THE WORLD MIRROR / SHAKE HEARTS
Susinukke Kosola is working on his third book, which is “a hybrid that can be thought of as a collection of poems or short stories, but just as well as a novel or an essay.” The book is a story about storytellers; Kosola included true stories collected from the streets, schools, and buses of his home town Turku, and from his own personal history and relatives. Even if a certain person is only mentioned as an aside, everything is based on what the poet has heard and documented – it is not made up.
Hanna Hirvonen, text
Timur Yilmaz, Susinukke Kosola and Hanna Hirvonen, photos
Milla Selin, translation from Finnish
“Every poem is a product of its moment, beautiful in its description of the current moment and self. I am constantly striving to develop myself and learn new things in this world. That is why the narrator in the texts quickly becomes distant from my sense of self”, poet Susinukke Kosola (Daniil Kozlov) begins. “I don’t feel close to the poems I have written before, or think any of them are an accurate representation of my current world philosophy.”
Competing at the moment for Finland’s greatest poetry prize, the Einari Vuorela Award appointed by the town of Keuruu, Susinukke Kosola’s Avaruuskissojen leikkikalu (Space Cats’ Plaything, Sammakko publishing house, 2016) is therefore already far away from its writer. Since it was published, Kosola has already written the first and second draft for its successor and sent them to an editor at Sammakko. “I always avoid keeping any one thing too close to my own identity. I don’t want to get stuck on anything.”
“Every poem is beautiful in its
description of the current self.”
I visit the poet at home in Turku. At the time of this interview (June 14th 2017) it is the birthplace of a poetry issue of Nuori Voima (Young Force) magazine due to be published in August. Kosola is the editor in chief alongside poet Virpi Vairinen. Other deadlines are also approaching, but the poet has time to sit down and chat about the meaning of poetry and writing in his life.
The book sent to the publisher is Kosola’s third. While writing, the poet pondered which ones of our stories are meaningful. At the moment under the working title Nimensäkokoiset (Name-sized), the book is a story about storytellers. It explores the relationship between stories and reality, and between people and language. “The meaning behind ‘a true story’ or ‘tell true stories’ and what is the function of the stories we live among, or what is actually true – and what kinds of truths matter to individuals”, Kosola explains. “For most of us, for example, it is irrelevant that we are made of atoms, or strings vibrating in eleven dimensions.”
In the poet’s own words, the book is “a hybrid that can be thought of as a collection of poems or short stories, but just as well as a novel or an essay, even”. “It can be seen as a representative of each of those genres, perhaps a little bit less as short stories. It is shaped like prose, but very lyrical. There is a plot, but it doesn’t quite form a novel.”
“For me, writing is exploring the world and understanding myself. An idea of change is included – I want to transform and develop as a human being as well as any other thing”, says Susinukke Kosola. PHOTO: Susinukke Kosola.
Story as a turning point
“Nimensäkokoiset also looks into how people know which stories are worth telling and which ones are better kept to one’s self. And also how people are composed of stories or know how to reveal the right stories at the right place – or not”, Susinukke Kosola continues.
Even though individual texts quickly move away from him, some poems are a turning point: “I remember well the first poem I performed in public. It was in senior high school. But is this a relevant story for now?” Kosola asks. In my opinion it is worth telling.
“It was a course in poetry. One of the assignments was to write a poem or make an analysis on the poem in the textbook. I decided to write a poem, because I thought it was fun, and I was the only one in the class who had decided to do so. When I recited the poem, people chuckled, because it was a satire of the situation. The teacher also liked it and asked me to read it to the other classes.”
That teacher made a difference in Kosola’s life: “I have always written, but at that moment I realized people enjoy my poems. It made me feel like it would be nice to make poems that are directed outwards.” He began to bind and publish zines and perform for squatters and at their festivals. “I wasn’t writing because I thought it was the best way to influence the world, but because it felt like the most natural thing.”
