Sysmä-kantaatti

Ville Koskivaara

Takatalvi odottaa kohteliaasti, että vappu on oksentanut minut metropoleista Sysmän autiuteen, ja syytää vasta sitten viimeisen, lyhytikäisen kuorrutuksensa Etelä-Suomen ylle. Nautin mannerilmaston oikuista. Yöllä uneksun karhuista. Ullakolla huoneeni yllä rapistelee jokin pienempi. Asetuttuani taloksi se muuttaa, tai vaikenee.

Ensi töikseni käyn kuppikivellä ilmoittautumassa. Peruskartta näyttää niitä töpeksityn näille tienoin kuin nauriin siemeniä. On varaa valita sellainen, jolle uhraaminen ei edellytä jonkun kotirauhan rikkomista. Ihmisten tonttirajat kun eivät menneitä pyhiä noudattele. Täällä se vaatisikin melkoista tetristelyä, kun rautakautinen asutuskeskus on jättänyt jälkeensä uhrikivien lisäksi kalmistonkin sinne, toisen tänne.

On määrä kirjoittaa jotakin, josta tulee joko tuhonjälkeinen tajunnanvirtaromaani tai hell-made playn hengessä laadittu monologinäytelmän kuvatus. Aika näyttää. Sen ohella huomaan heti ensi päivinäni purskauttelevani ilmoille kaikenmoisten tilaustöiden lisäksi lyriikkaa, sekä laulettavaksi että lausuttavaksi, ja luonnostelevani podcastiakin. Joskus luovuus ruokkii luovuutta. Tai sitten ihan vain sydänsuru.

Kävelen Ohrasaaren ympäri ja pääsen todistamaan viitasammakoiden pulinaa ja lahnojen porskutusta samassa lahdessa. Kaikki kutee, minä sen kun erakoidun. Kaulushaikarat huutavat joka taholla. Jopa huoneeseeni kuuluu öisin niiden mystinen basso, kauas kuivalle maalle. On mahdotonta sanoa, missä vesistössä linnut piileksivät, kun niiden ääni voi kuulemma kantaa viisikin kilometriä ja on matalana vaikea paikallistaa.

Kirjoittaminen lähtee käyntiin ennakolta laatimani aikataulun puitteissa. Sen ulkopuolella avautuvien vapaa-ajan lakeuksien tutkiminen ravitsee niin sielua kuin ruumistakin: heti ensimmäisellä viikollani löydän aivan likeltä tuottoisan vuohenputkiapajan. Juoksen halki palokärjekkään, nyt jo kuusettuneen muinaishuhdan Päijätsalon tsaarinaikuiselle näkötornille tähyämään Päijänteen Tehinselälle. Jättijärvellä on yksi maamme vanhimmista paikannimistä, jolle kielitiede pukee pitkästä aikaa perustellusti usein ilmaan heitellyn, vaan harvoin ansaitun “vuosituhansia vanhan” tittelin.

Hento vihreys kihisee lehvästöön. Lämpenee hellepäiviksi asti. Töyhtöhyypät ja kuovit ujeltavat. Kirjoitan vuoroin ekstaattista, vuoroin angstista lyriikkaa. Juoksu ja työ vuorottelevat täysin toisenvaraisessa tanssissaan. Aamupäivät kirjoitan, illat rämmin taolaisteksteissä polviani myöten klassisessa kiinassa ja iltapäivät hirvien ryskämillä harvennushakkuilla sääret ruvella. Käyn residenssitovereideni kanssa Lintan kammarissa keittolounaalla ja söpöysövereillä.

Muutaman päivän levytysleiri kotikunnailla katkaisee residenssijaksoni. Palattuani Sysmään saapuu luokseni vieras toisensa jälkeen, mikä tuo muutaman kevyemmän työpäivän. Heidän seurassaan tulee myös samoiltua ympäristössä ahkerammin kuin niin ikään työhönsä keskittyvien kollegojen kanssa. Talviturkkikin lentää Majutveteen, jos talviuimarilta nyt voi semmoista reväistäkään. Kevään jännittävät luontohavainnot tulvivat aistimiin ja mielikuvitus puolestaan paperille sekä tiedostoihin. Lahnojen ja sammakoiden viisaus herää ihmisessäkin.

Vieraiden lähdettyä padot aukeavat, ja seuraava viikko kuluu kunnon kirjoitusaallolla. Olen eräässäkin rakastelunjälkeisessä bardossa mennyt livauttamaan, että pitäisi kuunnella Bachin koko tuotanto läpi, ja pakkohan minun on tänä suoratoistopalvelujen aikana olla sanani mittainen. Muutaman kymmenen kantaatin jälkeen ilmestyy romaaniini kymmenen sivun mittaisia alaviitteitä kokonaan isoilla kirjaimilla ja pöydälleni teos Atlantiksen pyhästä geometriasta. Veljeni ilmaisee viestissään pitävänsä ihan hyvänä sitä, että residenssikuukauteni lähenee loppuaan. Ymmärrän hänen kieliposkisen huolensa, mutta aion silti tykitellä loppuun asti.

