Thursday, 6 November 2008

almost a haiku

1 comment:

troylloyd said...


This paper studies the effects that blogging has had on Finnish poetry. Poetry has always had a wide audience in Finland. Traditionally poetry has been published in print media, but today the Web is also an important medium for poetry, especially in a technologically advanced country like Finland.
While blogging is still a relatively new phenomenon, several Finnish poets already make use of it. The objective of this paper is to see what purposes poets these have for their blogs. Blogging will also be compared to other types of media. What are the benefits of blogging compared to print media? How many people read poetry blogs? What influence does blogging have on Finnish poetry? A review of the general position of poetry in Finland will also be presented.

When talking about Finnish poetry, it is impossible to overlook the influence of traditional folk poetry. Sung by runesingers and written down for future generations to read (Laitinen 18, 20), folk poetry has had a remarkable effect on Finnish poetry. It served as inspiration for the important national neo-romantic movement of the late 19th and early 20th century; to this day poets return to its myths and themes of nature (Suomalaisen).

After national neo-romanticism, the next major stylistic changes in the history of Finnish poetry can be traced back to 1916, when the first modernist movement gained ground, and to the 1950s, when the new modernists changed the course of poetry completely (Laitinen 102, 123, 125). Since then, poetry has been based on non-rhyming free rhythm (Laitinen 125). In the 1960s and 70s, it was typical to make observations on the society of the time, but since the mid-1980s, postmodernism has changed the focus back to the language (Laitinen 200, 208). It has been said that the first recognizable movement of the 21st century would be flarf (Sullivan), an international avant-garde movement drawing inspiration from the diverse textual material of the Web1 (Flarf).

Literature has always been held in high esteem in Finland. National identity has traditionally been linked to the national literature, and even though few people in Finland today would connect literature with nationalism, literature still raises discussion and is considered to reflect the nation's heritage. Since Finnish is one of the lesser-spoken languages by global standards, literature has played a significant role in preserving the language. Poetry can be thought to be at the vanguard of the development of language. Thus it is not coincidental that poetry has always had a wide readership in Finland. The circulation of poetry equals or surpasses the circulation in most of the other countries of Western Europe, which implies that the Finns are eager readers of poetry in relation to the population of other countries (Laitinen 142, 155-9). Even challenging and intellectual literature has been successful since the 1980s – for example, Markku Envall's collection of aphorisms was awarded the most prestigious literary prize of the country, the Finlandia prize, in 1990 (Lassila 290). However, it is also a fact that poetry has always sold much less than prose (Laurila 38).

Since the year 2000, more collections of poetry have been published in Finland than ever before. The boom has mostly been due to young poets forming organizations to promote poetry: performances have been held in clubs and festivals, and new magazines have been founded. This has resulted in the widening of the reading audience, and a surge of young poets bringing diversity to the field (Karhu). While traditional publishing houses still continue to publish only a minimum amount of poetry, there is a small but significant group of poetry communities which contributes to the growth of poetry by maintaining magazines, performances, and blogs (Kokko, Liikettä).

On the other hand, it is true that the attraction of audiovisual media is drawing people away from reading books (Lassila 299). Media in general are the single most powerful means to spread new culture (Ruusunen 5), and today's media are very commercially oriented (Ruusunen 100). This is apt to favor the entertainment industry at the expense of literature. While the conventional attitudes of the entertainment industry do not fit well together with the unconventional nature of the present poetry, one survival strategy for poetry would be to bring it to television and the Web, the prominent forums of audiovisual media.

Poetry in the Finnish Media
In the late 20th century, the media have concentrated more and more on electronic devices such as television and the Internet. Yet this has not changed the fact that poetry revolves around books and magazines printed on paper. Publishing houses are still the primary institution having the authority to decide what is "poetry" (even if the public or the critics might disagree). Big Finnish publishing houses tend to rely on long-standing poets who have established their names. New poets do get their opportunity, but they do not always get a chance to establish themselves, because the threshold for a second collection is high (Levola). Publicity determines much: the poets need to attract the attention of the popular media because the publishing business favors commercialism (Sutinen, Julkaisupoliisi). To tackle this drawback, new small publishing houses have arisen to publish less commercial poetry.
In addition to books, literary magazines are another important channel for making poetry available to the readers. Especially starting in the 1950s and throughout the 1970s, when the status of literature was at its highest in Finland, literary magazines served as the forum for literary discussion. The most prominent literary magazine is Parnasso, which has been published since the 1950s. New magazines focusing on poetry have been founded during the boom which began in the 1990s. However, the Finnish government is planning to cut back its support for culture magazines (Toivio), which could quell the supply of literary magazines2. Newspapers are also a good medium for poetry, since they can offer background information and overall views (Huovila 4), and the status of daily newspapers is high in Finland (Ruusunen 119). Unfortunately, due to the pressures of success, they are focusing more and more on entertainment at the expense of literary culture.

Television offers room for poets who have a commercial attraction. Unfortunately, that excludes most writers. The Finnish Broadcasting Corporation, YLE, has supported poetry in the form of a few specialized programs and news broadcasts on their television channels, but their success has been varying. The radio channels of YLE, on the other hand, deal more with poetry (Soikkeli). Another way to reach people with poetry is to organize public performances. Such occasions have been popular in clubs since the 1990s (Kirstinä 209). Some of them have acquired the reputation of being showy and fitting for the Average Joe (Varjama). Following the poetry boom, poetry festivals have also been organized in big Finnish cities. Further, the definition of poetry has been expanding: many Finnish people value the lyrics of skillfully written popular music as poetry, and thus some rock concerts could be considered a form of public performance of poetry.

The Web, in contrast, is a relatively free medium, because it is partially free from the pressures of commercialism. The fact that the Web is not regulated enables poetry to gain new ground: the Web offers space for even marginal movements. In 2004, seventy percent of the Finnish people used the Internet (Tietoyhteiskuntaohjelma), and with such a large number of users, the Web can be considered a prominent medium in Finland (Ruusunen 166). Today some of the Finnish literary magazines function completely on the Web. Different discussion boards and blogs offer forums for discussion, and writers of all genres, including poets, have become interested in the possibilities of web publications (Lassila 283).

It is true that much of the time spent on the Web involves chatting, gaming and other forms of entertainment – that is, intentions other than cultural (Lassila 299). However, the benefits of the Web are still clear. The cost of web publishing is low compared to the cost of printed media, especially in a small country like Finland (for example, the cost of making copies of a digital book is practically nonexistent). Furthermore, blogs are very easy to access – this brings poetry closer to a wider audience. Perhaps most importantly, a new dimension of interaction is possible when the reader and the author can communicate directly through text, links and video, such as is possible on a blog (Lassila 290). The personal, often casual approach of a blog may also be less intimidating for the reader than an official live performance of a poet.