THE BEAUTIFUL ILLUSIONS OF HYBRIS AND DESTRUCTION
The Finland-Swedish poet and artist Martin Enckell (born 1954) began his career as a writer during his twenties in the anthology Ny lyrik with the not particularly 70’s-sounding title Kristalltårar (Crystal Tears).
Towards the end of the 1970’s Enckell belonged to a group of writers brought together by the magazine Fågel Felix. This group included writers such as Marianne Backlén, Chris af Enehjelm, Joakim Groth, Kjell Lindblad and Thomas Wulff. Ralf Andtbacka has described them thus: “the development of rock music and the emerging group of alternative movements were significant coinciding events. Amongst the young literature fanatics of Fågel Felix there was certainly enough romantic yearning for experiences as well as an openness to existential, metaphysical and esoteric ways of thinking, which even at the time grated dissonantly with the overwhelmingly strict, partisan aesthetics of the day […]”. At the end of the decade Enckell had also become involved with a group of ‘angry young men’ writers called Kain.
The 1990’s brought Enckell a somewhat rare honour in our bilingual country: an entire collection of his poetry was translated into Finnish. Kali (1993) was translated into Finnish by Rakel Liehu, a poet whom Enckell has translated into Swedish. Kali, a collection heavily influenced by romanticism, aestheticism and early symbolism in the spirit of Rimbaud broke down other barriers by being translated into Russian. The volume was even awarded a prize in St. Petersburg for best translated work.
Insurgency, the focus on a suffering speaker and the interaction between such pairs of opposites as life and death, filth and purity, hatred and love are also features of the volumes ingen & den knottriga damen (1978) (‘nobody and the cranky lady’), Sortie (1979), Gud All-En (1989) (‘God All-One’) and där kärleken är en dunkel och förödande företeelse (1996) (‘where love is a dark and destructive phenomenon’), but it is in Kali, named after the demonic Mother-God, that these traits are especially prevalent.
In particular the dichotomy between that which is time-bound and the eternal is shown in relief in this volume. The door from the temporal world to the eternal is on its side and Enckell often seems to chant spells or prayer as if in some kind of fever – in fact, the book implicitly reveals that the poet contracted black malaria in Calcutta, and as such the opposition between life and death, a common feature of Enckell’s work, became physical in a horrific way. “And the hallucinations and the shivers and the fever culminated, alternated, appeared as convulsions and as something which felt as if a high voltage cable had been wired into my brain and into my whole being. I thought I was dying.”
Besides Kali, Enckell’s most widely critically acclaimed volume may well be Gud All-En, which can also be seen as his breakthrough. Sparser in expression than Kali – and rejected by the publishing house Schildts – the collection is dedicated to the cruelly murdered Islamic mystic al-Halladji, who claimed to have achieved divinity. Another piece of curious trivia about Gud All-En is that it was the first and last independently published collection of poetry to be nominated for the Finlandia Prize.
In Gud All-En Enckell succeeds in condensing the fundamentals of his poetics, in which the key issue is not merely depicting the world, rather it is a question of creating it: “God does not exist. Powerlessness exists. The powerlessness of a solitary person. Powerlessness which has the ability to carry one on towards hybris. […] God does not exist. Poetry exists. Poetry is to lie beautifully so much that one sees visions. To create poetry is not to act as God, it is to be God […]”.
In Gud All-En the world of Enckell’s poetry is compressed into crystal tears, it is poetry which in its influence from the Far East is far from the land of haikus and teabags. His poetry is not there to enliven conversation round the coffee table, rather these poems written out loud, often handsomely resonant, sometimes mumbling, mystical, rich in repetition and overflowing with rhetorical devices should ideally be read as a whole in order to be experienced fully.
translated by David Hackston
Ingen och den knottriga damen (1978), Sortie (1979), Pravda – Love (prose, 1983), Hibakusha Go Go (novel, 1987), Gud All - En (1989), Dikter (1992), Kali (1993), där kärleken är en dunkel och förödende företeelsen (1996)