My blog has been dreadfully silent about poetry and drama, though I am passionate about both. For some years now, all my energies have been focused on prose, and in this blog I have shied away from poetic analyses. I take poetry far too seriously, and cannot say something quick or half-baked about it. It takes me weeks or months to produce a poetry review.
The same goes with drama: I’d love to become a professional drama critic, and I feel I haven’t studied the field enough to publicly express my opinions on plays. I have no academic pretensions with fictional prose – it is the only genre I feel uninhibited and comfortable in, which means that I can write silly, sloppy or half-baked reviews on novels, feeling no shame.
My friend Khaya Ronkainen is a Tampere-based poet and writer of prose, with whom I have been exchanging ideas about writing for some years now. Her first poetry collection, Seasons Defined (QuillInInk Press, 2018), has been in my hands for some weeks, and I have read earlier versions of the collection, too. Khaya is a classical lover of verse, who finds her inspiration mainly from nature, from the wilderness and the deep countryside in the northern parts of Finland. However, some of her work is also inspired by the suburban woods of Hervanta, where birdsong is mixed with traffic noise from the motorways.
Khaya’s vision of poetry is deeply ecological, to the extent that society and culture almost disappear. The only cultural reference in this collection is Christmas, which she likes celebrating in the midst of snow. Her themes are universal, yet Nordic, almost arctic. As a South African writer, her immersion in the Nordic nature is a strong sign of integration.
But we don’t speak of dull stuff like integration in Khaya’s poetic universe: we speak of mallards, hoppers, finches, crooners, and swallows. In her universe, there are very few man-made categories or boundaries, and interestingly, the poems also seem to be free of ethnicity or gender. Surely, there are shamelessly romantic bits, but love is not expressed in mundane, everyday language.
My favourite poems in the collection are the autumn ones, because I admire Ronkainen’s ability to find beauty in the most depressing Nordic season.
Be done, your mood swings leave much to be desired
Rain, sunshine, fog and snow compete for a lead role
Out with the dark! Give way to the magic of snow (”Autumn”)
And moving on to our dreaded month of death (”November”), she takes it with a grammatical precision:
Was is not yesterday I dusted fragile cobwebs
From a heart impelling emotions to the edge?
Words modified to avoid redundant adverbs
For spring replaced a grudge with a pledge
This is perhaps the only poem in the collection where the writer seems to stay indoors; the poetic narrative mainly lingers on hiking paths, where people don’t mind each others’ smell of sweat. The tent symbolizes the last bit of civilization, around which also mosquitoes hold festivals.
Quatro stagione, Four Seasons, is a famous pizza, hotel chain and also hotel elevator music, which I must have at least heard in Japan. To think of Antonio Vivaldi’s most worn out composition makes me giggle inwards, but a serious poet like Khaya Ronkainen can embrace this theme and create something unique and magical around it.
We are opposite types of poets, Khaya and I – my poetry, when I still used to write it, mainly drew inspiration from those suburban pizza-kebab places, where the only memory of nature is a kitchy hologram ”painting” of fountains from Kurdistan. From this perspective, it is relaxing to go on a verbal hike with Khaya Ronkainen, because in her universe there is no bad art or screaming flashlights.
Seasons Defined is the first poetry collection I have got as a physical object for years. The story about poetry publishing in Finland is a sad one, as only parody (like Antti Holma’s Christmas songs) or poetry written in strong local dialect (like Heli Laaksonen) seem to sell. To publish poetry in English in Finland through a mainstream publishing company would be a nearly impossible task. But Khaya Ronkainen did not give up – she decided to start a publishing company in her living room.
Seasons Defined also tells a story of micro-entrepreneurship – if we, writers in English, get together and seriously wish to come out with our work in a small country, we have to become more business-savvy. I would love to see Seasons Defined being read by foreign tourists in our numerous nature retreats – this is a collection that has to be read at its original source.
More information about the collection, and how to order it online, can be found from Khaya’s blog: http://www.khayaronkainen.com