International Translation Day: Hannu Salakka

 

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Today, September 30, is International Translation Day.

I celebrated International Translation Day in 2016 by sending a virtual love letter to the great Finnish poet and writer Eeva Kilpi, who published two new books this year at the ripe young age of ninety-one.

It was a chance encounter with Kilpi’s poems that inspired me to take the rash step of translating from Finnish to English in the first place. And, although I am often distracted by my real job (translating from Russian to English) and my dangerously job-like hobby (translating articles about Russian grassroots politics and culture), I have found the time, since I first happened upon Kilpi’s poems (in a hut by the side of a road to a paradise-like place in the countryside, where, as I learned last year, Kilpi’s father once had a summer cottage) to translate many more poems by her and let other chance encounters lead me to other great Finnish poets.

Aside from Kilpi, the Finnish poet who has made himself most at home in my life has been Hannu Salakka (1955–2003). While Kilpi is known to a good number of readers outside of Finland through translations of her novels, memoirs, stories, and poems, and was, apparently, nominated for a Nobel Prize, Salakka (whose collected poems, published in 1990, is two hundred pages longer than Kilpi’s collected poems, published in 2000) is now, sixteen years after his death, nearly as obscure in his homeland as he is abroad.

Although both poets share a certain aesthetic sensibility and a deceptively simple approach to writing poems, Salakka’s work has never been translated into English either at all or in any noticeable quantities. This is a shame because his poems are every bit as wry, profound, humane, and therapeutic as Kilpi’s are, although they are probably a good deal bleaker.

Or, perhaps, they seem that way to me because Salakka died at the age of forty-eight, four years younger than I am now, and because his obscurity seems irrefutable, a sad fact brought home to me by the number of times I have found his books abandoned and offered for a pittance in secondhand stores and piled up, so I imagine, in the backrooms of the booksellers from whom I have bought the books of his I did not find at random in Finland’s ubiquitous secondhand stores.

As I did three years ago on this day, I have chosen a poem from Salakka’s collected poems using a random number generator. I could not have chosen a better poem to illustrate his gifts as a poet. The poem also revolves around a beautifully apt metaphor for what it is poets and translators do when they are at their best: they set words free to soar and sing.

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Laululintu

Löysin maasta linnun,
elävän, harmaan pienen linnun,
aran kuin vain lintu voi olla arka.
Silitin sitä ja puhuin sille,
vaikka näin sen sitä pelkäävän.
Halusin sen laulavan,
mutta se vapisi ja pysyi mykkänä.
Mutta kun avasin käteni,
se lensi,
lensi yhä kauemmas ja korkeammalle.

Ja vielä vuosienkin jälkeen
kuulen lintujen yhä laulavan.

* * * * *

Songbird

I found a bird on the ground.
A little gray bird, it was alive,
and bashful as only a bird could be.
I stroked it and spoke to it,
though I saw this made it afraid.
I wanted it to sing,
but it shivered and kept mum.
When I opened my hand, however,
it flew,
it flew ever farther and higher.

And even years later
I can still hear the birds singing.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viiypen (Helsinki: Otava, 1990), p. 122. Photo and translation by Living in FIN. This translation is dedicated to V., my comrade in life, translating, and Finnish. It also happens to be her name day today.

Eeva Kilpi: Now I Am Old

karhumaki house

28.5.2002 KLO 24
Nuorena minua autettiin enemmän. Nyt kun olen vanha, minua ei auta kukaan. Rahasta on apua, mutta se ei ole ihminen. Eikä se ole voimaa. Se on vain tietynlaista valtaa. Ja helppoutta sillä voi kyllä ostaa.

12:00 a.m., May 28, 2002
When I was young I got more help. No one helps now I am old. Money helps but it is not a person nor is it power. It is only a kind of authority. And you can, indeed, buy an amount of ease with it.

12.6.2002 KLO 7.45
Minä yritän opetella tätä vanhuutta. Minun pitäisi olla vanha, kaikki odottavat minulta sitä, mutta silti minun on tehtävä kaikki itse, hoidettava asiat, tehtävä päätöksiä, jaksettava toteuttaa ne, oltava oma palveluskuntani, emännöitävä, jos haluan tavata jälkeläisiäni, läheisiäni. Muutenhan minä en siedä ihmisiä ympärilläni. Pitäisi osata olla vanha ja silti jaksaa kuin nuori.

