead', like Irina in her very first short story:
I lived my life observing. What I met with, I observed. I was a zero and pure observation.

In the days after I died, however, I became very articulate. People wondered why. With good reason. For it was not I, but my observations, that became articulate in a strangely profound, though swiftly transient manner. They flew away and came back again. They fly away and come back again. They named them with my name, honoured them unpretentiously, and it was the unknown in themselves that they so honoured.
(Epitaph for a zero. Gud är närvarande ).


Friday, 11 June 2010

Pro-Israel rally in Helsinki

Via Ynet:
The Finnish capital's streets were filled with Israeli and Finnish flags as participants marched towards the port while chanting slogans in support of the Israel Defense Forces and waving banners protesting what they claimed was the biased media coverage of the flotilla raid.

The protestors also sang “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem (We Brought Peace Upon You)".
Helsingin Sanomet's coverage of the rally is here.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Mirjam Tuominen - 9

By Tuva Korsström

The collection Monokord (Monochord) appeared in the same year as Under jorden sjönk. It was followed by Dikter III (Poems III, 1956), Vid gaitans (By the Gaeta, 1957), and I tunga hängen mognar bären (The berries ripen in heavy clusters, 1959. For a short period in the mid-fifties Mirjam Tuominen was unable to write and started to draw instead. Some of her pencil drawings were published in Dikter III.

The period without words was provoked by two short spells of internment in a mental hospital. This happened against Mirjam Tuominen's will and she interpreted it as an act of deceit on the part of her relatives. She forbade her mother, sister, ex-husband and most of her friends to have any contact at all with her or her daughters.

Tuominen's attitude to society during the later period of her life could be described with the words she herself used about Strindberg's paranoia: it implied a division into two halves, one consisting of enemies and the other of future enemies. She gradually isolated herself from the rest of the world. Her life became the 'work illness poverty' she had anticipated in Under jorden sjönk.

She allowed herself only the company of those spiritual companions she loved and trusted: angels, saints, her dead father and a varying number of dead writers, artists and philosophers:


You who do not want to believe
you have never looked into your brains
I have looked into my brain
I have looked into a shaft
I have burrowed in a mine.
Forty years I burrowed
Moses in the desert in a mine
half a human lifetime
until I got there
A trauma lifted
a pressure vanished
I was inside the vein
brilliant gold flowed out.
Half a human lifetime
in order to get there.
I am in the subconscious.
Another half
in order to will the pure.
My patience is long
as the prophet's in the desert.
A cry comes from mountain peaks:
'I am a stranger
in a land that is not mine.'
I am making it mine.
I will only be content
with the best
the best in man.
Sediment is not water.
I will only be content with water
clear fresh from the primordial source.

But she could not ban the demons, the devils and the tormentors from her inner world. She chose solitude, silence and light, but she also received a chorus of evil voices from Hell. She was never able to free herself from her inner visions of the war and the concentration camps. It was precisely those visions that may have caused her illness. She developed a frightening and self-destructive ability to react directly and actively to political news from outside. The atomic bomb, the Korean war, the execution of the Rosenbergs disturbed her particularly. But even those visions of horror were turned into poetry:

but the child followed the ball's fate
was carried on women's backs in gypsy bundles mass migrations
was gassed beaten to death kicked
hurled into sewers
thrown from burning houses
by desperate homeless mothers
German Polish Jewish Russian
now without distinction
doomed for racial impurity
never found any refuge
other than the nether world of cloaca
where mothers were glad
if sometimes a washroom was opened for them
dirty as in the bistros of southern seaports
with a toilet hole in the floor
and a device with a grating
for the washing of the inner sexual parts
here they could relieve their bowels or bear the child
which an unknown father of unknown nationality had given them
while they slept unconscious of anything
but dreams of home and gentle stars
and tranquillity's narrow sickle-moon on deep blue late autumn nights...

(to be continued)

Monday, 7 June 2010

Mirjam Tuominen - 8

By Tuva Korsström


The poems


Down in straight lines the birds
silent O silent
down down
into an earth that opens like a sea
into a sea you plunge.
Up up.

It closes.

