October 28, 2017

Finnish Writers

The First Lady of Finland, Jenni Haukio hosted a writers' luncheon in Minneapolis on September 22, 2017 at the Hilton Hotel during the Finnfest 2017.  Her most recent book, Sinä Kuulet Sen Soiton. (You Hear That Music) is published by Savukeidas Kustannus.

Here is an excerpt from her book in Finnish:
Laakakatajat, haahkat, tyrnit, 
rahkasammalta kasvavat kalliot
vanhan meren loppumaton kohina
Vain tämä silmiini kivettyvä maisema
jää jälkeeni maailmalle,
veteen heitetyn kiven synnyttämä aaltoilu,
kaarenkestoinen onni, täydellinen...
In conversation, we explored the question of how all of our writing might relate to Finnish identity. It is an interesting question, and the answers were diverse. They are elusive. In the culture, people might say Finnish-ness includes independence and determination, a quietness or reserve, a connection to nature and landscape, and also inexpressible longing.

In the photo from left to right: Suzanne Matson, Diane Jarvi, Liisa Virtamo, Jenni Haukio, Ann Tuomi, Beth Virtanen, Christina Maki and Donna Salli in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Elbows of reeds, hawks, gulls,

the moss-faces of rocks
in the endless noise of the old sea

Only in this eyed landscape
I'm behind the world,

a ripple caused by a stone thrown far into the water,
a concentric orbit of luck, widening

(Translated by Sheila Packa)

Migrations: A Cantata

This is a 2 minute preview of the cantata Migrations, composed by Olli Kortekangas with poems written by Sheila Packa.  This is the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland, Oct 19, 2017.

October 6, 2017

A Poem's Capacity

What is the difference between poetry and prose? Poems rely on figurative language. In metaphors, the writer can reach more meanings. As Mary Oliver said, a good poem casts more than one shadow. In addition to the ability to evoke more, poems also seem to use voice somewhat differently. A poet throws her voice into other things, animals, plants, and beings. For instance, Denise Levertov wrote:
When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
Poets leap into figurative language, and figurative language has more imaginative capacity. Here's an excerpt by "Mirror" by Sylvia Plath:
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
Other writers have written about the difference between poetry and prose. Irish poet Seamus Heaney said poems are melodious and true. French poet Paul Valéry said that poetry is physiological. Connected to the breath, poetry is a little machine made to recreate the experience in the reader. The language is memorable. In prose, the words are not meant to take any focus away from the story. The words dissipate once meaning is delivered. Gertrude Stein found another difference between poetry and prose--nouns. She said:
Poetry is I say essentially a vocabulary just as prose is essentially not. And what is the vocabulary of which poetry absolutely is. It is a vocabulary based on the noun as prose is essentially and determinately and vigorously not based on the noun. Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun. It is doing that always doing that, doing that doing nothing but that. Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns. That is what poetry does, that is what poetry has to do no matter what kind of poetry it is. And there are a great many kinds of poetry. So that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose.
This is from her essay, "Poetry and Grammar," in Lectures in America (1935). Stein's experimental prose sheds light. There are many 'object poems,' and these essentially center upon the use of nouns. These noun poems are personas. Like in Plath's poem, the object is voiced. Louise Glück, in her beautiful collection Wild Iris projects her voice into the irises, poppies, violets, and other blooms in the garden. She speaks also as if she were the creator, God. As if in dialogue with other poets, Charles Simic goes inside a stone and makes it more capacious:
Go inside a stone.
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.
This is not all the poetry can do. Sound becomes is an important element: vowel assonance, consonance, and repetitions. Melodious, as Heaney said. The voice also can be direct, from the poet to the reader. In the following poem by Antonio Machado:
Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship's wake in the sea.
The words traveler, road, walk, path, no, never weave back and forth in the poem's lines and weave an interesting net around the reader that takes away the ground where we walk. The world of poetry is a different world; things are not as they seem. In the following excerpt of John Haines poem, "If the Owl Calls Again," there is yet another technique, a shape-shifting, when the narrator in the poem becomes an owl: "I'll wait for the moon/ to rise/ then take wing and glide to meet him." The boundaries are more fluid in poetry.

These are one of many changes that poems can create, and in this way, they become fascinating, flexible, and charming mechanisms. Agency and voice can change in a poem, and a poem can enact changes in both poets and readers. Gertrude Stein is right; they are created by loving the names of things and loving the language that we speak. They are perhaps the closest thing to magic. Poems are enchanting beasts.