Kolme/Tre: three poets from Finland— Ralf Andtbacka, Marko Hautala, Carita Nyström
Smith/Doorstop, 2018 £7.95
A question of place
If the title were simply ‘Three Poets’, would I know that what connected them was provenance — the fact of their coming from Finland? These poems are translated into English, although it’s not clear who made the translations, and while the pamphlet isn’t dual-text, there are two poems in Swedish (also an official language in Finland). ‘Kolme’, incidentally, is Finnish for three, and ‘Tre’ — well, that’s more guessable — is Swedish.
Each poet writes a half-page introduction: not biographical, more a reflection on how the poems came about. Each introduction is topped with a plan for a single-path stone-labyrinth (one of Nyström’s interests) — an appropriate image for the subject. Andtbacka writes that in his experience ‘Writing is mostly a record of failure … Language is unstable. It slips away, dissolves, transmutes. It always does something different than what was hoped for.’
I wonder how much of provenance I’ve lost by reading only in English. The Finnish language is notoriously difficult: it’s not Romance (with familiar roots) but Finno-Ugric. I’ve failed to grasp much of it, twice. So all I have to work on to connect these poets is doubly-unstable, how their translated language conveys something of their inner and outer landscapes. And there are three of them.
What they have in common — and I’m aware this is a personal response — is a tonal colour: of stone and lichen and water, birch-bark and frost, a sense of never being far from winter. There are no primary colours in these poems but there’s an attentiveness to seasonal shifts and nature. In ‘The Chaffinch in the Graveyard’, Nyström writes —
How long I’ve waited for you, tiny finch.
Last year you arrived too soon, sliding
on the slippery snow, confused by cold.
This year I’ve waited, numb with grief,
till suddenly your voice
lifts my spirits in the endless grey.
In the UK, we take year-round chaffinches for granted. It’s the small details that make for a sense of another place.
D A Prince