Vielä viimeisellä viikollani Sysmässä paljastuu aivan talon läheltä uusia salattuja niittyjä, joilla leijailee iltaisin niin ohut sumu, ettei sitä voine havainnoida muilla instrumenteilla kuin ihmissydämellä. Omani on Villa Sarkiassa parantunut osin yksinäisyyden, osin hoitavien ihmisten voimin. Löydän itseni aamuyön tunteina keittiöstä ruoppaamasta uuden residenssitoverin kanssa kynttilänvalossa kaikkivoivin sanoin taidetta, ihmissuhteita, niin, elämää.

Olisihan täällä vierähtänyt toinenkin kuukausi. Ainakin urkuteoksiin asti.

Aurinko laskee ja Tapio antaa. The sun sets and the forest provides.

The Sysmä Cantata

By Ville Koskivaara

As soon as I’m somewhat settled in Villa Sarkia, a thin coating of the last snow covers southern Finland. Enjoying these quirks of a continental climate, I bring my offerings to an Iron Age sacrificial stone, one of many around these parts. Apparently, Sysmä was quite the hub of activity some millennia before its current, drowsier Twin Peaks era.

I’m writing something that balances between a post-apocalyptic stream-of-consciousness novel and a long, psychedelic monologue play. Time will tell. Of course, it turns out to be not the only thing my creative parts start blurting out as I sink into my life in Villa Sarkia. There’s radio horror, poetry, music and drafts for a podcast, all fed by the comparative isolation as well as a broken heart.

The snow was as quick to melt as it was to appear, and soon I get to witness the full glory of spawning moor frogs and breams in a tiny bay near the church. There are bitterns booming all around, and I can even hear them inside my room at night.

Having a comparatively strict schedule for writing leaves me plenty of time to wander around, feeding both body and soul by running and gathering ground elder by the bag. Spring is rushing in, and I wade just as knee-deep in Classical Chinese Daoist texts as I do in the woods. Not to mention a shared lunch with colleagues with an overdose of cuteness in the local bakery.

A short recording session with old bandmates brings a welcome break from everything, as do several people of mine coming round for some days. I swim. I suck in the rising tide of natural wonders and secrete several writing projects, all in a delightful mess of a jugglery. Having thought up a reckless, post-petite-mort idea of listening to all of Bach (as in all of him), I get to work and find some tens of cantatas bringing my month in Villa Sarkia to a crazy final crescendo. Footnotes in my novel swell to a length of ten pages. A book about the sacred geometry of Atlantis appears on my desk. My brother is glad to hear the month will soon be over, but I press on to the last.

And just some days before I leave, I find myself talking the living daylights out of love, life & everything at one AM in Villa Sarkia’s kitchen by candlelight with a new fellow writer. There sure is magic in a little monastery like this. I guess I could have taken another month. At least until I’d have got to the works for organ.

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A Fable from February

Yavni Bar-Yam

A long time ago, when the oldest houses in Sysmä were then the newest houses, there was a woman who lived in the town who loved to bake. She baked all kinds of things, breads and cakes and cookies, and everything she baked came out just as horrible-tasting as could be.

She offered to bake for the local church. The priest said that if Christ were transubstatiated into those wafers it would be like a second crucifixion for the poor messiah.

The woman tried feeding them to the stray animals around the town, but the animals turned up their snouts and walked away, disgusted.

She finally stopped trying after she made a little biscuit out of milk and oats that was dry and soggy, sour and bitter and cloying and bland all at once. This cake was so horrible that even microbes had no interest in eating it. It was, therefore, an immortal cookie.

Now, being immortal, this cookie had plenty of time to educate itself and develop its abilities. It learned to speak several languages, and became an expert in Riemannian manifolds and general relativity.

But the cookie had a harder time developing the manual dexterity for writing, so it had to find assistance in transcribing the innovative thoughts that it produced. It found a bright, young aspiring poet named V.S. and took him on as an apprentice, dictating to him and letting him publish the biscuit’s work under his own name.

After V.S. passed on, the cookie was still alive, and found itself cast from place to place at the hands of the geodesics of the metric space of its existence. For a long time it was stuck in the attic of an old house, with no way out and not much to do except peer through a small crack in the wall under the eaves. There it observed an owl flying to and from her nest carrying dead rodents and such. Trapped in the attic, the biscuit saw the owl as a symbol of freedom, and the dead rodents as a symbol of pride.

Time passed, and the biscuit found itself again out in the daylight. It befriended a little girl whose family had moved to the country from the city, a rare move at the time. This girl had an artistic disposition, and a troubled family life due to the artistic disposition being inherited from an artistically disposed parent. The biscuit recognized her loneliness, and wanted to bring her dead rodents to make her feel better. The cookie was no great hunter, so the best it could do was some wood chips. The girl accepted the wood chips, and with a stolen knife, began carving little figurines of Moomincharacters from her favorite books.

Others relate a different version: A magazine that prints stories told by children published some by the girl who the biscuit befriended. Once she saw her name in print at age seven, she knew she had accomplished the goal of all writers, and she could retire satisfied with her achievements. So she sat on a rocking chair on her porch, a pipe in her hand, and whittled figurines out of wood.

