where the writers are
Finnish-American Poetry by Johanna Rauhala, Bill Vartnaw and Don Hagelberg
Date of Review: 
Andrew Barber
Pulsar Poetry Webzine, Edition #8 (60)


I'll be honest about this. I had no idea what to expect. My knowledge of Finland and its culture is pretty much limited to knowing that Nokia come from there and Abba don't. But, as I discovered, some good poets have some Finnish blood.


This book is a collection by three of them. The slim volume is only 58 pages long including notes but there is a wide range of poems on offer. There are pantoums, shape poems, traditional poems written in cantos and more modern pieces that are heavy on enjambment but weak on punctuation or capital letters. There are poems on the demons that plague Vietnam veterans (my favourite one here), poets on strike (who would notice?), the attractiveness of nature as compared to technology, the feeding of angels by the roadside and some amusing wordplay. I enjoyed 'when the grain crows sigh high / when the grain grows scythe high'.


The limited budget of the production does cause some issues. One poem, 'There Are Still Tigers', for example, has several parenthesised numbers included within the text. My first impression was that it was an experiment with the 'modern' in a way that didn't really work. Were they random? Were they intended to signify a score of some sort? A progression? When I read the book to the end, I discovered that they were actually footnotes. I'm glad I didn't read the poem aloud at some open mic. I wouldn't have known how to pronounce the brackets anyway.


All in all, though, this was a good collection of poems that let me see a world I never knew existed – the Finnish poetry circles of America. While there were a few poems that were specifically about Finland, the majority were just about life.