Finnish Poetry

I am writing this post from a warm and colourful studio in Central Finland, sipping tea and eating pumpkin seed bread. This week, on behalf of Cardiff University, I am visiting the University of Jyväskylä to observe seminars, give presentations, teach workshops and learn more about creative writing in Finland. It has been extraordinary so far and I will certainly write a longer post about the experience before the week is up.

For now though, I wanted to share something short on Finnish poetry. Yesterday, I observed a seminar which was taught, mostly, in Finnish. Still, when the students read out their pieces I was asked what I thought about them. One student read a poem with short, clipped lines that moved the piece along at a good pace. She repeated some words (which were later translated to me as ‘I believe’) and I guessed, purely based on the sounds, that the poem was imagery-heavy. The other student used longer lines, suggesting her piece was more narrative. I could hear some alliteration and rhyme. I guessed she was telling a story, which I later learned was true: it was a child-friendly piece about a dragon and his family.

The exercise was interesting for all of us and encouraged the entire class to think more deeply about what poetry has to offer in terms of its sound, rhythm, and beyond-words meaning, even when being read out in a language not spoken by the listener.

This got me thinking: I should read more Finnish poetry. I have never read much before so I  have spent the morning researching, reading poems, tracing my fingers along the foreign words. I thought I’d share a few of the pieces I’ve fallen in love with (along with a couple photos of the snow-covered campus). Enjoy or should I say: Nauttia!


Anna että aallot ruoskisivat muurin rikki,
kirkonrotat virtaisivat ruokasaliin,
tapulissa kello kolahtaisi puhki ja kuoripojat
kuin lokit kirkuisivat.
Eikä myrsky tottelisi. Ei vaikenisi.
Jättäisi jälkeensä puhkilyödyn kellon,
rotansyömän rukouskirjan, kompostissa
kukkivan rupisen perunan.


Risto Oikarinen

Let the waves lash and smash down the wall,
that church rats would swarm into the dining hall,
that the bell in the tower would break with a bang and the choirboys
like seagulls would shriek.
And the storm wouldn’t obey. Wouldn’t still.
Would leave a broken bell,
a rat-eaten prayer book, and in the compost
a blossoming scabby potato.


Risto Oikarinen

Nukkumaan käydessä ajattelen:
Huomenna minä lämmitän saunan,
pidän itseäni hyvänä,
kävelytän, uitan, pesen,
kutsun itseni iltateelle,
puhuttelen ystävällisesti ja ihaillen, kehun:
Sinä pieni urhea nainen,
minä luotan sinuun. 

Eeva Kilpi

Going to sleep, I think:
tomorrow I will heat up the sauna,
pamper myself,
walk, swim, wash,
invite myself to evening tea,
speak to myself in a friendly and admiring way, praising:
You brave little woman,
I believe in you. 

Eeva Kilpi


Bli aldrig vän med en kråka!
sade en biolog i radion. Kråkan
fäster sig snabbt vid dig, hon knackar på
fönstret oavbrutet, kråkan blir lätt psykotisk.
Ingenting händer här. Ingenting. Trädgårdar
i regn. Citroner i månsken. En flock kajor lyfte med ett
häftigt oväsen vid ruinen igår kväll. Klockorna   milt
genom diset. Röken, klangerna. Jag såg en gång
en liten flickas ögon gå i moln, det var irreparabelt
från början, det gör ont. Molnet drog över den
violetta ögonvitan långsamt inåt mot
pupillen och sedan kunde jag inte
följa det längre, molnet.

Tua Forsström


Never make friends with a crow!
a biologist said on the radio. A crow
gets attached to you easily, she’ll tap on
the window constantly, a crow can easily become psychotic.
Nothing happens here. Nothing. Gardens
in the rain. Lemons in moonlight. A flock of jackdaws
flew up with a huge racket by the ruin last night. The bells
softly through the haze. The smoke, the ringing. Once I saw
the eyes of a little girl cloud over, it was irreparable
right from the start, it hurts. The cloud floated over the
violet eyeball, slowly in toward the
pupil, and then I could no longer
follow it, that cloud.

Tua Forsström


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