It’s that time of year when people vow to get fit, lose their bad habits and slough off all the holiday indulgence. And I’ve finally found the kind of personal trainer I’m looking for.
How about a personal reading trainer? This is a fantastic initiative in the Finnish library system. Someone to help you choose what to read next, to broaden your tastes and boost your enthusiasm. My local library doesn’t offer it yet, but their “What should I read?” section on their website turned up a source of contemporary Finnish poetry, translated into English and a few other languages: Electric Verses.
The poems are good – and so are the translators. Here is just one new thought for each day of the New Year so far. Each link is to both the original poem, information about the poet and collection, and the translations.
To start with, Tua Forsström’s and Agneta Enkell’s pauses on the journey are translated by David McDuff.
- The adventure will wait (and it happens, by Agneta Enkell)
and it happens with the inevitability of a fairytale, mother confirms and she
paints her nails red and the child looks on, curious, uneasy but mother
says that the adventure will wait, that there is no hurry, that’s what mother says. how
mother’s nails gleam! like wet stones
- You arrive from somewhere (The snow whirls over Tenala churchyard, by Tua Forsström)
The snow whirls over
We light candles so that
the dead will be less
lonely, we believe they are
subject to the same laws
as ourselves. The lights twinkle restlessly:
perhaps the dead are longing for
company, we know nothing of
their doings, the snow whirls
The dead are silent as cotton.
A flock of thin children who
inaudibly take one step nearer
They look at us closely for a
moment: is it because they’ve
forgotten, or remember? The snow
whirls over Tenala churchyard
As when you fly in
over a city at night at
low altitude: the lights become
motorways, the headlamps of
the traffic, you arrive
Soon you are driving along a
road, one of the twinkling
lights in the whirling snow
To follow, two elemental translations by the poet Anselm Hollo:
- Never turn your back to the water (Perspective, by Riina Katajavuori)
Across the water
not into the forest, stop
Across the water
never turn your back to the water
look the forest in the eye
across the water slides the gaze
turn your back to the water
- How the flames warm you (You put out my heart, like a cigarette, in the trash, by Merja Virolainen)
You put out my heart, like a cigarette,
in the trash. It smoldered:
hum of the air in the metro escalator,
a smoke cobra uncoils from its nest
and Kali wakes up, dances in the temple
in a circle of flames.
The pilgrims by Sörnäinen station
glide down the street in their punts,
crowd the steps by the shore,
in the flickering trash fire.
How happily the garbage burns,
how the flames warm you
when the ashes float up, disperse.
How you light up, festively,
a working day’s grey dawn.
And finally, poet Herbert Lomas, who did so much to bring Finnish authors into English, presents Mirkka Rekola’s new perspective on an old story.
- What the priest had said wasn’t true (A long time ago I came out of church, by Mirkka Rekola)
A long time ago I came out of church.
The priest had said in his sermon:
‘There were a thousand people there
not counting the women and children.’
I wheeled my bike to the gate.
Someone was watering flowers on a grave,
a quiet rain.
The name Ottilia was inscribed on the stone.
Someone was watering the flowers,
I told her
that what the priest had said
wasn’t true. He didn’t sacrifice
His son alone. His daughter too.
So completely that no one
even knew of her existence.