Whichever way it came to pass, this girl eventually grew up and moved on, and the biscuit was left alone again. Tired of losing friends all the time, it tried to befriend other immortal things, like geographical features. But they only seemed interested in being stoned all the time, and that wasn’t really the cookie’s thing. It wasn’t an edible, as we have established.

Eventually, the cookie found itself in a house in Sysmä used as a residency for writers. It lost count of the number of poems and stories it dictated to writers from all over the world, who passed through the home and the biscuit’s life like fine flour through a course sieve. One day, the biscuit watched a writer arrive with a complete novel manuscript ready for revisions. And revise she did, though her pencil sat on her desk where she had placed it the morning she arrived. The cookie watched as she attacked her work with erasers (she came with a whole box of them). Removing words, phrases, whole paragraphs and sections. She was happier and happier with her piece the trimmer it got. Soon it was a novella. Then it was a short story. Finally, it disappeared. The perfection of the blank page satisfied the writer. After taking a day off to go skiing on the island, she took out what the biscuit was surprised to see was a whole other manuscript of another novel. The cookie could tell what was coming, and it quickly informed another resident, a poet, of what this writer was doing. Together, they conspired to steal the novelist’s erasers so she could not destroy everything she had ever written.

It was a dangerous heist, involving distractions, picked locks and cooking oil. Finally back in the poet’s room with the erasers, the two accomplices needed to decide what to do with the stolen items. The poet wanted to destroy them, but the biscuit said they must turn them into something positive instead. It produced the whittling knife the little girl had abandoned so many years before, now too dull for wood, but still sharp enough for carving erasers. The biscuit instructed the poet on how to carve, and told her to carve owls, an animal representing liberty and pride. Then they hid the tiny owls all around the residency house. If the novelist had to do any erasing, she could, but first she would need to find an eraser, and then only be able to erase in small doses.

Once the novelist settled down from her consternation at her missing erasers and realized the good that her co-resident and the cookie had done for her, she said, “You’ve done so much good for so many, little biscuit. What can we do for you?”

Hesitantly, the biscuit replied, “Well, I have always wanted to be eaten.”

The two writers were shocked, “Why?!”

“Isn’t that what I exist for?”

“Why do you think that?”

“I don’t know. Every story I have ever heard about a baked good involves it being eaten.”

“Don’t be absurd, little biscuit. Novels aren’t meant to be erased and your worth also isn’t created by you being destroyed!”

“Oh. Huh.”

“Besides, you smell like you would taste terrible. No thank you!”

“Well, okay then.”

But then the writers knew what they needed to do. That night, they stayed up late writing the story of a biscuit that was never eaten, who lived a fulfilling life of adventure and contribution to the world. And they put it up on the residency blog for the cookie, and any other baked good to read whenever such food items should feel unsure of themselves.

Pearl-moon/Helmikuu

an aptly-named month in 12 pictures

The first morning, I sat at my desk to start writing at 8AM. It wasn’t yet light, but blue outside.

The icicles on the theatre next door were the most impressive I’ve ever seen.  An armory of frozen daggers.  But by the end of the month, they’d been defeated by the sun and lay on the ground in hefty chunks.

Ulla kindly gave us a tour of the old church and its artifacts: medieval wooden sculptures, a baptismal font in a language no one has identified yet, a secret passageway.  And bell towers, apparently, have a tendency of burning down.

(We never did find out if there was actually asbestos in the organ (?!?) but I did learn a lot about Finland’s history with mining during that unexpected conversation…)

Every little lantern in the cemetery wore a puffy hat of snow.  Worship attire is climate-dependent, too, I suppose.

The winter light in Sysmä is so changeable and pretty it became a distraction.  I took many long walks to watch the snow glitter in the sun.

Villa Sarkia was as cozy as a Moominhouse, and the perfect place to delve into the mind of Tove Jansson between writing sessions, especially on the cloudier days. I was fascinated to learn that Finnish readers of the Moomins were surprised to find out the Groke was female upon seeing the English translation. The lack of gender is one of my favorite aspects of the Finnish language. (Also, Jansson’s illustrations for Finnish and Swedish edition of the The Hobbit, which I found at the library, are a dream come true.)

It always grew too cloudy by nightfall to see the stars, but it’s hard to complain when you get to see the moon in a clear blue sky during the day.

I watched so many spectacular sunsets from my window, my typing paused until the colors faded.  They seeped into my pages.

A day trip to the Haihatus gallery; so many styles and faces all by one artist.

There is no freezer at the Villa, but lucky for us Ulla made amazing homemade ice cream.

On our final weekend in February, we participated in a poetry open mic in Helsinki where I met lots of fabulous people – and won some raffle roses!

Kiitos paljon to Nuoren Voiman Liitto and the Sysmä library for this opportunity; Matka-baari for hosting our “Sanatakomo”; the teachers and students who showed us around their school and taught us to play “floor ball”; Tarja for befriending us, helping us organize our event, and taking so many photographs; Ulla for all her stories, wisdom, and ice cream; and of course my fellow word-smiths, Juho and Yavni.