In her first collection of poems Under jorden sjönk (Under the Earth Sank, 1954) Mirjam Tuominen abandons the attempt to surround her investigation of the inner world with fictive descriptions of the outer. The characters and milieus of her short stories give way to expressions of the pure self, the idea, silence and a now clearly-enunciated awareness of God:


Make me pure
teach me silence
make me whole
teach me new words
words that are not words
words that are as silence
whole pure
not self-abandonment
not accusation
not defence
not thesis
not antithesis
but synthesis.
May life and death
hold each other in balance.

At the same time she crosses the border between illness and health, abnormality and normality which she has described many times in her books. She is no longer a sensitive but objective witness who can give reports from both sides. She gradually retreats into a clear-sighted privacy of her own, an isolation that is sometimes very frightening:


There is a cry in the forest:
I want to go home
the keys have fallen
the paths have disappeared
I cannot get there
I am badly frightened
I have frightened myself very very badly
they have frightened
I have frightened
I want to go home to the dolls there at home
home to the stove the fire the hearth.

(to be continued)

Friday, 4 June 2010

Mankell may bar Hebrew translations of his books

Via Ynetnews:
Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell may prohibit the translation of his popular books into Hebrew after the Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, he said in an interview published on Thursday.
"I am a best-selling author in Israel and I must consider seriously whether I should block my books from being translated to Hebrew," the author of the popular Wallander series of detective novels told daily Dagens Nyheter
To me there's something wrong about this,but I can't put my finger to it...

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Mirjam Tuominen - 7

By Tuva Korsström (continued)

Mirjam Tuominen left Nykarleby, at first for short spells of time, and then finally for good.

'The decisive thing had now happened,' she writes in a short prose piece called Skilsmässa (Divorce) in the book Tema med variationer (Theme with Variations, 1952). 'They were separated, spiritually and physically irreconcilable – and what divided them was stronger than reason and will, stronger than instincts and desires.'

What caused the divorce was not only male jealousy at the woman's 'fornication with spirits, demons and non-personified men' which Tuominen describes in Skilsmässa. It was perhaps above all the jealous, all-consuming attention she herself paid to her own spirits and demons. She demanded solitude and wholeness. At the same time she was torn apart by her own demons.

For a while she lived with her mother and sisters in her former home in Helsingfors – an old, dark apartment, similar to the one in which her little heroine Irina has nightmares. A few years later, as a single mother, she was allocated municipal apartment in Kottby (Käpylä), a suburb of Helsingfors. She moved there with her two daughters and lived there until she died.

The book of prose sketches Tema med variationer reflects this new phase in Tuominen's life. Stories like 'The New Houses' or 'Ahti laughs' derive their origin from the new environment: a row of recently and poorly constructed tenement houses, filled with large working-class families, gypsies, alcoholics, social casualties and rootless people from all over post-war Finland.

This apartment was the first that Tuominen felt to be entirely her own. It was with a sense of triumph that she sat down at her typewriter in the early morning hours. Outside her window construction workers climbed on scaffolds. All around new houses were going up. There was a kind of pioneering spirit in the air.

Kaveri - kamrat - toveri:‘ (comrade) they shouted in the pouring autumn rain, in thirty degrees of frost, Then one had a sense that it was not they, these fellows well wrapped up and yet lightly clad: young and old - who were carrying out the work, But angels, While the men - old and young - stayed at home in order to drink hot milk - Kaveri - kamrat - toveri: in a long line at 7 in the morning they came. They laughed. They whistled. And did the work: Together. In broken Swedish, in broken Finnish, natural Finnish, natural Swedish, natural Yiddish - homeless people from Karelia, homeless people from Hangö, homeless people from some concentration camp in Central Europe...

With Tema med variationer Mirjam Tuominen embarked on a stylistic experiment on the borders between prose and prose poetry. While hitherto she had employed a timeless and classical literary language, now she strove for the inner leaps of the stream of consciousness.

She was moving from prose to poetry.

<(to be continued)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Mankell missing

The present status and whereabouts of Henning Mankell, the 62-year-old Swedish author of detective thrillers, are "unknown", according to The Local. Mankell earlier set off from Cyprus with the Gaza "peace flotilla": 
"I think that when one talks about solidarity, one must always know that actions are what proves destiny," he told Sveriges Radio last Thursday.