Could a Poem Claim a Nationality

English: The Poem

The Poem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.


An Insufferable Zeitgeist


(Photo credit: KateFK)

As the pages of The Great Gatsby are ruffled through once again, I cannot help but realize that the world has not changed as much as everyone would have hoped. We have had a few more wars, a few more gadgets, and a whole lot more money. I am not saying that times don’t change, yet the feeling remains –the days are as long and as empty even today as the billboard of Dr. T.J.Eckleburg, his spectacled eyes, and the Valley of Ashes.


As people, people haven’t changed much at all really, if one thinks about it. Still everyone is as disappointed, filled with melancholy and grumpiness. And there is nothing wrong with this. For all there is to complain or improve, it’s the best things can be at the current point in time. The second that just passed will never be coming back and that was the peak of that second. There, another one just went.


Somehow I see people isolating themselves too much these days. I could talk about many important issues or entertaining issues with anyone I meet, but the other person is more likely to lash at me. I don’t know has it always been true, but people seem to hate each other for just existing.


It is rather spectacular that even with the latent, hidden, bloody passive-aggressive hostility that a man carries towards another fellow man, that some people are able to grieve for one another or be shocked by the death of someone who wasn’t even close. Though lately I have had my doubts about whether people even have altruistic and empathetic feelings anymore, or are all the reactions just ill-faced facades.


The more I read and follow up on the current events in politics or government matters, I can’t shake off the feeling that anyone interested in those matters –as in really interested– is just sadly lying to themselves. I have to say I feel like I am lying to myself at times. And these aren’t just the times when I tell myself to believe I am happy while someone reeking of booze and bile is leaning over on my shoulder, but more like, times when I believe that I am trying to do something for someone else, or even myself. Either when it’s related to political discussion or societal debate where the issue is to improve some group’s life, I find myself skeptical of others and even myself.


Should one be powerless as a person in a representative democracy? Is the lackluster cry for populism the answer to the hunger people feel? Or is it enough that one can merely complain at an open forum? I would like to take a look at democracy, especially in Finland.


Finland as a country has always been very outward democratic ever since the government had stabilized. Finland allowed women to vote and go for office at a very early age, so the democracy has been very open from the get go. Yet, everything is very structural and only the most popular representatives make the controversy. The Finnish people never seem to dare to cause controversy, other than complaining about some niminy-piminy little matters that don’t really affect anyone’s lives negatively to begin with.


Hate your neighbors, and fear your fellow citizens.


democracy's chorus

(Photo credit: howard.hall)

I would almost like to propose the above as the motto for the Finland I’ve experienced. It is easy to carry the mantle of the best country in the world and it’s not like people already believe enough that there could be no better place on the whole earth. People close their eyes to social issues and then when money’s involved they get scared and the True Finns are there offering ideas of a referendum, that beautiful, milky textured, potato nosed populism. It’s all so beautiful I may want to cry.


I wrote an article on how Finland is the most American country in Europe where I compared gun crime statistics from past years and recent trends on open murders. The very wild west, cowboy-like America came to mind, the violent and romantic America from movies. Now after a week from that another murder happened somewhere else, but the earlier was forgotten. People are more interested in the new book by Sofi Oksanen, When the Doves Disappeared, in English I believe it’s called.


This brings me to the inspiration of this whole damn piece of writing, bad journalism. Nothing sickens me more than bad journalism. I can’t believe how many times I have run in to vague articles, tabloid writing, and idiotic speculation. I am scared that true writing is dead, that all the words and letters are dead. The newspaper stories where murders happen are more dead than the victims! That is not supposed to be.


There is an overwhelming amount of misinformation being spread by many different entities as well, issues are demonized and people want to stay away from them rather than do something about them. I have realized that the media in Finland leaves the people feeling void and estranged from the societal issues that affect their very lives. The misinformation is never questioned.


This is the insufferable zeitgeist that I see, but at times I find myself questioning everything I personally believe in. Am I just overreacting and should I concentrate on other things than feeling bad about the world outside my window? The society outside my window is still flushed-drunk, aloof, and ignorant as they always have been.


The sky is peachy and pink. I tried.