Several people told us Sysmä might not exist in ten years.  Who knows?  But I’m grateful for my time there and will think of it every February, wherever I am in the world. It really was a month of pearls.

Abigail R. Epremian

Taivaalta tippuvat villat

Vietin viime kesäkuussa kymmenen päivää Villa Sarkiassa. Saavuin residenssiin sopivaan aikaan, koska viimeistelin tuolloin vaativaa käännöstä suomesta serbiaan kieleen. Kyseessä oli Selja Ahavan romaani Taivaalta tippuvat asiat. Vaikka olin jo ehtinyt luopua toivosta, että onnistuisin saattamaan työn loppuun ajoissa, Villa Sarkiassa tapahtui ihme. Kymmenessä päivässä käännös oli valmis.

Voisin verrata Villa Sarkian ja Sysmän tunnelmaa kylpyläkaupunkiin. Päivät olivat hitaita ja pitkiä. Ehdimme rauhassa kokkailla, keskustella, nukkua ja kääntää.

Villa Sarkialla on sellainen voima, että se yhdistää erilaisia ihmisiä. Tapasin siellä ihmisiä, joiden kanssa juttu ei olisi loppunut koskaan, jos vain ei olisi ollut työtä. Toivon, että heilläkin on samanlaisia muistoja minusta.

Romaanin käännös julkaistiin viime syksynä, ja se sai hyvän vastaanoton. Joulukuussa sain kuulla, että olin yksi kolmesta ehdokkaasta vuoden käännös -palkinnon saajaksi Serbiassa. En lopulta saanut palkintoa, mutta minut kutsuttiin liittymään Serbian kirjallisuuden kääntäjien yhdistykseen. Käännös toi minulle myös jäsenyyden Suomen kääntäjien ja tulkkien liitossa.

Suuri kiitos Nuoren voiman liitolle ja Sysmän kirjaston henkilökunnalle!

Dušica Božović

Prošlog juna provela sam deset dana u vili Sarkia u gradiću Sysmä. Stigla sam tamo jer je hitno trebalo prevesti jedan zahtevan prevod s finskog na srpski jezik. U pitanju je bio roman Selje Ahave Stvari koje padaju s neba. Iako moj prethodni ritam rada nije obećavao da će poduhvat uspeti, u vili Sarkia se dogodilo čudo. Za deset danas sam uspela da prevedem sve.

Mogla bih uporediti vilu Sarkia i boravak u Sysmi s boravkom u banji. Dani su spori i dugi, stizali smo da spremamo hranu, ćaskamo, spavamo i prevodimo.

Vila Sarkia ima tu moć da spaja različite ljude. Srela sam tamo ljude s kojima se razgovor nikad ne bi prekidao, samo da nije bilo i posla. Nadam se da sam i ja njima ostala u sličnom sećanju.

Prevod romana objavljen je prošle jeseni i dobila sam dobre komentare na njega. U decembru sam saznala da sam ušla u uži izbor za nagradu “Miloš N. Đurić” Udruženja književnih prevodilaca Srbije. Nagradu na kraju nisam dobila, ali sam pozvana da postanem član Udruženja. Ovaj prevod mi je takođe otvorio vrata Udruženja prevodilaca i tumača Finske.

Veliko hvala Savezu mlade snage i osoblju biblioteke u Sysmi!

Dušica Božović


White and cold and blue

apologies to Joe Brainard

I remember going to the lake and seeing all the upturned boats, almost invisible under the snow. I avoid the tidied-up trail and try to trudge through the thick layer of snow. I manage a few meters until I feel the dampness through my boots, my jeans, my thermals, the snow so deep it comes up to my knees.

I remember waking up at 4:30 am. Pia and Ben usually come down from the 2nd floor at around 10:30 or 11 am. We’re all respectful of each other’s space, so some days I’d only bump into them in the kitchen whenever they’re making tea. We ask each other what we’re working on, offer some commiseration when one admits how unproductive their day has been. I remember going to bed at 8 pm.

I remember how the solitude of being in Sysmä in winter heightens everything. It helps, I think, that I’ve spent most of my life in warmer regions, so my body responds to the cold as one would an intriguing stranger. When snow falls in the early morning, I feel as if I were in the middle of some sacred ceremony. Cold evenings are much colder. A random conversation becomes more purposeful, more necessary. A drink is a sign of warmth. 

I remember slipping on the ice. Thursday, 7 pm, it happens right in the middle of an intersection, as I walk home from the supermarket. I sit right on the street, my right arm beginning to throb from the pain, grocery items scattered on the ground, and I think: This is how the rest of my life will be. And then I walk back to the house.

I remember being mistaken for a girl at the local bar by a woman, a former fellow. It’s a little weird, but I don’t mind it. I find it pretty amusing. Her name is (also) Pia, and I remember how when she’s talking about her family history, I can only nod politely because the whole time I’m distracted by how gorgeous her face looks.

I remember listening to nothing else but Nico’s “These Days” for three straight days.

I remember reading about the heat wave in Adelaide, where I had come from immediately prior to Finland. For 12 straight days, the temperature in Adelaide would get so hot that bats have to be driven toward the nearest river so they don’t fry from their own body fat. At Villa Sarkia, I prop my feet up on the radiator whenever the temperature plummets below -10 degrees.

