On a Thursday evening in May, I went out for a beer with a writer friend of mine. We talked about books and reading, recommending each other poetry, and scribbling onto random scraps of paper some notes on treasures to dig for at the library. We enthused about the expressive powers of the Finnish language. I (mis)quoted poetry from memory, and my friend held his countenance bravely. We also dwelled on the might of the word with some earnesty, as the conversation turned to translation errors that have shaped world history. Nonetheless, we ended up laughing with gusto at the delicious absurdity of it all.
A lady sitting at one of the neighbouring tables started gathering her luggage, and said in a loud voice: ”What a lovely conversation. Thank you! I only came in for a drink, waiting for my train to leave, but ended up having an unexpectedly nice time.” A little self-conscious, we thanked her, and my friend asked where she was headed. Upon hearing the answer ”Lahti”, we exclaimed in unison: ”You should to come to Mukkula in June!”
It turned out the the lady had worked as a waitress during one of the Mukkula writers’ reunions a couple of decades ago. She told us a fun anecdote about some lively Swedish authors. My writer friend and I emphatically asked her to rejoin the reunion audience this year, and told her to check the programme on the LIWRE website.
I hope you read this, nice blond lady! You are coming to Mukkula, aren’t you?
Picture: A drawing by Ville Ranta on Heikki, who puts everything into internet.
The Finnish author Erno Paasilinna famously said that “One is not born an author. One has to live such a life that an author is born.” He wrote this in 1984. At the time, I lived in a petit-bourgeois suburb of Helsinki. The suburb is called Espoo, and it’s a middle-class paradise.
Now I want to tell you about Espoo.
I still live in Espoo. I live in a group of semi-detached houses. We have a lawn together. We take turns in mowing the lawn. This week, it was my turn to mow the lawn. I usually do it on the weekend, but this time I did it already on Wednesday. This made me feel a bit insecure -- it broke the pattern -- but it had to be done, as I was coming to this Lahti International Writers’ Reunion. Just think what the neighbours would have thought if I had not mowed the lawn! Sometimes at night I wake up thinking that maybe the neighbours are thinking that I think about what the neighbours think.
I’m a bit nervous being here in Lahti. Back in Espoo, we have a home-buying deal in the making. I will have to take yet another mortgage from the bank. It’s my third mortgage, and, by coincidence, I have just finished writing my third book. Big questions have been in my mind. The interest rates are very low at he moment, but the banks have been pushing the margins to way over 1 %. Should I tie my loan to the 3-month or 12-month euribor rate?
Other exciting things have occurred in my life as well. In April, I accidentally travelled in the commuter train without a valid ticket. Can you imagine! Murphy’s law had it that the State Railways control team entered the train during that very trip! They fined me 80 euros! Luckily, there were no neighbours in the same passenger car. What would they have thought? Anyway, I got so angry, I just crushed the ticket they gave me, right after I had taken care of the payment.
Some people think my life is boring. Not so. I gambled with my 2012 tax returns. The deadline set by the Finnish Revenue Service was May 7 at midnight. I didn’t push the enter button until 10 pm! What if, I asked myself, what if there would’ve been trouble with the internet connection?
I didn’t take same kinds of risks with the manuscript of my third book. The deadline was May 31 midnight. The manuscript was finished on May 31 at 1.40 pm. I sent it to my editor at 1.56 pm. So I had 10 hours 4 minutes of extra time in my life. I just took it easy. I like to hang loose. Well, we did clean up the studio with my colleagues. There was quite a lot of dust on the upper shelves. I tried it, I wiped the shelves with my finger. One has to live such a life that an author is born.
Heikki Aittokoski's presentetation at Open mike night June 16th, 2013.
26th Lahti International Writers’ Reunion, June 16–18.2013
The Lahti International Writers' Reunion (LIWRE) is just what its name reveals. Every second year since 1963, it has gathered writers, professional literary people, and people interested in literature to hear presentations and discuss important questions of authorship and the purpose of literature. Writers meet other writers across cultural boundaries, get incentives for their work and give them to others, and delve together into the human-size cultural heritage that authorship is ultimately built upon – irrespective of political, religious, and other boundaries.
The theme on the sunny lawn of Messilä Manor hotel in the summer of 2013 is “Breaking walls”. One week before Midsummer, we’ll hear about walls inside and outside of writers, and how our rugged, at times even violent times filter into literature around the world. There will be guests from Japan to Albania, from Germany to Spain, from Armenia to Macedonia – and a good number from Finland, of course.
These days, there are plenty of writers’ and literary festivals and events around the globe. This was not the case when Lahti International Writers’ Reunion was founded. Lahti is one of the early pioneers, and from the very start its one special feature has been to bring together writers from the east and the west. Another feature is that it is a completely noncommercial event, and also free of charge to the general public attending the discussions – there is no clamor or peddling of anything at all, only talk of the hard nucleus around which the commercial activities around literature, necessary as they may be, are wrapped elsewhere. This is something we in LIWRE are proud of, this is the flag we fly high among the mighty festivals of the world.
