Hannu Salakka, “Dead Day”

Kuollut Päivä

Siinä missä nyt jaksaa valittaa
että mitään ei tapahd u,
että aika ei kulu,
voisi samalla vaivalla,
ja syyllä,
tai ehkä hieman suuremmalla,
nauttia elämästään,
tästäkin
hiljaisuudesta.

Mutta ei siihen usko.

Entiset päivät ovat kuolleet.
Vain me voimme nähdä itsemme
ja muutaman muun
elävän
yhä
myös silloin.

Dead Day

Just as you feel like complaining now
that nothing happens,
that time stands still,
you could, with the same effort,
for the same reason,
or maybe all the more reason,
enjoy your life,
enjoy this selfsame
silence.

But you don’t believe in it.

The old days are dead.
Only we could see that we
and a few others
were alive
still
even then.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 503. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

10,000 Steps (International Translation Day)

In recent years, I have celebrated International Translation Day on this day, September 30, here at Living in FIN. Today, I discovered that the overarching theme of this year’s celebration is “Finding the words for a world in crisis.” It is not that I think that the world is not in crisis (or that I thought it was ever not in crisis), but having worked for thirteen years on a much more intense and exhausting online translation project that only this month has, for the first time, passed the ten thousand monthly views mark, I do wonder how much difference translation makes to a “world in crisis.”

More to the point, when you sometimes wait, as I do, for months to get paid for rush translation jobs, that is, for “real work” (not the fun I’m having here) or are offered (as I was the other day) 1,200 euros for translating a six-hundred-page book (which should cost at least 12,000 euros) you feel both inspired and then, just as instantly, let down when you read that translation is a “moral debt,” as I did a few days ago on the Facebook page of a well-known poet and translator.

A moral debt to whom? To people who think that translation is as easy as falling off a chair, a kind of menial mechanical intellectual labor? To people who cannot be bothered to learn to speak any foreign language fluently? To people hostile to the foreign tongues in their midst?

Yes, it’s lovely to share your talents by giving people access to the lives, dreams, sufferings, and joys of other people, sometimes far away, whose languages they don’t speak. But since, I suspect, most translators labor without much in the way of recognition and appreciation (and money) from anyone, including even the people who benefit from their work, it’s better to imagine that, on the one hand, translating is something you’re doing for your own sake, something you’re doing to escape “the heavy bear that goes with me,” as Delmore Schwartz so aptly called his (our) brutish inner self, and, on the other, that translators are workers, too, and should demand good pay for fair work.

So, the hell with “moral debt.” Let’s be escapists instead. Here is today’s installment of Viivi & Wagner.

Panel 1
Wagner: I’m going to circle the bed until I get to 10,000 steps.

Panel 3
Viivi: I’d like to sleep. How many steps have you taken today?
Wagner: Those two just now.

Source: Helsingin Sanomat

Almost Finns have a few pro-tips for dealing with the kaamos, the polar night or the nearly endless darkness of winter nights and days on or above the sixtieth parallel.

Turn on the English subtitles if you don’t speak Finnish. Thanks to Tiina Pasanen for the link.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Finally, it wouldn’t be a Living in FIN party without a few words of gloomy wisdom from the late great Hannu Salakka.

Elämä ei sellaista
kuin lauseiden synnystä saattaisi luulla.
Olen vain hetkeksi karannut tähän miettimään,
muistelemaan.

Life is not like that
like the way you might think sentences are born.
I’ve just run away for a while to think about it,
to think back.

Päiväkävelyllä
lapsi opettaa kävelemään
niinkuin vanhaa miestä,
pysähtelemäänkin, katselemaan taakseen.

On afternoon strolls
a child teaches you to walk
like an old man,
even teaching you to stop and look back.

Ääni,
joka ei ole iloinen eikä surullinen,
mutta täynnä tunnetta.

A sound (a voice),
which is neither happy nor sad,
but full of emotion.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), pp. 419–421. Translated by Living in FIN. Images courtesy of Duolingo, the best thing since sliced bread, especially since it started teaching Finnish.

Hannu Salakka, “Bird Calls, Migrating Flocks in Flight”

Kutsuäänet, muuttoparvien lento.
Tuntuu että kaipuunikin jättää minut
oman onneni nojaan
ojanlaitaan, pellonreunaan.
Alan ymmärtää,
että en ole vielä nähnyt kaikkea
mitä en enää koskaan tule näkemään.

Bird calls, migrating flocks in flight.
It feels like my longing is leaving me too
reclining in my own happiness
at the top of a ditch, the edge of a field.
It is starting to dawn on me
that I have not yet seen all of
what I will never see again.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 575. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “Evening”

Ilta

Jokaiseen ääneen vastaa aina jokin toinen ääni.
Sinä vain olet nyt yksin;
lintu lentää ikkunaan.