I remember spending an hour each day in the sauna. I do most of my thinking within that hour, texting myself possible lines for poems or concepts or words that sound nice, while Rihanna or Maggie Rogers or Shawn Colvin whenever I’m feeling nostalgic blasts through my phone.

I remember using Pia’s mango-scented lotion because I assume it had been left behind by a previous resident. There are lots of bottles inside the bathroom, there are bottles on the foyer table too. When I think of the unknown residents who came before us, I think of them in relation to the books they might have left behind, their messages on the guest book, various spices in the kitchen, and their bottles of toiletries. 

I remember catching a glimpse of Ben’s notebook, which seems to have a lot of doodles, which I suppose he draws while thinking of something to write. I remember thinking I should make better, definitely more artistic, use of my in-between-writing time than gossiping with friends online.

I remember being ecstatic that the kitchen has a drip coffee maker, a French press, and a moka pot. I am not exaggerating. I remember being the only coffee drinker among the three of us.

I remember wandering semi-aimlessly in the middle of the night. We reach a gas station—I think it’s a gas station—before deciding to turn back. I’d hold on to Ben’s arm whenever the road gets too slippery, and at some point snow starts falling. It isn’t a bad night—pretty exciting, actually, as far as my month in Sysmä goes.   

I remember walking with Ben to the gym in the afternoons. Sometimes it gets so cold that the snot inside my nose would freeze. It’s funny until it isn’t. Eventually it becomes ordinary. Most days, the short trip to the gym is the only time I’d get out of the house. I stick to using the stationary bike and the treadmill, and sometimes I increase the speed to the point that I’d get leg cramps later in the night. I remember liking the fact that I can still sweat. 

I remember thinking I’ve never seen so much white, the kind of white that’s so real—my legs move through it, I feel flakes of it on my face, I scoop it with my hand and hold it until my fingers go numb—that if I think hard enough, it might feel present even now, 22 days after I’ve left Sysmä. 

I remember going online to find out the names of the trees I see in Sysmä, most of them spindly, all of them beautiful. 

I remember the blue curtains of my room, which make the inside of my room blue, and, when viewed through the windows, the outside blue. I remember the blue of early morning, just before sunrise, the kind of blue that seems sad in a sexy kind of way. In the afternoons, I do yoga and witness my room gradually turn a darker and deeper blue as the sun slowly sets.

I remember letting two Jehovah’s Witnesses inside the house, on my last Saturday at Villa Sarkia. They hand me a pamphlet, tell me to check out their website. They ask where I come from.   

I remember deciding to build a snowman before I leave Sysmä. I never get around to it, but in the story in my mind, I do and he has a lovely carrot nose and he gets to stick around until April.

I remember walking through the aisles of the supermarket on my first evening and wondering why there are so many boxes of frozen pizza. And because I’m trying to avoid carbs, I feel an almost unhealthy amount of indignation rise up in me. I end up buying a dozen eggs, a packet of sausages, some cauliflower, and nuts for snacking. It’s a sad couple of weeks until I quit trying to lose weight.   

I remember seeing bottles of Shiraz from South Australia at the supermarket and feeling a sense of pride. I laugh over my foolishness. 

I remember the kind of quiet Sysmä offers. I’m now in the Philippines, and Manila offers me its version of quiet: tricycles running in the distance, someone half-drunkenly singing a song, the incessant humming of midnight moving through the window of my room. I part my curtains to meet the city, and I wish to see a blinding white outside.     

Mark Anthony Cayanan

M(ight)y January 2019

everchanging frost view of the west

I’ve been pondering for the past few days, how to “put words clothes down on” – as we approximately say it in our Finnish language in particular, if not quite metaphorical way –, let alone how to crystallize the passing, overwhelmingly multifaceted month in Villa Sarkia. I never could have believed these experiences to happen, not even if I have spent two fascinating Mays and almost two Junes (t)here before, not even if Jan is my month of rebirth.

I had no idea, who’s going to write (t)here with me, nor from where. I knew I had more writing tasks than before in the residence, maybe (im-), possible to carry out together, neither had I been able to leave any of them behind me but took the latest versions with me as well as some books and dictionaries connected.

So, two essays, one to be edited one more, hopefully last time, for the poetry quarterly, about garden-experiences, circles of time, nature, human, letter-writing and reading concerning a gardening-theme letter-exchange-essay-book published in Finnish almost a year ago, an essay-treatise on the form less known of Japanese poetry called renga, i. e. chain(ed) poetry, as well as compiling a full 36 stanza renga myself, continuing translating poems from the second collection of Polish prosaist and poet Beata Kępińska and, last but not least, evolving and writing my long, telling poem, a fantasy-experience both experimental, visual and audial (to be[come]). These all also partly concern the final, seminar year of my creative writing extensional studies, so not purely an artist’s own right and vocation, but assignments from the institution via writer-me.