7:45 a.m., June 12, 2002
I am trying to get the hang of old age. I am supposed to be old, everyone expects this from me. I still have to do everything myself, though. I have to take care of things, make decisions, and manage to carry them out. I have to be my own staff and hostess if I want to see my offspring and intimates. Otherwise, I cannot stand having people around me. I should have the knack of being old while still feeling like a young person.

29.6.2002 KLO 22.55
Pitää olla valmis siihen, että kuolee äkkiä, mutta myös siihen, että kuolee hiutuen.

10:55 p.m., June 29, 2002
You have to be ready to die suddenly but you also have to be ready to languish to death.

Source: Eeva Kilpa, Sininen muistikirja (Helsinki: WSOY, 2019), pp. 7, 9, 15. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Eeva Kilpi, “Those the Gods Hate”

Low_pressure_system_over_Iceland

Niistä joita jumalat vihaavat enemmän kuin opettajia
he tekevät sääennustajia.
Joka kerta kun tuuli kääntyy
he tuntevat sen luissaan.
Aina kun sade on tulossa
he ovat kuolemankielissä.
Kylmän korpit nokkivat heidän lapojaan,
kourivat niskaa,
istuvat polvien päällä,
repivät varpaita,
herkuttelevat jänteillä ja sidekudoksilla.
Kipujen siirat vilistävät lanteista pohkeisiin,
purevat sieltä, näykkäävät täältä,
turpoavat ja lisääntyvät
matalapaineen edellä.
Lepäävät harvoin, auringossa.
Ja kaiken tämän kukkuroidakseen
jumalat tekivät heistä pitkäikäisiä.

Those the gods hate more than schoolteachers
they make weather forecasters.
Every time the wind turns
they feel it in their bones.
Whenever precipitation is on the way,
they are on the verge of death.
Cold’s ravens peck at their shoulders,
pummel the napes of their necks,
perch on their knees,
gnash at their toes,
feast on sinews and connective tissues.
Pain’s woodlice scuttle from haunches to calves,
biting them and snapping at them here and there,
swelling and multiplying
in advance of the low pressure area.
They seldom relax, and then in the sun.
And, to top it all off,
the gods made them long-lived.

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Terveisin (WSOY, 1976), p. 57. Translated by Living in FIN. Photo by NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Eeva Kilpi, “The Moon Shines Brightly”

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Kuu paistaa heleästi
kuollut ajaa keveästi,
elävää naitattaa.

Parempi on naida kuin palaa.
Parasti on naida salaa.

Sais yöllä syyä,
päivällä naia
ja aamulla nukkua.

The moon beams brightly,
pursuing the dead lightly,
making the living horny.

It’s better to fuck than fry.
It’s best to fuck on the sly.

You should nosh at night,
shag in the afternoon,
and snooze in the morning.

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Terveisin (WSOY, 1976), p 41. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Eeva Kilpi, “Last Summer”

800px-Valtra_lumber_tractor_JyväskyläValtra tractor with lumber trailer in Jyväskylä, Finland, May 5, 2011. Photo by Antti Leppänen

Viime kesänä jolloin en kirjoittanut
Jumala lähetti minulle miehiä.
Tänä vuonna kirjoitan metsässä myöhään syksyyn
ja eikös Hän toimita minulle polttopuita:
rojauttaa yhtiön metsätraktorista
kasan pölkkyjä vanhan saunani viereen.
Hän antaa hartioihini voiman raahata
ne liiteriin.
Kuka tietää, vaikka Hän itse ilmestyisi
ne jonakin päivänä sahamaan.
Tarpeeni kaikki tietää.

Pirukin kiertää paikkaa,
kauppaa tontteja, viittilöi mökkiäni,
loitsii turhaan rajoja.

Ei pysty paha noita-akkaan
jok’ on liitossa Jumalan kanssa,
kainalossa Kaikkivallan.

Linnut lähtevät,
ruoho kuolee,
minä jään.

Luoja lempii salaa.

Last summer, when I wasn’t writing,
God sent me men.
This year I’m writing in the woods until late autumn,
and perhaps He shall fetch me firewood,
dragging a pile of logs
from the association’s lumber tractor over to my old sauna.
He shall give my shoulders the strength to schlep
them into the shed.
Who knows? Maybe He Himself would appear
one day to saw them.
He knows all my needs.

The Devil sidesteps the place.
Selling lots, he waves towards my cottage,
hexing the borders to no avail.

Evil can do no harm to the witch lady
what is in league with God,
in the Almighty’s armpit.

The birds leave,
the grass dies,
I am staying.

The Creator makes love on the sly.

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Terveisin (WSOY, 1976), pp. 37–38. Translation by Thomas Campbell. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons