Last autumn, the Finnish Embassy in Warsaw asked me, if I could contribute some nature-themed poems for the ‘Wiersze w Metrze’ project organized by the city of Warsaw. The aim of the project was to celebrate the diversity of languages by displaying poetry from different parts of Europe in the Warsaw subway in Polish translation.
Of course, I accepted the offer. It sounded exactly like an opportunity that only comes once in a lifetime. I was given about a week to send the finished texts for the project. I’ve always felt it fairly easy to write poems about nature, as nature has never been far from where I’ve lived. A week was a short time to write new material, but certainly enough.
When writing the poems, I had to consider the fact that they were to be translated. Non-Finnish readers might not understand allusions specific to Finnish culture, and various words for snow might be impossible to translate. Thus, I chose to use nature as a setting for different emotions, rather than a subject or a theme. One doesn’t have to be Finnish to regard nature as a place of relaxation and introspection, though some cultures do see nature as a place of danger instead.
On the international World Poetry day on March 21st, a poetry reading event was held at the Zamek Ujazdowski, a center of modern art. I performed the three poems I had written for the project in original Finnish, and my performance was followed by two actors reading the Polish translations by Łukasz Sommer. A total of seven European poets performed that evening, arguably the most prominent of them being Ana Blandiana from Romania and Kyriakos Charalambides from Cyprus.
For a poet like me, who has yet to have their first book published, performing abroad and having poems translated into another language has special significance. First of all, it validates the time and effort put into learning the craft of communicating in a way that resonates in the reader or the listener. Second, it inspired me to challenge myself more both as a writer and a performer. If the possibility arises, I’ll perform internationally again someday − perhaps in Poland, perhaps somewhere else.
In the 2010s, contemporary poetry isn’t confined to the printed page. Live performances of poetry and campaigns such as ‘Wiersze w Metrze’ in Warsaw are organized to bring poetry before new audiences. Even though poetry isn’t a profitable genre from a publishing standpoint, its potential to move and excite audiences is tremendous. If emotions have value of some kind, then so does poetry.
JUHANA HENRIKKI HARJU