A Constantly Turning Baroque
Markku Paasonen was born in 1967 and published his first collection of poetry, Aurinkopunos (Solar plexus) in 1997. Formally, his poems seemed complete. However, they also contained a wealth of cultural and historical references, whose function was largely to support a rather illusionless vision of the surrounding world. These references were nonetheless imbued with rich, romantic imagery; something which is then varied in unexpected ways.
The everyday settings of Paasonen’s poems are easily discernible: the sea, the shore, the city – and the rubbish tip. Once I had read Aurinkopanos, it struck me that the tide could function as a metaphor: as it retreats, it leaves behind a pile of miscellaneous objects; stones, shells, old orienteering tools, beer bottle tops. It seemed that Paasonen’s poetry was at once attempting to describe an alchemistic process and to be one itself. A sense of irony is, however, always tangible: this process does not produce gold, but strange variations, hybrids and refuse.
His second collection, Verkko (1999; The Net), assesses the common cycles of nature and culture. The products of culture are continually being mixed together with nature; soon there will be no untouched nature left to see. In this sense, Paasonen’s poetry is particularly radical in Finnish terms, as it does not assume that pure, untouched nature is a viable subject for discussion; in his poetry, it is impossible to escape or retreat into nature, and in any case, nature is shown to reproduce itself through these same cultural processes. At times, nature itself is seen as a machine: the series of poems depicting a museum of technology describe the development of technology as evolution – shellfish grow hardened tanks around themselves and thus become submarines.
Paasonen combines nature and culture to the extreme. He is particularly interested in the depths, caves, tunnels, sewers, underground pipe systems, everything which exists and flows unseen and which partly facilitates the life we can see. “Mikään ei kadonnut niin helposti kuin luultiin, / ei edes oma vuosikymmen lakannut kummittelemasta / romukasan päällä. Viimeisenä silauksena irvistys, / tekohampaat, kaatopaikan lokkien purkitettu nauru”. In contemporary life, it would only appear that history itself has all but disappeared: if it exists nowhere else, then at least it can still be seen in the rot and rust at a rubbish tip.
The idea of such radical recycling is at least eased by the fact that Paasonen uses very bright and clear language, though this is not to suggest he is a minimalist. It is also eased by a variety of `traditional’ similes; thus “viskillä on auringonlaskun väri” [whisky is the colour of sunset]. Still, even at points such as these, it is impossible to see nature in any way other than in terms of our artificial reality, in technocolour.
Markku Paasonen is one of those poets, who is constantly in search of new images, new metaphors, new metamorphoses. One should not expect quirky aphorisms, unless they appear as a flash of irony. This shows Paasonen’s affinity with the Baroque era: reality is distorted, often to the point of being grotesque, mirrors reflect other mirrors, full of twisted objects and images. Even objects reflect other objects: this chain is endless and in constant flux.
The interplay of illusory images and formal variation suggests a surrealist approach. Unlike many surrealists, Paasonen does not strive towards completely free association, rather he attempts to become immersed in analogies (although this, of course, is also a surrealist technique). Everything is open to comparison, yet remains unchanged in a purely concrete sense. Surrealism often made use of early romantic imagery, and so does Paasonen: he ploughs the depths, submerged worlds, but the only secrets he finds there are the sewers or water flowing underground.
The collection Voittokulku (2001; Victory March) contains a pastiche of André Breton’s poem `Now her hair is alight…’ and transports the reader to a hardened American milieu.
Paasonen’s poetry never makes a point of being lyrical, so it seems natural that his third collection Voittokulku should be largely in prose. The texts are clear prose poems, though this genre itself is never specified and its classification refers to narrative prose. Some of the texts strongly evoke Octavio Pazi’s collection of prose poetry Eagle or Sun: what is paramount is the writer’s battle with words, his struggle to capture fleeing words and clauses, and at times this battle seems like a period spent in hell, full of lurking danger.
Other influences on Paasonen’s writing have been Eeva-Liisa Manner’s prose poems, which often approach metaphysical visions. At times his writing is also reminiscent of German concrete poetry, which described objects per se, until they gradually assumed thoroughly unexpected qualities; or perhaps German expressionism, travelling through a contorted, bustling, sprawling city like the hell of Hieronymus Bosch.
What about the speaker’s freedom? A strong first person is always present, one which shows itself to be the King of the Sun, yet his power is ultimately limited to mere repetition. In this cycle there is no other freedom. `Freedom’ is a text, in which the speaker claims to have seen the lips of the Goddess of Freedom in the Paris Museum of Technology. But there is nothing left of this Goddess, and even her lips are moved by computer guided poles. Nearby, great men like Rousseau and Voltaire float suspended in green liquid.
Freedom is the oppurtunity of naming things, both as they are and are not, in a mechanical but complex network of huge machinery, the body of a city or the machine of the body.