EVERYTHING, AS IT IS
Henrika Ringbom was born in 1962 and lives in Helsinki. She studied literature and religion and was one of the editors of the short-lived journal KLO, which appeared between 1985-87. She made her debut in 1988 with the book Båge (‘Bow’), a collection of prose poems. She presents in this book some of the elements which have since come to characterise much of her writing: a pendulum movement between verse and prose, in which form and expression create an organic whole. Ringbom’s poems do not describe: they are. There is indeed one poem in this collection, which is arguably an outline of her entire work to date:
I do not want
symbols, I want what
works. Whether it is images, sounds
I want them. Whether it is
horrible dreams, I want them.
Her next collection bears the title Det jag har (‘What I have’) and was published two years later. The character of the poems in this collection is more lyrical and rhythm is crucially important. Even the word ‘rhythm’ appears frequently.
not the darkness
the rooms fall
not the rooms
the rhythm falls
The title itself draws one’s attention: Det jag har consists of three words, each with three letters and as a whole this creates a sentence loaded with meaning and with a significance all of its own.
Ringbom’s third collection of poetry Det finns ingen annanstans (1994) (‘There is no elsewhere’) was hailed as her lyrical breakthrough. The texts in this book are akin to a collection of transparent dreams and often nightmares. A few recurring nouns are ‘glass’, ‘water’, ‘eye’ and verbs which frequently reappear are ‘rinse’, ‘cleanse’, ‘kiss’. The book can be seen a way of channelling her visions, senses and ideas. The personae in the poems are often trapped in a tormented reality. There is a direct correspondence between the precision in Ringbom’s expression and the absolute nature of reality. She works a great deal with newspaper clippings, which give the poems a concrete framework, within which they can force themselves upon the reader with great intensity and which often makes them seem repellent. There is however something in the language itself which seduces the reader and spurs them onwards through the text. Ringbom assumes a stance which could even be called political: the clippings she uses from newspapers give her text a concrete framework without tying her up with taking a standpoint in current affairs or reeling out a party-political manifesto.
In 1998 she published a novel: Martina Dagers längtan (‘The Longing of Martina Dager’). Here she returns to dreams and visions but in a new and fresh way. Martina Dager is a clerk at Finland’s National Bank, she is efficient and precise in her work. During any rare free-time she wanders around little forests in the suburbs and along the dirty beaches of the bay in Töölönlahti. Her thoughts gradually take her to the very edge of her existence, in which fantasy threatens to become reality in a terrifying way.
Henrika Ringbom’s most recent collection of poetry Den vita vinthunden (‘The White Greyhound’) came out in the autumn of 2001. Rhythm is also very important here but in a new way. Like in music, repetition and variation balance each other out. Here she takes harmony seriously. Once again, as in her first collection Båge (‘Bow’), one can discern a pendulum movement between fantasy and reality, between document and poem, between inside and outside, idyll and horror. Sometimes the calmness in these poems, as the still surface of water on the book’s front cover, can seem very frightening. Particularly in the latter part of the collection, she begins to expand further on the relationship she perceives between poem and reality. Central concepts are seeing, mirrors and water.
sung dark child
deep deep sunken soaked child
the baby sinks
I cannot see mirror
In trying to encapsulate Henrika Ringbom’s work in a few words I would say that her form of expression is extremely precise and objective, she captures in a very concrete way that which is tangibly present, and with a balanced sense of rhythm. The surrounding reality is as important as the inner consciousness of the speaker in these poems: neither is allowed to take prominence at the other’s expense. Reviews in the press have often seen Ringbom’s poetry as ‘difficult’, equally as difficult to interpret as a dream, a thought or a piece of music. The point is that these texts should be experienced rather than interpreted.
translated by David Hackston
Båge (1988), Det jag har (1990), Dikter (1992), Det finns ingen annanstans (1994), Åtta brev (essays, 1995), Martina Dagers längtan (novel, 1998), Den vita vinthunden (2001), Poesi med andra ord (non-fiction, 2003), Sonjas berättelse (novel, 2005)