Kosola no longer feels the need to emphasize his teenage years. Yet many things, the meaning of writing included, stems from that age. “For someone who had no outlets, writing was the only way of self expression. I wasn’t doing so well with my mental health, substance abuse or being at home, meaning I had no place to stay. Once, for example, I slept on some punk’s floor for nine months. We drank homemade alcohol, played music, and wrote poems. I directed my emotions and thoughts into poems.”
“Writing meant purification. I felt that I was at least doing something in this world that requires salvaging. I couldn’t do anything, but I did what I could, which was writing poems.”
Susinukke Kosola’s third book moves across the borders of genres. The previous two books are clearly collections of poems. The first one, tik. Tutkielma ihmisyyden marginaaleista (tik. A Study on the Margins of Humanity, 2014), is the writer’s dialogue with the world that is buzzing like an electrical device. tik. is based on Kosola’s personal history and strongly tied to the genre of confessional poetry.
Similar publications are rare in Finland nowadays. “I was influenced by the early 20th century working class literature, 1970’s confessional poetry, and the underground poetry of Turku in the 90’s”, Kosola says. It was published by Kolera-kollektiivi (Cholera collective), making it practically self published.
Kosola wasn’t expecting the first book to succeed, or get publicity. “I just wanted to be seen. I wanted someone to see the parts of my identity that don’t necessarily have words for them, or visibility, in this society. I believed there was world-changing power in making myself visible. On the other hand, I thought it was the only thing I could do from my position.”
Susinukke Kosola’s first book tik. was received with praise. PHOTO: Hanna Hirvonen.
Susinukke Kosola’s second book Avaruuskissojen leikkikalu (Space Cats’ Plaything) is nominated for the Einari Vuorela Poetry Prize. PHOTO: Hanna Hirvonen.
Meanings associated with writing have changed during the years. Fun, playfulness, and joy repeatedly come up in Kosola’s speech nowadays. “I still feel that writing is an excellent way of studying myself. Writing is organizing one’s own thoughts. And when I am organizing myself, I’m organizing the world. And why do I do it? Because it is really, really fun. Then again, writing is almost like a compulsion of mine, a condition of living. If I don’t do it, I get anxious.”
The writing in Kosola’s second book Avaruuskissojen leikkikalu (Space Cats’ Plaything) isn’t as personal as in the first. The collection is a wider look at the writer’s view of the world at the time of writing. The poet highlights the idea that even though the society is pressuring us to make a brand of ourselves and stand out, we are all very similar in the end. “We are being pressured to be individualistic. I wanted to write from a different angle: that we are all in this together, even if we are all alone.”
And at the same time, the world is falling apart…
These thoughts are now nominated for Finland’s most prestigious poetry prize; Kosola is a finalist in the Einari Vuorela Poetry Contest, alongside four other recognized Finnish poets. “I don’t know why I wanted to share that view. Perhaps the idea was that people – by seeing themselves in the poems and realizing that a lot of people do the same – would start to see themselves in other people as well, and in relation to the world”, Kosola thinks in hindsight. “During the process of writing the book, I don’t reason with myself this precisely why I want to publish it.” The jury concluded that the book shakes us up and makes us see more clearly, to view our own situation and the environment from a new angle.
Passionately in the margins
Susinukke Kosola is known for writing societal poetry. Both previous books are political. How does the poet view freedom of speech in Finland? “Freedom of speech is at a good level in the sense that, in principle, no one has the power to silence another. On the other hand, I think grass-roots silencing is an issue; personal threats are becoming the norm while authorities turn a blind eye.” The media can also ignore certain groups of people. “Many people are unable to voice their opinion on important matters. In that sense this is not a country of fairness and justice.”
Kosola is known for
writing societal poetry.
As a reader Susinukke Kosola’s interest in poetry was sparked by the early 1900’s working class poetry. “After that, I read through Finnish poetry decade by decade until I reached contemporary times and began to devour all of it.”
He says he loves language in and of itself, and therefore isn’t especially fond of certain poets or works: “I try to read all of the poetry I can get my hands on. It keeps me on he radar about what is published these days.”Susinukke Kosola believes that everything he reads seeps through into his own writing. “Everything that I get excited about, or have gotten excited about over the years, is visible in every single text I produce. The things I don’t like inspire me more than the the ones I do like.”
According to Kosola, the key ingredient in the field of Finnish poetry is passion: “Poets are an extremely passionate bunch.” Commercial values are at the forefront only at the biggest publishing houses, which focus on characters who sell and easily marketable themes, when it comes to poetry. “At its worst, poetry is stripped bare of a lot of things that make it interesting, to make it marketable. This may sound like a paradox, but it isn’t. Nowadays poetry becomes sellable only by factors outside of content, such as the writer’s image.”
Out on the field of poetry, pressure to sell is largely forgone. “No one expects great numbers in sales, reviews in papers, financial success, or even popularity with readers. This has freed poets to let loose and turn everything we are doing upside down.”
“Poets are an extremely
Susinukke Kosola is still running Kolera-kollektiivi, the publishing house he founded in 2013. It started with one poet, Kosola, and the publishing of his first book and zine literature. The project was launched with humour and was meant to be temporary.
Since then, the collective has grown into a literary community, which publishes 6 to 8 larger titles per year. Kolera wants to bring forth marginal voices and societal poetry. Last spring, the collective published three very different works of poetry: Jarkko Jokinen’s Ajatukseni olisivat kaivanneet ripauksen ruususuolaa (My thoughts could have used a sprinkle of rose salt), Marko J. Niemi’s Kuristus (Strangling) and Niina Oisalo’s Valaan silmä, pilvinen hai (Whale’s eye, cloudy shark). “I’m nervous about how they will be received; one has traditions from the 60’s and the other’s are between minute novel genre and prose poetry. The third is an experimental piece of work”, Susinukke Kosola admits.
Kolera’s new books in boxes, ready to meet their readers. PHOTO: Hanna Hirvonen.
“When I can share my poems with just a couple dozen people, and show what I’ve done, and when someone understands, that is enough to satisfy my urge to share. Then I want to focus on writing again”, Susinukke Kosola comments on his own work. Kosola has no need to be as popular as possible. “Except of course in the sense that I view my books as politically important.”
Attitudes like this help bring abundant variations of poetics into the field of Finnish literature. “Poetry is an extremely vital and various margin”, Kosola sums up his view on the state of poetry in Finland. However, he thinks it’s a shame that a poet’s passion often goes hand in hand with being poor. “I don’t wish for poetry to stay in the sidelines. But I do appreciate how it thrives beautifully, in various ways, despite its position.”
Poet Susinukke Kosola is a glutton as a reader. He reads all the poetry he can get a hold of, and all kinds of other things in addition. PHOTO: Hanna Hirvonen.
In the files of the poet Susinukke Kosola, random notes, discarded poems, scattered but potent bits of thoughts, and themes can be found. “I don’t delete and destroy a thing, I’m not a friend of finality. All poems have something good in them: figure of speech, observation, note, or any other detail. I cut them out from the material to be discarded and store them in the ‘useful figures of speech’ file.”
The importance of observation cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to a poet’s work. “All practical things like walking, visiting different places, talking to people, getting to know them, or teaching are important to me. In one way or another, all of it will later come together as part of a text”, Kosola says. “For me, writing is exhaling, but to be able to breath out, you need to inhale first.”
Kosola acquires a lot of notes while observing the surroundings. “I start by doing everything”, he says. A theme the poet wants to process will slowly become clear: “I collect sketches and start to work on the first poems. The more I make them, the clearer it becomes what the work will be about.”
“I am not a friend of finality.”
At this part, the creative process requires emptiness. Not having hustle and bustle around the poet; being able to lay down, make notes and compositions, and gather them into groups. To take time to see what happens, and at the same time planning the framework for the idea of the book. “Once the frame is ready, all poems and observations of the world I make are filtered through it. I begin to view the world through a tiny lens”, Susinukke Kosola describes. As a contemporary example, he mentions focusing on stories, which is evident in this interview.
