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 five questions about text production, reception and mediation. In case you were wondering what a literary activist from Jyväskylä looks like, meet Suvi Valli!
Who are you as a poet/writer/author/artist?
I’m afraid I have to let you down and admit I honestly do not know. I often feel that I’m in the middle of becoming something, constantly on the verge of something – instead of being something. That’s my experience of life in general: it’s not happening, but about to happen. If I could easily tell where I am, I’d be completely lost. The same goes to defining myself as a poet: if I was able to name my poetics clearly, I would see myself in serious danger of getting stuck in my methods.
What kind of literary tradition, authors or concepts have you found inspirational for your work?
I see – or rather: hear – literature as a human voice or voices, as a very physical, although intangible, phenomenon. Hearing is one of the earliest things that connect us to the outside world. Even an unborn baby hears the mother’s voice and bodily sounds. Many people say their earliest memories include their parents singing or reading to them. I want to mention children’s rhymes and riddles here because it seems children’s poetry is often underestimated, although very few adults’ poems reach the same level of pure joy of language and take non-sense and dada as far as children’s poems. I don’t know if you can call “human voice” a concept, but it has certainly inspired me.
In my first poetry book I aimed at the form of a score in which separate voices carry themes in a way that counterpoint does in music. I also wanted to explore the rhythm between empty spaces and text and offer multiple directions of reading. Later on I realised I wasn’t there first, and that a certain Stéphane Mallarmé had done the same thing a hundred years before me!
Please name several contemporary authors who you think are most significant – in any possible sense – and why?
Now I’m worried I might give you the wrong answer – as if there was a correct one! I usually only make lists on my way to the supermarket. So instead of naming a worldwide list of significant authors, I can only answer from my personal point of view. In Finland there’s recently been a rise of small publishers, who focus entirely on poetry – as a reaction to the big publishing houses, who publish less and less poetry, as it’s not bringing enough money in. Thanks to these small houses we have experienced an unseen variety and flourishing in poetry. I personally know people who have gone back to basics and print their books by using an old-fashioned printing machine. A friend of mine, poet Raisa Marjamäki, produced her latest book entirely without computers – everything was hand made. The handicraft aspect made me realise how dependent we are on the chain of mass production these days – even as writers – and what it does to the environment. So in a nutshell: I respect authors who write and act as passionately as her.
What do you think about the current state of the relationship between the author and the reader? Is there a mentionable shift in that relationship through New media as in terms of being alienated on the one hand or being enlivened on the other hand?
I can see that digital technology has enlivened literature and enabled new ways of interaction. As far as social media is concerned, I’ve left myself outside entirely, so it’s hard to analyse that relationship. I personally don’t feel alienated. To me writing is a very private space. I don’t feel the need of constant feedback.
There always have been interactions and disputes between the discourses of poetry and politics. Do you see possibilities of emancipatory strategies concerning contemporary interactions between poetic and political discourses and agendas? How can/should/do these literary strategies look like?
Many politicians appeal to the voters by “speaking the same language”. The Finnish PM even uses old dialect words to make himself more approachable, and these expressions are now in common use. The populist parties are even more obvious in this aspect.
My latest collection includes poems written in business trainer jargon. I wrote it as a reaction to the financial vocabulary which has taken over all aspects of society, at least in Finland. As an example: when we talk about social or mental health problems of the youth, the very first thing mentioned is always the price of an individual person: how much does he/she cost to the society.
So yes, I believe authors play an important part in revealing and questioning the values behind the political discourse by breaking apart and shifting the politicians’ rhetoric into new context.