THE OUTERMOST IS NOT FAR AWAY
After becoming the youngest person to achieve their doctoral thesis in Finland at the age of 22, Heidi Liehu (born 1967) published three collections of poetry in rapid succession, meandering thematically as much as in expression: Meillä on silmät (1990) (We have eyes), Mitä ei ollut (1991) (That which was not) and Lumoava selli (1992) (The Enchanting Cell).
Liehu’s poetry strikes a tension between ‘hot’ passion and ‘cool’ intellect. In her debut collection, she wrote: “This new rhythm, / as adders writhe against the stumps, / reeled up / hissing / but forgotten. / These images unite my senses; / my ears intrude right up to my eyes / there are many of them / many edges to the sea / pendulums / colours / sequins of light / bare against the unarmed inner surface of my eyelids. / I can no longer see symbols denoting content, / it is no longer merely a rabbit or a duck”.
The insistent pounding rhythm and adders forcing their way into your eyes imperceptibly merge into a linguistic discourse, which does not detract from the potency of the imagery which comes before it. Liehu points out, as is common to many of her poems, that distance does not necessarily have a neutralising effect. It is as easy to be stunned by the power of knowledge as by that of the senses – and perhaps it also suggests, that love need not always be blind…
Be that as it may, one of the strengths of Liehu’s work is that she has an ability, central to the work of all artists and scientists, to be able to see connections between the unpredictable and that which at the same time seems to speak for itself. In an interview she gave to Anna magazine in 2000, Liehu comments upon her lyrical thought processes: “Meditation and passion are closely related to each other – in both cases the question is, in a sense, of losing oneself, and both instances also bring with them a great sense of energy. According to neuroscientific research, brain activity in Indian yogi is very similar to that of someone having an orgasm. This same rush of electricity through the brain occurs during moments of great creativity – external worries suddenly lose their significance.”
One of the hallmarks of Liehu’s work is the presence of a world seen through a microscope and a telescope. Her poems take place in Helsinki, in Paris and even out in the universe, which is teeming with life on earth and in the sea as much as in the sky. As in the novel Rakkaus Pariisissa (2000) (Love in Paris), the poem "Pitkät hyvästit" (1995) (‘long, long goodbyes), set in the city of love, brings together expansive leitmotivs with full-blooded love poetry, for example: “Keep me here with my entire body / so that I do not disappear into the galaxies, / so much I love you”.
The collection Keskiyön enkelit (1996) (Midnight Angels), to date Liehu’s most recent volume of poetry, deals extensively with the micro- and the macrocosmos. A growing interest in social and current affairs may well explain her recent silence as a poet. In recent years Liehu has become an active social critic, and in the book Perhosten valtakunta (1998) (The Butterfly Empire) she criticises the relativism of values in the post-modern philosophy of science whilst in her work Vasen oikea vasen oikea (2000) (Left right left right) she presents a frank analysis of presidential elections and of Finnish ideologies of political power.
In her most recent work, dealing with what she sees to be the present culture of selfishness, Ihmisestä, jumaluudesta ja onnesta (2002) (On Humans, Divinity and Happiness), Liehu explicitly states what has been discernible in her poems for a long time: that our personal happiness is in direct correlation to our ability to love all of creation, including animals and plants.
translated by David Hackston
Søren Kierkegaard's theory of stages and its relation to Hegel (non-fiction, 1990), Meillä on silmät (1990), Mitä ei ollut (1991), Lumoava selli (1992), Kirsikankukkia (non-fiction, 1993), Pitkät hyvästit (1995), Keskiyön enkelit (1996), Perhosten valtakunta (non-fiction, 1998), Vasen oikea vasen oikea (non-fiction, 2000), Rakkaus Pariisissa (novel, 2000), Ihmisestä, jumaluudesta ja onnesta (essays, 2002), Café Mandarin (novel, 2002), Ihminen ja terroristi (non-fiction, 2004), Ihana Kristus (essays, 2006)