Johanna Venho on her own
While writing Yhtä juhlaa ('It's all
a celebration', see page 90), my third collection, I was pretty
aware of it as a whole. But, generally speaking, the process of
writing poetry can't be fully conscious, or in your control: you
can steer it a little, but quite a lot has to be let go. My title
shows there's an irony. It points to the duality of everyday life
and of life in general: both involve celebration and the
opposite of celebration.
with rhyme something quite new to me and reading these
poems aloud does, I've noticed, work. I've recently been having
a go at writing song lyrics, too. Something else new is that the
collection grows the arc of a story line, and story-telling brings
along a fairytale element.
you read or hear affects you in one way or another, and Yhtä
juhlaa gestures to others in or between the lines especially
to the Finnish poets Pentti Saarikoski and Eeva-Liisa Manner, as
well as to Sylvia Plath. A big influence has been Finnish folk poetry,
with its blend of paganism and Christianity. And I love Wislawa
Szymborska's fusion of clarity and polysemy.
in my depiction of the everyday life of a woman and mother I've
been trying to test the philosophy that opposites past and
present, light and dark, life and death coexist. Earthiness
too is a unifying factor: the soil, where what's gone moulders away
and the new grows. And I've picked words and phrases from Finnish
folk poetry concrete, earthy speech that utters the feelings,
but without any syrupiness. Folk poetry's often cruelly beautiful
a strong broth of pagan and Christian imagery: the rich rhythm
and language are primitively powerful. And, for me, poetry is above
all language: a poem stands or falls by its diction and phraseology.
If the language doesn't grab your attention, the poem's nowhere,
or it isn't a poem at all.
forest I wander in is unexplored territory, a part of myself where
I might come across something new. It's an alternative reality I
must have the courage to enter, in spite of the fear of getting
lost, stumbling or disappearing. It's also a safeguard and a hiding
place. The laws of civilisation don't apply here. It's not a built-up
or controllable world: it's a reality where a human being can't
conceive of being in control. In our society, rational control's
vastly over-emphasised: it's a shackle.
the word is often used pejoratively, but I've tried to make
the everyday sing. Insignificant-looking things can form into a
significant whole. A person's tested in the flow of everyday life,
where everything's floating along, the past, the present, stories
and songs. The everyday shapes a person, and finally the greatest
satisfaction is found there.
language is full of happenings, and, however paradoxical it might
seem, surrender to it is the only way to survive everything. There
are no permanent or correct responses, and floundering about in
the current one comes up against all sorts of things. If you get
into difficulties, you have to resort to a song or an incantation.
is so multifarious that it's difficult to depict it; and motherhood's
different for children of different ages. In my poem 'A square metre'
I wanted to give an impression of the wonderful and terrible mill
that sucks in my poetic self. I cruise about in a mother's thoughts,
and I'm constantly interrupted: there are the neighbours' comments,
the comments of other mothers, and you never get away from the thought
of the end, of death, which is a part of being a mother.
phrases from the air, from magazines, from friends
to give a wink at those who hang onto a single truth: humour's a
way of getting over things. '... the days so fraught / you've no
resource in seriousness any more.'
This is an edited version of a radio interview, by Natasha Koski,
of Johanna Venho which was broadcast by Radio Moreeni in Tampere
on 23 March; it is also published, in Finnish, on the website of
the Helsinki City Library (www.lib.hel.fi, click 'Viikon kirjailija').