Olli Heikkonen
(Finland, 1965)   
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Olli Heikkonen

According to a female reviewer, Olli Heikkonen belongs to the threatened species of talented Finnish male poets. Heikkonen was born in eastern Finland, in the province of Karelia, the population of which has been emigrating steadily, leaving behind a virgin countryside. Heikkonen moved too – to the heart of urban Finland, where he studied literature in Helsinki. It took him a good half-year before he got used to the rhythm and restlessness of the city.

Reading Heikkonen’s poetry, one gets the feeling that he still has one foot in his native region. The opposition between civilisation and nature is pivotal in his work, with the city largely absent, only slipping into his poetry in the form of the outer suburbs. Heikkonen writes his poetry from the standpoint of nature; he surveys the world through the eyes of an elk with a soul, an elk-like nature god, who commands, “Don’t take my name in vain, / for I’ll come when you call.”
In Heikonnen’s work, nature is filled with life; it has eyes and nostrils (“I smell people’s desires”), but at the same time it is imperilled by humans (“The highway splits the frozen ground”). Even space is not safe; Laika will float there like an admonitory, living watchdog, together with the Sputnik and rickety satellites for centuries to come.
One might think that Heikkonen is writing eco-poetry – humanity is destroying the environment and the poet too must rise up against this development. His case, however, is not so simple, and nature does not always lose out in his work (“In the bowels of the earth his bones / turn black, grasses sprout from his vertebrae”). Death is sovereign, and nature nourishes itself on death. Heikkonen’s elk (“the crowned one”) is able to freeze the lakes with his roar and petrify the forests. He can also speak with a human voice (“What a high tone, what a low one”). In fact he has always spoken with the voice of a person – that of the poet, of the poet as seer. He is the intermediary between the human and the natural, which is also supernatural.
Heikkonen relates here to shamanism, a culture with an extremely long and powerful tradition in Finland. The shaman is capable of crossing the borders between life and death and of returning. He can deploy the understanding and knowledge he has thus obtained to aid his fellow humans in their eternal engagement with the mighty animistic power of nature. The roles appear now to be reversed and nature gazes through the eyes of the “crowned one” at human beings, apparently warning them in intense monologues. In this way, the poet backs the side of nature, but does so in the interest of the human species, which seems to have forgotten that “the simplicity of light takes root in the depths of mud and ooze”.

© Adriaan van der Hoeven (Translated by Donald Gardner)


Jakutian aurinko, Tammi, Helsinki, 2000
Kuinka maa muuttui musiikiksi, Tammi, Helsinki, 2003
Jäätikön ääri, Tammi, Helsinki, 2007


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