Mietteliäät pilvet painuvat maailman ohimoille.

ilta paino

 

Evening

Every sound is always answered by some other sound.
Only you are alone now;
a bird flies in the window.

Pensive clouds press down on the world’s temples.

 

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 380. Translation and photo by Living in FIN. The award-winning Finnish writer Hannu Salakka died seventeen years ago today, at the age of forty-eight, in Kangasniemi (South Savonia, Finland), near where the photo, above, was taken.

Hannu Salakka: Five Poems

Menneisyys on vain ennustus
tulevasta;
matkalla takaisin
ymmärsin
että aikani siellä oli jo ohi.

The past is just a forecast
of what is coming.
On the way back
I understood
my time there was over.

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Märkä, viileä yö.
Sade
Ajattelin sinua
niinkuin jotakin lämmintä.

A wet, cool night.
Rain.
I was thinking of you
as something warm.

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Rakkautta,
ehkä jotakin muutta.
Äkkiä vain sellainen olo
että sitä ei tunne.

Eikä se saa edes surulliseksi nyt
kun ei enää mikään saa.

Stirrings of love,
maybe of something else.
Suddenly you just have the kind of feeling
that you cannot feel it.

And now it doesn’t even make you sad anymore
when nothing comes of it.

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Liikkuvaa vettä katsellen
kuuntelen
tuulen kummallista kieltä
ja äkkiä tunnen
että on vielä jotakin uutta,
tavoittamatonta.

Istun hetken
kuin rauhallisin mielin.

Looking at the moving water
I listen
to the wind’s strange tongue
and suddenly I feel
there is still something new,
something unreachable.

I’ll sit for a while
as if my mind were at peace.

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Kun lakkaa odottamasta
jää vain todellisuus,
se minkä voi nähdä.
Ja muistot,
kuinka toisin luuli olevan.

When you stop expecting
all that remains is reality,
what you can see.
And memories,
how different you thought you were.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), pp. 251–255. Translation and photos by Living in FIN

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.

_________________________________________________

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.

Hannu Salakka, “Airs and Orations”

margin walkers

Puheet, ilmeet
eivät synnytä minussa mitään
nyt, kun kaikkien on ollut pakko
osoittaa kyvyttömyytensä.
Kuollessani haluan kasvaa metsiin.

Airs and orations
leave me untouched
now when it is compulsory for all and sundry
to flaunt their incompetence.
When I die I want to grow into forests.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 208. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “It’s Snowing”

fullsizeoutput_d7b“Bigger than February.” Billboard for the Finnish grocery store chain Prisma, Obvodny Canal Embankment, St. Petersburg, 4 February 2018. Photo by Living in FIN

Sataa lunta
mutta puista tippuvat raskaat pisarat,
samaa silmänlumetta
tämä maailman päivä,
koko ajan olemassa
jossakin.

It’s snowing,
but heavy drops are dribbling from the trees.
It’s the same window dressing
all the time
somewhere
on this the world’s day.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 527. Translated by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “Unsmiling”

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Hymytön

Ilma on äänetön,
ovat vain askelten kaiut.

Huulet eivät muodosta ainoatakaan sanaa,
vetäytyvät vain
ja paljastavat hampaat.

Juoksen
niinkuin lintu juoksee
alkaakseen kohta lentää.
Minua ei vain haudata haluamaani paikkaan.

Unsmiling

The air is voiceless.
There are only the echoes of footsteps.

The lips do not form a single, solitary word.
They merely retract,
exposing the teeth.

I run
as the bird runs
when it is on the verge of flying
lest I be buried in place.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 331. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “Land, Frost, Ice, Drifts, Air”

DSCN2564

Maa, routa, jää, hanki, ilma
joka liimaa sieraimet ja pusertaa
ihmisestä huurua,
kun maasta noustaan näin kerros kerrokselta
on vaikea uskoa,
että sisus on tulta, tai edes lämmin.
Talot kuin kivettynyttä laavaa,
näyttävät asutuilta
vain aivan pilkko pimeällä,
kun ikkunoissa on valo.
Talojen ihmiset
ovat oppineet jälleen tulemaan toimeen
ilman tuulta.
Jos heidän tulee ikävä,
he voivat juhannuksena matkustaa
sitä katsomaan.

Land, frost, ice, drifts, air,
plugging up the nostrils and squeezing
vapor from a person’s lungs.
When you clamber over the ground so, from floor to floor,
it’s hard to believe
there’s a fire inside, much less that it’s warm.
Petrified lava, the houses
appear inhabited,
just entirely pitch black
when there’s light in the windows.
The people of the houses
have once again learned to get along
without wind.
If they get bored
they can journey on Midsummer Day
wherever their hearts desire.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 427. Translation and photo by Living in FIN