The Finnish poet Risto Oikarinen was born far from the big city in a region full of lakes, marshes and conifer forests. Slowly but surely, the inhabitants are leaving the area, mostly moving southwards, to Helsinki, where a feeling of homesickness for the nature of their youth eats away at them. That, too, is what happened to Oikarinen, but for him that memory is a positive force, a source of inspiration for his poetry: “The marsh has something sacred about it – it is unpolished, frightening, mysterious. You sense the presence of death. The wild swan also broods there.”
He has exchanged that paradise for Helsinki, where we went to study the saxophone. Despite his love of music – he still plays in a band – he did not feel at home at the college of music, a place he came to feel was too much of a straitjacket, a music factory. Following his parents, both of whom are church ministers, he chose to study theology, but, he says,“I won’t be a minister. For me, writing comes first. And free jazz.” In music and in poetry he finds the freedom to express himself. For a long time, he was plagued by the thought of having to choose between them. But in writing, everything comes together and he is able to combine his three great loves: poetry, music and theology. He compares the writing of a poem to the building of an instrument in words. “In my subconscious a thought burns that spreads out and only when I distance myself from it does it begin to resound.” He has a preference for the prose-poem, “the squaring of the circle”, as he calls it. He also chooses this form in his second collection, Katumusharjoituksia (The Penitential Book, 2008), from which these poems come. In his choice of themes, his third love is clearly evident. God, monastery, novice, abbot, monk, angels, prayer book, forgiveness and repentance all colour the poems which, despite this, do not soar up above the earth: “You say you miss the other, invisible reality. I am here.”
[Risto Oikarinen took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2008.
This text was written on that occasion.]