October 4, 2009

Roots & Landscape

What do your roots have to do with what you write? Find contemporary poets from the country or place of your ancestors and consider the connections: image, metaphor, word choice, world view. Language transmits culture in so many ways and even as language changes, culture comes through.

My grandparents on both sides immigrated from Finland, so I’m third generation. My roots are strongly in the Finnish culture. I grew up around the language, my grandparents spoke Finnish almost exclusively and my parents spoke Finnish fluently. I had an aunt and uncle who married Finnish immigrants and this kept the language even more strong. However, I didn't learn Finnish. My mother, so determined to be an American, didn't want an accent. We spoke English. But Finnish culture is still present in every other way.

When I went looking for contemporary poets, I found a collection of women poets called Enchanting Beasts, edited and translated by Kirsti Simonsuuri. It was published by Forest Books in 1990. In the introduction, Simonsuuri eloquently examines the diversity and links Finnish poets in that volume, referring to “mythical darkness…invisible dimensions…poets of language…lyrical, imagistic space filled with forests, water, winds, and the eternal movement within.” Poets of any culture may find themselves exploring all of these, but her words draw me into that circle and I’m very pleased to be there. You can find portions of the text online at http://www.nuorenvoimanliitto.fi/beasts

Poets have so many influences. Heritage is important as are many other things. It happens that the landscape I grew up in, in northern Minnesota, is similar to that of Finland. The landscape that I live in now is still the same—indelible it is in me.



by Sheila Packa

I turn to go

but am nothing but path

in the forest

a narrow deer path

marked by hooves

I am nothing but roots

rising slowly

as the tree falls
inch by inch

slower than its leaves drop

I can't reach out

without a road

am tangles

of thickets of gloom


balsam aspen spruce

reaching into sky and windfallen

shorn of bark

home to beetles and fungi

familiar with fire and rain

needles fallen

on the feet of Norways

and bank of the river

grey stones that step and rise

broken bedrock with streams

I lift my arm

but it has turned to limb

branch twig leaf

raise my voice

but it flutters

in the crowns of trees

I call to you like wind

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