Literature as a European mother tongue: In our series “One is a CROWD”, we introduce you to authors from all over Europe who will be involved in the CROWD omnibus reading tour, taking place from May to July 2016, featuring 100 authors who will be travelling through 15 European countries. We asked them questions about text production, reception and mediation. In case you were wondering what a literary activist from Helsinki looks like, meet Harri Hertell!
A text unity lies not in its origins, but in its destination or audience. What does that mean to you? And can a text be original?
I have worked in and for performance poetry culture in Finland for about a decade — you might even say I’ve been a pioneer of the field — but even to this day I barely consider my audience when I write. I write poetry first and foremost and it isn’t until afterwards that I may notice that a text of mine might work on stage. Whether my poetry ends up in a book or “just” performed doesn’t matter to me particularly.
I know poets who write specifically for the stage, that is, to be performed, and there’s nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, writing poetry intended specifically to be expressed as a performance is extremely difficult. Personally, however, I don’t think about the audience or later “function” of my poems while I’m writing them. Commissioned poems are an exception, of course.
Reading is writing is reading is writing … – why, and if, how?
The best way to learn to write poetry in addition to regularly challenging yourself to write is to read as much poetry as possible, also the kind that you might not like at first or that may not reveal itself to you immediately. The deeper I’ve gone into different forms of poetry, the easier it is to get a kick out of them.
Hearing poetry aloud has also been very important to me and I believe that poetry events have affected my own writing at least as much as reading poetry on the page. Poetry collections are just as necessary as live poetry events!
What is your favorite literary spot in …? (literary venue, bar, meeting spot etc.)
I live in Helsinki, and while there are a number of great venues for literature events, the liveliest ones have all tended to take place in the Kallio area. Lots of young adults interested in culture and literature live there.
The Poetry Jam club and the Helsinki Word Festival, both of which I established, are two very good examples of events in Kallio where a wide selection of poetry can regularly be heard. Established, published authors perform there, but so do poets, rappers, spoken word artists, and performers of all stripes. Some of the acts could even be called intelligent stand up.
It’s also thanks to the regular work of the Helsinki Poetry Connection, a collective I founded in 2008, that open mic culture has become an intriguing, moving force in the literature event scene.
Finland’s performance poetry culture is extremely vibrant right now, and constantly growing. Events are being organized actively in almost all major cities such as Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, and Jyväskylä, but also in smaller municipalities. New organizers and performers are also popping up constantly.
Photo by Vitali Gusatinsky