AN UNRELENTING POET OF IDEAS
Anni Sumari (b. 1965) started her career as a prosaist, or as a prose poet, depending on where you want to draw the line between poetry and prose. Her first book, Matkakertomuksia pimeydestä (Accounts of Travels in the Darkness), was published in 1986. The texts can be called short stories with a touch of poetry - with something that does not fit into definition of a short story: they are "something else". Sumari's early works are fascinating in their originality, but due to that "something else" the reader may give up trying to understand them. Many reviewers have had problems dealing with Sumari's work that eludes definitions. Her imaginative, overflowing style that disregards all boundaries has invited a number of rather sour reviews.
Sumari also illustrates her literary works. Since Beautiful Dreamer (1987), a collection of short prose, the texts have been accompanied by the writer's surreal drawings that depict fantastical creatures, people and animals and something in between.
After Lyhenevä laulu kärsimyksen onnellisista puolista (A Shortening Song of the Happy Aspects of Suffering, 1992), Sumari made a distinct move from prose to poetry. The first poetry book, Sarkofagi (Sarcophagus), came out in 1994. It was followed by Sinun elämäsi jättiläinen (The Giant of Your Life) in 1996, Mitta ja määrä (Measure and Amount) in 1998 and Sineriaani (Sinerian) in year 2000. If Sarcophagus was a transitional phase on the way to more distinctly poetic expression, then in The Giant of Your Life Sumari already seems to have found her own style, which she has developed further in the following collections. The last three books include long, slowly flowing, speech-like, philosophical poems that occasionally approach prose.
Sumari's most acclaimed collection is Measure and Amount. It was awarded the Dancing Bear Award by Yleisradio (equivalent to BBC) for the best poetry book published in 1998. In summer 2000, Sumari participated in the Literature Express Train Tour across Europe together with two other Finnish writers, Markus Jääskeläinen and Anita Konkka. The journey inspired Sumari to write a journal-like book of prose entitled Junanäytelmä (A Train Play, 2001).
The lyrical first person of Sumari's poems is a merciless observer that has been distanced from the object of observation. Her style is quite serious, even grave, but every now and then there is a glimpse of irony. The speaker's voice is not frail but self-confident; the poet has even been accused of being a moralist. It is true that the confidence of expression brings a trace of preaching into Sumari's poems. In her latest collections these instructional tones have softened to some extent.
Sumari has traveled the path of her own experimental poetry without looking left or right. Her expression is extravagantly imaginary and abundantly associative - it is unchained speech. There is also something shamanistic about her poems. This impression is emphasized when you hear Sumari reading her poetry using the whole register of her sonorous voice.
translated by Sarka Hantula
Matkakertomuksia pimeydestä (short stories, 1986), Beautiful dreamer (prose, 1987), Lyhenevä laulu kärsimyksen onnellisista puolista (prose, 1992), Sarkofagi (1994), Sinun elämäsi jättiläinen (1996), Mitta ja määrä (1998), Sineriaani (2000), Junanäytelmä (novel, 2001), Vuodet vetten päällä (2003), Läpinäkyvä punainen (2005)