The Reunion is organized jointly by the Eino Leino Society, City of Lahti, and the Päijät-Häme Summer University, and it spreads itself on both shores of the naturally beautiful lake Vesijärvi from Messilä on the one shore to the Sibelius-house in Lahti (where once again the ever-popular and free International Poetry Night is staged), from Lahti City Hall to the Municipal Library. Free bus rides from Lahti and back carry those hungry for culture to Messilä, and all presentations and discussions are interpreted into English, French and Finnish, which is the official language of the event.
On behalf of the organizers I wish all participants warmly welcome to Lahti International Writers’ Reunion 2013!
president of Eino Leino Society
vice chairman of the board of Lahti International Writers’ Reunion
We don’t know each other but I’d like, as a fellow writer, to welcome you to LIWRE. Two years ago I was invited to Lahti to take part in the most exhilarating conference I have ever attended. I was stimulated, challenged, amused and engaged in long conversation and debate. I was made to feel welcome; no kindness was spared, every warm and spontaneous hospitality extended. More, I was made to feel I was among friends. I was. Many of those writers are now indeed my firm friends. We ate together, drank together and read our work to each other. I know you will have a similar experience. Like me you will not want to leave.
LIWRE will remain with you for a long time.
Writing can be a solitary occupation; at LIWRE that solitude was splendidly broken by fellow writers, translators, and passionate readers. Many languages were spoken by writers of philosophy, of children’s books. Jokes were made by poets. Songs were sung by novelists. Most importantly, I felt everyone, including me, was paid the genuine respect of full attention: folk listened to each other; a rare and fine experience.
If, like me you are not from Finland, you may also be fortunate to have the opportunity to beat the Finns at football at midnight of the year’s longest day on their home ground; then unforgettably feast and sauna into the next morning. Our team, from all over the world, managed just that. A fine memory. I owe my hosts, my friends, a return match.Gerry Loose Scotland, June 2013
Glasgow resident Gerry Loose combines literary expression and working with plants in a unique way in his work. With a background in horticulture, ecology, and agriculture, he was made Poet-in-Residence at Glasgow's Botanic Gardens, where he created a Poetry Garden in the 1990's. He has also done a similar project in the oldest botanic garden of France. In his poetry he has studied e.g. the concept of landscape. The written works of Loose include several poetry collections, plays, and non-fiction books.
"When the mode of the music changes the walls of the city shake”, said the Greek philosopher Platon. It is not an actual quote from him, but a paraphrase of it made famous by the American beat poet Allen Ginsberg and rock band The Fugs. Platon wrote in Republic: "When modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state always change with them."
Anyway, those both remarks sound great. If we put literature in the place of music, we have a very romantic definition of literature. In truth, most of us do not believe that a writer is exactly a wall breaker or changes the laws of the state.
Maybe the theme of this Lahti International Writers Reunion means that a writer is a interpreter of his or her times. A writer is a medium who allows the sounds of the breaking walls and their echoes go through him or her and turns into literature.
The breaking of the wall could also mean breaking “the fourth wall”. That term usually means the imaginary wall at the front of the stage in a traditional theatre through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play.
The idea of the fourth wall was made explicit by philosopher Denis Diderot. Speaking directly to or otherwise acknowledging the audience through the camera in a film or in a play is referred to as "breaking the fourth wall" and is considered a technique which penetrates the boundaries normally set up by works of fiction.
So we can also ask what is the fourth wall of literature? Is it fiction and is it necessary to break its walls and start to write documentary works? Or is literature itself a protecting wall? What happens, when walls break down?
But to come back to Platon, he also wrote much about the agora. It was a central spot in ancient Greek city-states. The literal meaning of the word is "gathering place" or "assembly". The agora was the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city. The Ancient Agora of Athens was the best-known example, birthplace of democracy.
Later, the agora also served as a marketplace where merchants kept stalls or to sell their goods. From this twin function of the agora as a political and commercial space came the two Greek verbs "I shop", and "I speak in public". Lahti International Writers Reunion is of course an agora in its original and ideal meaning. When we speak here we are not selling or shopping anything. It is not so common in the changing agora of today´s literature.Markku Koski
Markku Koski (b. 1945) is an author, journalist, and critic living in Lahti. Koski has published several essay collections on popular culture, publicity, and politics. His doctoral thesis on the relationship between politicians and the media was published in 2010.
During the Cold War the Lahti International Writers’ Reunions were an important platform for discussions between writers from the East and West, though we as organizers had no chance to influence the choice of writers from the Socialist countries. The Estonian writers had to take the train to Moscow first, which they felt was a great humiliation.
