'I was blamed by another translator for working with
the early Ilpo Tiihonen,' writes Tiihonen's translator, Herbert
Lomas; 'He was supposedly superficial.'
It's a mistake to confuse lightness
of touch or facility with superficiality. Shakespeare himself, who
wrote three plays a year and "never blotted a line", must
have had facility. And lightness of touch is a sign of intelligence
and artistic security. Ilpo Tiihonen (born 1950) carries his intelligence
and his reading of the Swedish and Russian classics (Fröding,
Mayakovsky, Yesenin) without self-importance, which may not always
pass for a paradoxical humility.
What singled out the early Tiihonen
was his difference from his contem-poraries and predecessors; and
his pleasure in craft, his relish for language, form and play were
promising. He makes use of rhyme, creating an ironically slanted
lyrical satire, whose cynical defences do not disguise a fundamentally
As for difference, Mozart said his
music was no more original than his nose a profound remark. Originality
doesn't consist in an endless pursuit of novelty at all costs, but
in the business of finding and being oneself. Many poets not only
look alike on the page, they sound alike and even seem to be saying
similar things. Tiihonen was following his own nose and believed
the smell, even if it sometimes made him look sentimental or alarmingly
The mystical including romantic
yearnings, thanatos, and compassion for down-and-outs and drunks
sits oddly with his streetwiseness. He's always been tuned in.
Angels have appeared in his work, and not altogether ironically.
His intuitions could lead him to a religion of a heterodox, not
necessarily wacky sort. He has the childlikeness that goes with
superior talent, and he runs literary risks without apparently noticing
At 48, with a considerable body of
poetry and theatre behind him, he's well past the age for a mid-term
crisis. It will be time for either developing maturity or disastrously
His current volume is obviously an
interim one, but he seems as young as ever. He's always been uneven,
and there are still experiments that don't seem quite worth it.
He's not lost his capacity for games, but now futility seems to
have become a serious opponent. "Do you recognise the void
that's knocking at your door?... Have you held futility in the palm
of your hand?... What carries weight is the thinnest of laths."
Desperation invites a plethora of questions. "Could you give
a name to wonderful sounds / no one can hear?"
He hopes his hands will never be empty.
He prays to a God both infinite and scattered about in the world's
coat pockets, without believing. Nevertheless, he asks help in putting
two words together. Like Wolf in the Italienisches Liederbuch
he remembers Auch kleine Dinge. In spite of his irony, he
probably does long to set his hair on fire and become a summer cloud,
remembering how the match once swayed as part of a great tree.
The urban poet has started remembering
the lakewater cracking its ice roof like a sentence graved on a
window. And his nine lives are coming up for assessment. The big
question must be about his next nine.
As for translation, that's always
been difficult with Tiihonen for his form, his slang, his colloquialisms,
his word-play, his tone. For a parallel effect literalism is impossible.
He still rhymes, but not in the poems here, where, his simplicity
is just as difficult. It's not form but idiom that's the problem:
finding constructs that will produce the right balance between faux-naïveté
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