AN EXPLORER IN THE LIBRARY OF CULTURAL TRADITION
Annukka Peura’s (born 1968) collection of poetry Kaaoksen matkustaja (1989) (‘Traveller in Chaos’) was awarded the J. H. Erkko Prize for best debut work. In the collection the various personae journey through a chaotic reality much like Alice in Wonderland. In the poem ‘Lievä argumentti/ Skismaa lasin läpi’ (‘A Slight Argument / A Schism in the Glass’) the ‘I’ is indeed reflected: “Unlike Alice I am of the opinion that / the sleeping Red King IS a charming sight.”
Traveller in Chaos brings together many open ended and ambiguous elements. Somewhere amongst the labyrinth of play on words is the sinister traveller in chaos, who believes him- /herself to be omnipotent. “I am the traveller in Chaos, / I play every instrument, / I am Anyone, / All at once / and Everywhere, / when I want / and whenever you want, / I peep inside the windows of houses, / I walk through people’s windows, / I do not break anything, I do not regret anything, / anything can happen / I can bear it and will survive, / I do not lean on anyone, / I need everyone, / I will never give up / more than myself / […]”.
A very distinctive dual reflection of high and low characterises Peura’s first collection. Extremely theoretical high flight is balanced every now and then by apocalyptic low flight. One example of this is the daringly titled poem ‘Never too young to die’ which plays on the lyrics of the Guns’N’Roses song Paradise City and indeed the double edged sword between hedonism and self-inflicted pain symbolised by Guns’N’Roses entire output. On the other hand, the poem carries the rather less rock-influenced subtitle ‘Nuoruuden apogryfiat, op.16’ (‘Apochryfas of Youth, op.16’).
Themes of pleasure and suffering are perhaps the only threads connecting her debut with the collection which appeared six years later and won the Kalevi Jäntti Prize, Erotus (1995) (‘Difference’). The expansive, essay-like poems in this second collection wander through European cultural history as if through a huge library and it is thus perfectly natural that Latin quotations and other cultural aspects of our civilisation accumulated over thousands of years find their way into these unhurried verses.
Difference begins with a section entitled Spinozan tulppaanit (‘Spinoza’s Tulips’), which depicts the speaker’s stepping out of ‘the darkened room’. This section of the collection concludes with the following lines: “I watched a bitter monument swaying in the light / and I felt the wound healing. / / I pulled the curtains aside, / and there, behind the green tinted glass, / dazzling, / was the 20th century.” After images of recovery comes the section Nautilus, in which the ‘I’, inspired by its father who called himself an unsuccessful naturalist, examines the 20th century like a scientist: “Under his guidance I began to compile catalogues and taxonomies, I learnt / first relations, names, cubic cubes and numbers of pairs of angels’ wings, / to remember and then to understand…”
Peura unpicks the differences between opposing truths and tries to find out how life’s great narrative sews death into itself, how pleasure sews suffering (the figure Dolores), the body sews the soul and the temporal the timeless. “This is writing, this is not the truth. / The truth is the sum of many sensations of being and cannot be expressed in words” Peura has written and like a scientist she tries to catch reality with her critical eye in order to prove over and over that “Truth is always somewhere else.”
Difference concludes with these words: “A moment before sunrise the goddess arrives, her hands in the back pockets of her trousers / and with her knees she shatters the division of light and sand. […] and I, as if I were real, carry on writing.”
translated by David Hackston
Kaaoksen matkustaja (1989), Erotus (1995)