The venue was very romantic. Everybody was sitting on benches under the oak trees, it never rained, but if it did, a tent was put up. The interpreters were fabulous, the nights were so bright that many writers from the southern hemisphere found it hard to sleep.
As the international secretary, following in the footsteps of the legendary publisher Erkki Reenpää who knew everybody and all languages, I did my best to persuade big stars to come to Mukkula. Some writers had difficulties when they realized that they were not as well known in Finland as in their own countries. I remember the French poet Michel Deguy who left after one day, very offended when nobody knew how big a name he was in his own country. (I met him in Paris some years later and he apologized). Why Naipaul left just after the welcoming ceremony I don’t remember.
A scandal with huge political consequences came close when the New Philosopher Bernard-Henry Lévy said some derogatory things about the Soviet head of state Breznev. The Russian delegate, Michael Baryshev, threatened to leave the conference, and Valentina Morozova, interpreter and politruk had to phone the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki and explain that this was not very serious. The famous British critic and writer Al Alvarez did his best to calm down the antagonists in a panel.
But there were also some positive surprises. J.M. Coetzee, who had been sitting like a statue behind his dark glasses for three days, warmed up when Anna Makkonen and I took him to a restaurant in Lahti and discussed the similarities between Afrikaans and Finland-Swedish. (He was a vegetarian and could not eat the notoriously terrible food at Mukkula, the old venue.)
Many romances were born during the white nights. Some have lasted to this day. The farewell party took place on an island, after a magical boat trip. The mixed sauna created some turbulence among the City officials and was forbidden for a couple of years, but got a permission to continue.
The Mukkula meetings are part of my youth, and I don’t regret a single one, though there was much work involved, especially in organizing the poetry readings.
We did a great mistake once, when we did not include Margaret Atwood (we considered her a prose writer). She did participate, however, after we apologized and told her that leaving her out was a printing error!
Marianne BargumFree-lance critic and former publisher
It was a bit exciting. The legendary Lahti writers’ reunion with its night-time soccer matches. “I won’t be participating in that match”, I spluttered immediately when the people from the publishing house invited me to the event. Siltala usually likes to include debut writers.
My first novel, Melominen, had been published in February, and I had been floating around for a few months in the comforting glow of its warm reception. And now, to Lahti! Someone had heard that only members of the Union of Finnish Writers are allowed to go to the event in Lahti. “Nah, even newbie’s like me can go! Even if they won’t be playing any soccer.”
I didn’t want to take any chances so I didn’t show up straight away on Saturday night. I gathered courage at a high-altitude camp in the Ruola district in the centre of Lahti, with a bottle of rum and a good friend from the Arthur Ransome Boozing Society as my assistant coaches. So far, this lesser-known literary social club has only three members, two of whom were present that night.
On Sunday, I was ready to head towards Messilä. The sun was shining, the birds were liwerping, my mind was relaxed – and then I found out that I was going to be roommates with Olli Jalonen! I quickly tried to remember if I had read any books by Olli or whether I would be exposed immediately. There are infiltrators here! I wasn’t familiar with his latest book, and not even with his second latest one. Hang on, Poikakirja – is that the gay story?
Luckily, Olli turned out to be a pleasant roommate, who didn’t make a fuss about anyone knowing his work. And in the end, I did manage to remember two of his books, dating far back to the ‘90s, when I had a lot more time to read.
Less kids, more books. After the reunion at Lahti, I hastily read Poikakirja and 14 solmua Greenwichiin, cheers to Olli. Thanks for the memorable reads.
The reunion itself contained a lot of talking, interpreting and renditions. Particularly passionate torrents of comments seemed to emerge from poets and translators; novelists preferred pondering about things in solitude. Many thanks to Leevi Lehto, Arto Kivimäki and Ville Keynäs, who worked tirelessly as the driving engines of the discussion.
Then, the soccer match. As obvious as it was to me that I won’t be playing, as equally obvious was it to Arto Kivimäki, the captain of Team Finland, that of course Leikas will be playing. I’ve never ever met a recruiter as efficient as him. As Monday evening was slowly turning into night, I found myself – wearing my match shirt – on a bumpy field of grass swarming with gnats, staring at the gigantic Swedish poet Lars Mikael Raattama charging towards me. With a ball. And kicking it. And growing larger by the second.
I survived the match with moderately little damage. Let me reveal my method. 1. Fedora hat. Passive and active protection against gnats. 2. Yelling loudly. That’s distracting for your own team and the opponents as well, and they won’t kick the ball to anyone who’s yelling. 3. Support crew. STT’s reporter Sanna Nikula had a supply of red wine at the side of the field. Numerous pit stops prevented me from getting too mixed up in the events of the match.
As soon as the 2011 reunion at Lahti was finished, I set my timer. Two years to go…Antti LeikasAuthor, writer and mathematician
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