For quite some while I have been playing with a certain thought. It struck me when I was thinking of writing a poem in Finnish after being in a short and uninteresting exchange of thoughts on Twitter. A journalist was trying to find Finnish government-funded artists on the social media. I was of no help.
Even if I was to successfully publish a collection of stashed poetry before applying for a government grant, I know for sure that I would never be allowed to have that money, at least not if I applied for it with creative writing in mind. The problem is language, there is no readership for someone who writes in English in a country like Finland.
In Finland everyone learns to speak and read English from a fairly tender age, but only the few odd ones in the bunch go to such lengths that they would want to use the language actively. The only Finnish journals that come out regularly in English are The Helsinki Times and Six Degrees –at least to my knowledge. I am not taking into account the free journals that exist.
Now, the government grant is there to promote Finnish art and literature. Socialism at its best I care say –ha ha. But here is where the thought came to me, what is Finnish art and literature to begin with? How does a poem claim a certain nationality? Or does a poem even have to claim a certain nationality to promote the arts in said nationality?
There were two things that came to mind first, language and setting. I’d like you, my dear reader to take a moment to reflect on what kind of a story or poem would be local to you, in a way that it would bring the tears or cheer of growing up. Once you have thought of a setting, imagine it being described in another language (let’s assume we know all the languages in the world). Does the the setting change, or does it retain the same feeling as it did in your mother tongue?
Personally I couldn’t extract Catalonia out of a poem set in Tarragona if it was in English, Catalan, Finnish, or even Spanish. If an English poem describes a Spanish festival, catching the feelings in the air or bringing out the deeply intimate scene of the locals into life then I could even call it a Spanish poem written in English.
Ernest Hemingway wrote a lot about Spain as everyone familiar with the man knows. Of course he wrote them in English as he was American, but wouldn’t the short stories of the Spanish Civil War be as much Spanish as they are American when he captures the broken toreador? I don’t know how he would have seen it.
The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1956, Juan Ramón Jiménez wrote one of my all-time favorite books Platero y Yo (Spanish for Platero and I). When I first read that great book it was a Finnish translation and it didn’t stop the early 20th Century Spain from coming to life. Even in Finnish that book remained very Spanish. As I am writing this I can only question how would it have turned out if Mr. Jiménez had planned the book to be in Finnish to begin with, would it have changed into a Finnish poem by a Spanish poet? Who knows.
When I write a poem or a story I somehow do see them being Finnish as I cannot escape my heritage even when I could be considered an international. I don’t really ever see having a Finnish readership and I see it even less likely that other Finns would consider my writing Finnish.
Before I began writing this blog post, I wrote a micropoem, once in Finnish, once in Spanish, and once in English. I tried to avoid making an interconnected translation. I did do my best to emulate a kind of typical Finnish styled poem, especially when it comes to the mood. Here it is first in Finnish, then Spanish, and finally in English.
Pihan halkeileva puu kuoriutuu uuteen elämään,
silmissäsi on kyyneliä.
ne leijuvat puun luokse ja yhdistyvät
El árbol hendido del jardín ha nacido de nuevo,
en tus ojos cerrados veo lágrimas
uniendo con las gotas de rocío
en la mañana –húmeda.
The tree in the yard that was split in half
hatches into existence anew.
the dew tears in your eyes,
float off to join the wet morning.
I don’t know what to make of it. Could I consider that a Finnish poem in three different languages? I’d love to hear what you, the reader, thinks.