Absurd black humour
Juhani Ahvenjärvi (born 1965) has published two volumes of poetry. His debut collection Hölkkä (‘Jogging’) appeared in 1992 and Viivoitettu uni (‘Lined Dream’) in 1996. In addition to this he has published a book entitled Kahvin hyvyydestä (1997) (‘On the Goodness of Coffee’), in which he analyses his own poems and contemplates the problems of modern day symbolism. This book also includes two new series of poems.
His debut volume Hölkkä received great acclaim for its originality. The work certainly lives up to its name, a body of work moving gently but briskly forwards, a collection in which a captivating gleaming sense of humour is combined with an absurd and nonsensical view of the world. The comedy here is brought about by Ahvenjärvi’s way of being able to talk about irrational things with a straight face. He does not mess about with language, rather he writes simple, frank sentences. It is due to the humour in this collection that there is no sense of running a marathon. Although the poems grab hold of the ridiculousness of life with great intelligence, there is nonetheless always a humorous glint in the corner of the poet’s eye. Despite this, Hölkkä is not a volume of poetry which makes one laugh. There is something else hiding behind the light-hearted, clever exterior in this poetry. As always, it is through humour that we are able to address questions, about which, without a tinge of irony, we would be unable to speak.
The world of Hölkkä is very concrete, it is of this world. Despite the concrete aspects of the poetry it is not particularly easy to ‘understand’ Ahvenjärvi’s work. Upon reading his poems one has a sense of the way children see the world, the way they put names to various objects and beings and what they can see, with the vocabulary that is available to them. Ahvenjärvi makes use of very everyday words but in using them he conjures up an unusual and absurd world.
His second volume Viivoitettu uni (‘Lined Dream’) differs from the first one primarily in that there is far less humour, whereas suffering is highlighted to a greater extent. The light feeling of the previous volume has changed: humour is no longer pitch black, it is a black hole. If the poems in Hölkkä succeeded in comforting the reader, those in Viivoitettu uni do anything but. This collection’s depiction of the world is savage. The serious, intense truthfulness, which appeared to an extent in Hölkkä is brought far more powerfully into focus; this is perhaps because the poems themselves are much shorter. Ahvenjärvi has said that his aim in this second collection was to examine the possibilities that minimalist expression could bring about.
One of the recurring symbols in Viivoitettu uni is the doll, and with it comes the question as to who or what is the ‘player’ and who is the object of this game; who has ultimate power and who is subordinate to that power. Indeed, it is power which makes cruelty possible. In bringing together conflicting issues in this way, questions also arise about the nature of make-believe and reality, the relationship between childhood and adulthood. Make-believe and reality collide with each other, as in the poem in which a miniature railway set meets a real train.
Ahvenjärvi’s third publication Kahvin hyvyydestä (‘On the Goodness of Coffee’) cannot really be called a volume of poetry, as it includes – in addition to two series of poems – an essay-like text entitled Kahvin hyvyydestä kahvin syvyyteen (‘From the Goodness of Coffee to the Depth of Coffee’), as well as the poet’s own analyses of the poems in Viivoitettu uni. In the essay, Ahvenjärvi considers the relationship between symbolism and poetry and discusses the ideas and thought-processes behind the poems in Viivoitettu uni. He claims that his objective was to find new, non-symbolic ways of writing poetry, which he sees as being the most visual of all art forms.
The work contains two series of poems: one, both absurd and amusing, is written in Tampere dialect and is entitled Näsinneulan juuret (‘At the Foot of Näsinneula Tower’) and the other is mouth-wateringly entitled Fazerin parhain (‘Fazer’s Best’). Classic sweets such as Kiss-Kiss, Tosca, Latka, Islanti, Tokyo and Orange do indeed deserve poems after them!
translated by David Hackston