Tuesday, May 08, 2018

two poems in space

Arto Melleri in 1994 (still from TV interview)

[Image source: https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2014/02/20/dave-melleri-royhka-mauri-kunnas-ja-markku-sensuroimattomina]

About once a year someone gets in touch to ask me about some poetry query. This poetry consultancy of mine is free, extremely unpopular, and rarely leads to helpful results, as my knowledge of poetry is patchy to say the least. However, I always enjoy it.

This was a case in point. A brief IM exchange with Yaşarcan Özdemir, a student at Anadolu University, last week led me to this personal anthology web page put together by Lee Bajuniemi: http://saamileb.tripod.com/PoetryByLee/Translations.html

The contents, Lee tells us, are Finnish poems translated into English. They seem generally popular and accessible pieces, by fairly well-known poets. Yaşarcan and I were debating the final two poems.

The penultimate poem is attributed to "Arto Mellar" (= Arto Melleri, presumably).


A person's life: width of a hand
I have heard it said
I look at the early morning sky:
from star to star
even less
The happiness that you wait for,
something that
cannot be measured, only possible
if not measured.
At sunrise small birds, without bursting,
sing out loud the morning dew,
the bright sound of countless droplets.

The final poem is attributed to Anselm Hollo:


Given the heavy jar full of all relevant
information, he dropped it on the sidewalk
and burst out laughing as the container and
its contents shattered and scattered in the
raging blizzard; he had been on his way to
present it to her, for her to dispose of as
she wished, but with the surreptitious expec-
tation that they might "go through it" together.

Now, the absurdity of the understanding had
become blatantly apparent, and he vowed to
tell the next full moon that he abjured such
subterfuge for ever: silence and starkness,
these were the perennial conditions of birth,
& love & death, the so-called great subjects,
the ones no one could ever say anything but
the dramatically obvious about.

"Proportions" isn't a poem I've seen before, but I feel I recognize it as Melleri's kind of thing;  popular nature-mysticism, a sort of precipitous visionary insight, indifference to modern poetic schools.

More on Arto Melleri (1956 - 2005):


It's possible that Anselm Hollo was also the translator of the poems by Arto Melleri and the others, but Lee doesn't say so, not explicitly anyway.

"Heavy  Jars #6" is, I'm guessing, an original poem in English, not a translation: casual and conversational, deploying standard-issue beat-poet ampersands. combining the well-wrought urn, the golden bowl and the empty vessel in its floaty transparent medium.

Anselm Hollo (1934 - 2013) was Finnish by birth but nearly all his forty books of poetry were written in English: he moved to the UK in c. 1959, then to the USA in 1967. The above poem presumably came from the chapbook Heavy Jars (1977).

Camille Martin wrote about the chapbook here:


The two poems converge on a similar claim:  that the most important things are beyond expression. In Melleri's poem  happiness cannot be measured, in Hollo's poem no-one can say anything about birth and love and death, apart from the "dramatically obvious".


The only other text of either poem that I could track down is here:


(where "Proportions", the Melleri poem above, is attributed to Hollo.)

On the other hand, Yaşarcan had been told that both poems were Melleri originals, translated by Hollo.

My attempts to locate a presumed Finnish original of "Proportions" have been an abject failure.


Poems that circulate on the internet often remind me of medieval poems in manuscripts. In both cases the transmission method of multiple copying is very likely to wear away everything that isn't embedded in the text itself.  Metadata, such as title, author, translator, original publication, date, etc are all highly vulnerable to being lost or discarded. And when a poem does appear with a title or author's name, these are not to be accepted without question.

Anselm Hollo in 1965

[Image source: https://hoppyx.com/anselm-hollo/. Photo by John "Hoppy" Hopkins (1937 - 2015), the London counterculture dynamo, photographer and political activist.]

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