THE SUBURBAN ROMANTIC
Tomi Kontio (b. 1966) is an award-winning writer who lives in Helsinki. He has published three collections of poetry. Tanssisalitaivaan alla (Under the Ballroom Sky, 1993) received the J. H. Erkko Award for the best first poetry book, his second collection, Lukinkehrä (Harvestman's Spindle), came out in 1996 and the third one, Taivaan latvassa (At the Crown of the Sky), in 1998. Kontio hasn’t won praise only as a poet; he is also a much-acclaimed prosaist. His collection of short stories, Säädyttömät (The Indecent, 1994), and novel Uumen (The Core, 1995) were short-listed for the Runeberg Literary Award. His children's book, Keväällä isä sai siivet (In Spring Dad Got Wings), was awarded the Junior Finlandia Prize in year 2000. Kontio has also written lyrics for a rock band called Kelpo Pojat.
Kontio's poems are animistic, expressive and vivid in imagery. Similes, metaphors and metonymies are drawn from the natural world: a bald-headed man has the eyes of a perch, magpie-colored days walk by, the maple-faced world spits the fall out of its mouth. Flora, fauna and natural phenomena are active agents in the poems: "Every snowflake draws its own name / not in the sky or on the ground, but here, on paper." Even inanimate natural phenomena are granted a soul and a personality.
In his poetry, Kontio works the everyday with supple imagination. The setting of a poem may be a suburban mall, the woods close-by, a beach, or, the starry canopy of the galaxies. The poems create a world that is mundane and strangely unfamiliar at the same time. A telling example of this is a prose poem entitled Kontula in At the Crown of the Sky: "The stars fall on the shoulders of the sky like dandruff. I walk along Purchase Road and put a piece of the Milky Way in my pocket. You are close, closer than ever. I've been thinking that on a night like this, when I'm walking through the landscape I've written and the howl of Sirius is as loud as the groaning of a pooch abandoned in front of a bar, that on a night like this, I just might say something you've wanted. To hear." The same imagery appears in every collection: detailed observations on the natural world and romantic images of the suburbs of Helsinki against the background of the infinite space. The titles of some poems derive from mythology: Venus, Hercules, Andromeda.
According to a line in a poem entitled Lyra: "the universe is the seamy side of humankind." The speaker and his observations are part of the eternity and the universal chaos and cosmos. He belongs to a larger entity that is paced by the cycle of nature, changing of seasons, light and shadow. "The light is a hungry darkness / and the stars, their white tracks / along which you roam, as well as I / and once more the light, its darkness / like some sort of chimera."
Water, light, earth, sky and celestial bodies are important elements in all of Kontio's collections. The speaker's inner world is often compared to a solar system: "I possess a world I never mention aloud / it orbits the sun in its own universe, / and the light that is cast over the living beings / nor the darkness can be articulated. --- Even if I pressed my heart against / your heart, you wouldn't hear it, / my solar system won't leave a stamp on your chest, / nor will a morning star stain it, the moon of tidal waters." The distance between human beings and their longing to be close to each other are some of Kontio’s key themes. "Not a thing stirs, how could it, / because even the remotest star is just as close as the hand / my temple is leaning on, the light-years / belong to the wrong cosmology, the one / that aspires to separate us." The poems have an air of the mystical. They may be wistful, even melancholic, but they are still warm and comforting. Humor and irony hide between the lines.
translated by Sarka Hantula
Tanssisalitaivaan alla (1993), Säädyttömät (short stories, 1994), Uumen (novel, 1995), Lukinkehrä (1996), Taivaan latvassa (1998), Keväällä isä sai siivet (children's book, 2000), Austraasian viimeiset lapset (youth book, 2002), Vaaksan päässä taivaasta (2004), Miten puhua miehelle (prose, 2005), Maan veli (youth book, 2005), Lehmä jonka kyljessä oli luukku (children's book, 2006), Huoneistossa on eläimiä (prose, 2007)