a book object almost too pretty

I’ve developed a divided schedule during my freelance writer years for a weekly program, so a couple of days for a project, a couple for another, a Sat for one, a Sun for another, e.g. This was the trick in Villa S, too: every third day I would dive into the world of my long poem, whereas writing the newest study about renga demanded more time and concentration and so, every second or two days together I wrote and investigated as much more as needed and offered from the exciting, old and fragile books of the hall in Villa S. What a treasure and joy to find nearly the very first translations in Finnish of Japanese tanka and haiku and other types by Marta Keravuori, amongst the heritage of our Finnish poet Eila Kivikk’aho, who wrote tanka- and haiku-formed poems in her (& my) own language in the first place, too! Translator’s Preface, merely an Introduction, of Japanese poetry traditions in Kirsikankukkia – “Cherryblossoms”, worked very helpful and deepening a view. I was enthralled – still am, never to forget the Ever Understanding Eyes of the Poetka (as they beautifully meaningfully call a woman writer in Polish) in a photo preserved from the ‘90s.

early Jan sunset painting

So, trusting the schedule well experienced, even if more chopped this month, I concentrated an a.m, a p.m, an evening, a night, writing or re-writing the most demanding bits first after waking up routines, occasionally taking a brisk walk around the beautiful and calm landscape, which welcomed more and more snowflakes and layers at any hour of almost all 24 hours, not hesitating, not forgiving more than a few milder minus degrees frost days with more powerful wind from the lake back (as we call the wide open of a larger lake in somewhat picturesque Finnish). No, no concessions did the Weather Spirit of Winter admit, no thaws – nor did I give allowances except for exhilarations towards evening by returning to reading, to stretching exercises and relaxation, to an uplifting walk, wind and frost allowing, except for some secret singing and playing a recorder to open up my voice channels, if only the young writer men visiting Villa S were not indoors keen on working at the mome. Fridays I dedicated to re-editing the former essay, all Sundays I wanted and needed to continue the translations of Polish poems, to keep touch on the demanding language and hold of the entirety of the collection themes.

Majutwater seeping timidly

My prayers were heard magically as I happened to find the first translation of Rilke’s Duineser Elegien by Finnish poet Aila Meriluoto in the hall shelves, which, to my disappointment, doesn’t belong to my home city library collection (anymore?). “Descending layered” and meditative a long poem as it is, this translation opened to my apprehension more perceptible than the intricate, fresher one by a talented translator I had read in the fall. I couldn’t help but re-read the original German poem stanza after stanza, too, as it’s offered on the parallel page, even though my school German is appallingly rusty.

Winter in the village-town of Sysmä would need another post to be duly described, and even though I did go outdoors almost every day or evening, I hardly believe having a right to try as yet. So much snow, my love element, so many ice sticks growing down from the roof eaves of both the Villa and the Theatre House like massive, freezy organ pipes! The Supersized Grand Mum Moon would grow and shine for the whole Earth not forgetting tiniest village end but empowering each little creature by her mirror face beaming the hiding sun. Clouds gave their respect by absence those fulfilled days of pure heart of winter magic (another Finnish metaphor, for mid-wintertime).

But so did the Sun show his burning, if winter paler face, especially on two Sundays, when I was seduced outdoors first thing after waking up. “Off you go, along the lakeside, around the island!” I heard the call and answered by scrambling out. Rewarded for good.

harmony of windless lakeweeds *

OH, I was supposed to crystallize the experience of the month – but haven’t really succeeded. Where did the intricate and multi-pointed symbol of a snowflake I just had floating along in my mind’s view run away?! One of the root-points was my second part set of poems and photos relating to nature experiences of both a person and the dog accompanied, “Poem Pics with a Dog – fall, winter”, which I finally had the chance to put up on the library walls and window sills – after an interval of two years since expositing the first part in April ‘16. Hopeful, that as many of the customers, visitors and villagers would notice the small-scale exhibition and have time to stop and stay for some moments at each poem with a picture or two aside..! It’s been both a joy, excitement and privilege to share; especially to show and try to open up the contents of the texts to the foreign colleagues of Villa S for the month.

shared i-n-s-p-i-r-a-t-i-o-n-s ;->

What a HOLLOW feeling I was left with after the dear colleague-writers quite suddenly left the second last early morning already! Fortunately we did have some chats way about literature, our readings and writings earlier, a couple of late night fun joking in the kitchen and the hall about musical preferences as well.

Alas, I feel my words ruin the overwhelming experiences I’ve had in Villa S, my <3, the new-born symbolic flake of experiences escaping the view.

Truths is, I cannot – maybe even will not describe it all, but let the following tanka-poem to summarize.

The very truth is: my attachment to Villa Sarkia has grown ever deeper each time I’ve visited, lived and worked (t)here. Passing January proved, that I’m helplessly involved (engaged?!).

Must all have been a dream, which bursted before the last sequences – the last 48 hours which I had to, needed to and wanted to lead through on my own again.

