A greater solitude
Helena Sinervo's intention was to write a biography of the poet, prose-writer
and translator Eeva-Liisa Manner (1921-1995). But even during the
early research the task looked daunting: the interviewees spoke about
a luminary, the greatest genius of the modernistic Finnish poetry.
Helena Sinervo (born 1961) is a poet
and a critic; her most recent volume was Oodeja korvalle ('Odes
for the ear', WSOY, 2003). She herself had recognised grief, suffering
and loneliness in Manner's works. Things went as they do with a writer;
the material she had collected fictionalised itself in Sinervo's mind.
The novel-character Eeva-Liisa came to life, and Sinervo began writing
about the persona's life from within. The result was the novel Runoilijan
talossa ('In the house of the poet', Tammi, 2004; see page 255).
Sinervo focuses her story on Manner's
second home in Spain. Cleaning up her villa in 1971 after the earthquake,
Manner begins a dialogue with the papers she finds among the rubble.
The step in the dark the novel takes
leads to the circumstances of Manner's childhood. After her mother
died giving birth, the premature baby was put in an incubator and
fed through a tube. The father would hear nothing of his child, and
the girl ended up in the care of her religious and severe grandparents.
The nightmare of her early years slowly
closes in: the girl was brought up with the whip and terrifying stories
about Satan. Feeling attacked by the world, she attempts suicide,
unsuccessfully. She grows up shy, fearful and withdrawn. If she's
abused, she blames herself. If one gets hit on the head with a bottle,
that too is probably one's own fault.
"'Men treat women violently,' I
thought. 'If you'd like to live with a man, then you'd have to put
up with it.'" Eeva--Liisa's erotic feelings flow towards both
men and women, but her physical experiences gradually make men an
-extremely improbable alternative. The poet undergoes existential
loneliness in her world, and, tragically, such is a condition of her
work. Nevertheless she has friends, who put up with her 'regressive'
behaviour. She suffers a trauma of motherlessness: someone she loves
has to be a mother-substitute, always ready to satisfy her needs.
'No adult can endure that behaviour.'
The novel's great merit is its empathetic
discernment, which illuminates Manner's thought. Time is a theme the
poet has returned to again and again, and around time Sinervo develops
a brilliantly resonant narrative, taking off from the novel's time-free
The abandonment of linearity is -enabled
by the concept of time: time is scattered and forms an environment.
Manner's phrase, 'All time surrounds us,' suggests that the human
mind is scattered around the world as thought. But this is also subjectivism
at its most beautiful - subjectivism as a presence. And finally, and
most importantly: creativity is the reading of that environing world,
not its imitation.
The soul's ensnarement in physicality
is another Manner's great theme. The novel finely catches the poet's
own mischievous rhetoric in speaking about the pathetic individual's
incessant yearning for a partner. This is epitomised in a night scene
in a Spanish backyard: in beautiful moonlight a hen is sleeping on
the back of a silver-sided donkey. Their tender union lasts year after
The short story Hippopotamus
(1957) by Eeva-Liisa Manner appeared in Books from Finland
1/2004; a selection of Manner's poems, translated by Herbert Lomas,
appeared in Books from Finland 3/1995, and his translation
of Eeva-Liisa Manner: Selected Poems (1997) was published in
England by Making Waves (1997).