To my amazement I re-wrote the essay on renga as well as compiled a re-renga of the tanka- and renga-stanzas of past writers, made a whole kasen of 36. I was given new poems for my dear long poem (from the creative power of who-knows-who) and trust to recite the so far whole through for a few but important times in the hall, added another chapter as the rhythm goes. Re-editing of the garden-letter-essay calmed down into more replenished and polished form. There was even and just enough time to translate the last poems of the 2nd collection of B. K.  and to print the versions out of these all. Time to go around the lakeside and the island wilderness once more during the last blue sunset hour before collecting the exhibition with the most valuable comments and signatures by the visitors, to tie some more talking threads together with the librarians.

amaryllis fainting and blooming – like creativity

Time to wish Good Byes after sharing varied, immemorial moments both with colleagues and those dear acquaintances, who have become friends each at their own pace – even new ones. Time to play some consolation music, minor and major, melodies of rhyme and rock.

Missing every seemingly little nib and nibble.

*

Lumen hiutaleet

laskeutuvat hiljalleen

valkealle vaipalle.

Syvään lämpöön peittyy

yksinäisen kylläisyys.

*

Snowflakes settle gently

down on the pale duvet.

Deep in the warmth

covers up the repletion

of a loner.

*

Płatki śniegu

na białej pieluszcie

cicho położą.

Głęboko w ciepłość

pokrywa się sytość

samotnej.

*

Pia Johanna Krook

woodmousie – from the tale of Thumbelina – or Issa’s haiku

MOI

By Alejandro Radawski

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THE PEOPLE HERE

The air here is like your breath in my neck,
the rain your tears and the sound of the wind your tantrums,
your huffs, your crazy laughs, your moans.

The people here walk just like you,
smile without showing teeth like you.
The people here have your eyes,
They ask me why you aren’t on my hand.
The people here ask me,
why? why…

The “why” fall like arrows,
and I’m here without can nothing,
They make me feel a little closer to you.

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MOI

Moi, they come and go,
Moi, smiles that pass,
Moi, traveling on their bicycles.

They ask me things in Finnish that I don’t understand,
Happy and friendly face slow me down and they speak to me in Finnish,
their mouths open like a bird in summer
when they realize that I am not Finnish
since I answer in English,
they flee from me as the fish flees from the hook,
they run, they disappear.

But tomorrow they will already know
And when they see me again
They will only say Moi,
and I will say Moi.

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RAIMO

Raimo, whiskers, pores and rosacea,
crafty fisherman,
ruthless butcher of trout,
three steps quarterer,
zrak zrak zrak,
and already pack your steaks.

Moi too,
but my English doesn’t scare him away
and gives me a super hook,
teaches me how to fish trout,
to throw, where, how and when.

Raimo is Rambo:
The fish killer.
As I like to call him
Raimo is Rambo:
An Eskimo

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VILLA SARKIA

A scandalously silent place,
Sauna, books, and park,
Windows through which I always see
the same people pass at the same time.

Villa Sarkia, surrounded by frozen lakes,
A perfect paradise for any writer.

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ALEJANDRO RADAWSKI

 

Ihka ensimmäinen podcast

Klikkaamalla kuvasta pääset kuulemaan Villa Sarkialle omistetun podcastin.

ruutcast 15.11

Lämmin kiitos muille residenssikollegoille, Kuurina Teatterille, Sysmän kunnan kirjaston väelle ja jokaiselle kohtaamalleni sysmäläisille. Sydän-Hämeessä on toden totta sydän.

Ruut Luoto

Four Stories of Sysmä

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Three weeks ago, I had never been to Finland before. I have a dear friend, a Finn-turned-American and writer. When I read her stories about her homeland, I imagined a place full of ancient smells —gingerbread, berries, also dark corners, old places, history. But it was still elusive (as she was, too). What better way to get to know a new place, I thought, than trying to understand more about a mysterious friend. 

My three weeks here have been quiet, productive, dreamy, cosy, and wonderful. I’d like to thank the city of Sysmä, the wonderful women of the library, Nuoren Voiman Liitto, and especially my fellow writers — Maria, Ruut, Ola, and Alejandro — for all this lovely time. 

Here are my field notes:

Light

One version of the story of Finland is all about light. 

When the snow arrives, the sky lifts to make room. A gift — the snow gives light to the town just when the days are shortening.  

When the snow leaves — sun burning off the stripes on the roof opposite my window — it reveals the earth again, but brighter, burnished green and brown, as if lit from within.

Finns must be finely attuned to light, I think. You can see it in the colours they choose. Our garden gate is old peach brown. The roof over there is pale, marshmallow green. The houses are lavender, paper yellow, purple — the window ledges dark as damson jam. They’re familiar, pestled out of nature’s colours.

When the misty days arrive, Sysmä is grey but glowing. 

Lately, the days have been drizzly and clouded-over. Now the sun sets behind the mist at ten minutes to four. The streetlamps blink on and glow wetly through the night, turning the lake festive. 

A neighbour hangs candles in the vestibule. The light bounces generously. 

On All Saints night, people light candles and fill the graveyard, giving their flickering loves to the dark.

On the night of the new moon, Ola and I light a candle and write down our intentions. We feast on soup and stew. I like the idea of us seen from the town, just another glowing window. 

Neighbour

The plots of Sysmä sprawl and weave around the houses. The boundaries marked — barely or not at all — by autumn shrubs that have grown to purple gum. We foreigners accidently stride through our neighbours’ gardens to reach the supermarket. The gardens are different to the ones at home. Here, objects are placed like scenes in a story. A miniature house, a chair, a stuffed bear, a bush with white berries I think might be mistletoe.  

With each other, the neighbours are familial. A lady grabs the elbow of her neighbour in the S-Market and tells her a tale. There’s no word for “please” here, my housemate tells me, beaming, which tells you a lot. It’s true, the rhythm of neighbours here is different. They don’t excuse themselves — either they talk or they don’t. But the lack of ceremony doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate each other. The word “thank you” becomes more important. You can see it as they walk away, moved by one another, grateful. 

To us, as foreigners, the people are secretive. Walking in their private scenes with quiet, watching faces. It makes me ache for drama. A declaration, a kiss, a fight. But these are always happening offstage. 

The high school kids, who are also neighbours, find each other across the street and go off towards one of their houses. I watch after them. The boys’ newly-broken voices are like bells in the mist.

Sauna

While the villagers light candles in the graveyard, the women of Villa Sarkia take their saturday sauna.

My first ever sauna. It’s been heating up all evening. Now Ruut has taken hers, Ola has taken hers, each emerging calm, skin baby-plump. I take my turn. 

At first, it’s just hot. Baking. Breathing up into the steam tastes like salt. Hot sand on a beach. Then, without any exertion, a single bead of sweat plinks to the surface of my skin, rolls over my ribs, to the wooden bench. 

The thing about the sauna is that it happens to you. All you have to do is decide to go in, heat the stones, lay down… and if you just stay there, the heat will happen to you, your skin will bounce like rubber, the sweat will come pouring. This feels like a lesson, and I close my eyes to try and learn it.

Afterwards, padding back to my room, I feel sleepy in a way I haven’t for years. Pure sleepy. We stay up a while, quietly drinking Christmas beer and eating our roasted vegetables. I decide to take as many saunas as I possibly can before I leave. 

Lake

When I looked at Sysmä on the map while completing my application for the residency, I imagined a land like lace. Porous and movable.

On the bus from Lahti, we cross the lake Paijanne in the dark. At first the thin trunks of the silver birches hide the water, but then two horizons of blue appear beside us. Our journey becomes mystical. We are half bus, half boat, half asleep, half awake. 

In my first few days at Villa Sarkia, I realise the role the lake plays here. In summer, it is a livelihood. A pleasure boat parked up beside a grill restaurant, picnic benches. In winter, the lake is a constant friend. Multiplying the light, trying to spread it wider. 

The lake is not like the sea. When you come upon it, it doesn’t knock your breath away, or remind you suddenly of the size of the world. The lake appears quietly at your feet. But the more you look, the more it shifts and grows and deepens, source of myths, ghosts, hallucinations. 

As I take my last walk around the island Ohraseerie and back along the lake, I try to take something of it back with me— some daydream stuff I can use later. 

When I get to the house, something’s cooking. In the kitchen, I find Alejandro dressing a fish. He’s been fishing the last few days, but hasn’t caught anything till tonight. The fish is large, upside-down, splayed in two, its grey lip curling like a blade. Alejandro has gutted and cleaned it. Its flesh is shocking white — strange treasure, gift from the lake.

–Georgina Parfitt

Days and Nights in the Villa Sarkia

by Maria Rybakova

My stay in the Villa Sarkia was also my very first time in Finland. I always imagined it as a land of snow. But when I arrived it was late August. It was, instead, a land of skies reflected in a lake.SysmaWhen I walked past it, it made me think about the nature of art. Art is imitation, said the ancients. One could say that art is a reflection of reality, or its shadow. Does this sky create art when it looks down into the lake? Does the lake create art when it reflects the sky? Or is all art just in the eye of the beholder – and when I see the sky reflected in the water, I see and therefore create a water-painting of the sky?

There is the stillness of happiness and there is the stillness of death. The stillness of happiness always has an underlying movement ready to break through: a wave that can arise, a boat that can become unmoored and glide away from the shore, a petal that is about to tremble. The stillness of happiness is a man sleeping, a man who can be awakened. In the stillness of death no change is possible.Sysma2.jpgOn my way to the Villa Sarkia I read an article about the woman who, jilted at the altar, decided to marry herself and go on a honeymoon by herself. I imagine this woman traveling to the most beautiful place possible – for example, a village in Finland with its lake, its blue sky, its long walks in the forest – and suddenly catching a glimpse of her double who followed (she had married herself, after all). From the bedroom window, she sees herself walking on the street, stepping on the rustling autumn leaves. When, in the evening, she goes to eat something at the grill, she recognizes herself in a customer who quickly steps out. In the house – her holiday home – she hears somebody’s steps in the hall, and goes down there, half-expecting to meet herself. (Maybe she should have gone easy on that brandy, she thinks; or maybe this symbolic marriage was a very, very bad idea). Yet, a part of her hopes that she will be loved by that stranger – her own self, her doppelganger, her soul – in this territory of yellow leaves, of the bluest sky and of the stillest water.Sysma3.jpg