“All the material that is born at this stage is either usable in the upcoming collection, or utterly useless”, the poet remarks. The third stage is editing, according to Kosola the “arse on the seat and work” stage. “I define the work, realize what it really is about, clarify it. I sit in front of the computer, type it all down. I rest a while and then have another look. I once again understand the meaning of it, polish a bit here and there – and perhaps take a step back.”
“All will come together
as part of the text.”
In his third book, the poet describes different destinies, set in Turku. “They are always based on the documents I have collected.” Susinukke Kosola interviewed people who are closest to him, and listened to people at bus stops, fleetingly. “Even if a person is only mentioned as an aside, the facts are based on something concrete I heard and documented, they are not made up. It may not matter to the reader, but for me personally it is an important part of this process.”
The poet also teaches and hosts workshops for people of different ages and backgrounds. Schools, for example, were great places for observation. In the book, the stories take a lyrical form. “Whether I just heard the story in passing, or delved into a person’s problems and history, they are all equally valuable”, the poet assures.
Rhymes as a child
Even as a child, Susinukke Kosola liked language and writing: “I always woke up before my parents and started to write nursery rhymes or draw something for them. My handwriting was illegible, and I no longer can recall what I wrote. They were a child’s letters, but there were even rhymes – or so I told my parents.”
Home was in a suburb of Turku. That is all the poet feels like sharing of his childhood at the moment: “Writing this third book, I have turned many childhood memories into texts. Now I feel like I can no longer tell them in any other way. I would have to break the story I have built around them.”
One memory, unrelated to the book and, according to Kosola, irrelevant and therefore entertaining, comes to the poet’s mind, though: “I had learned to ride a bicycle. The training wheels had been removed the day before. I figured I was so good at cycling I could attempt parking.”
“There were concrete bicycle stands in the yard. I thought you parked a bike the same way as a car, so I tried to ride into the slot in the stand. Of course I hit the thing and flew over it, head first into the pavement. I still have a scar on my head.”
Courage from idols
“Even as a kid, I remember liking the way language works. This life has always been about playing with words”, Susinukke Kosola says. Nowadays playing with words is a vital part of his work. “The will to experiment, which I see as playing, makes me write. It is my whole motive for what I do.”
When Susinukke Kosola finishes a poem, he either feels emptiness or dissatisfaction. “If I feel empty, it usually means success; I have been able to form something into a shape I feel it needs to be. Alternatively, I will feel a strange, floating dissatisfaction; it’s only later that I will realize the idea of the poem wasn’t good enough.” Kosola emphasizes that finishing a poem doesn’t always mean the result is good, or ready. “Sometimes it’s a matter of accepting the poem is useless.”
“The will to experiment is the
force that drives me to write.”
Since this interview is a part of a series of articles with Syrian poets also included, let’s ask Kosola, too, if events of the world, such as the Syrian war, have an impact on his poems: “I’m not sure”, Kosola begins. “Earlier I was saying how every poem I read is an influence in some way, even when I can’t analyze how. In the same way, events of the world are a factor. But instead of writing poems about Syria, I personally would provide space for people with firsthand experience, people with a profound message.”
Susinukke Kosola is a board member of Runoviikko (Poetry Week) in Turku. Through the event, he has international contacts as well. “It keeps my thoughts fresh, it’s like cross-pollination.” Kosola has hardly any Finnish idols. “The fact that there are people elsewhere in this world who write in a similar way gives me certainty. I know I’m not all messed up.”
The international community provides courage and support to a poet. “Working without anything even remotely similar nearby is a deeply lonely job. It’s important to have the option of support from your peers; to be in line with some kind of tradition and not purely inventing something of my own with nothing to compare to.” In addition, the work of others is an inspiration: “I can check whether someone else has done it better than me.”
The enthusiasm to perform on stage began in senior high school and continues to be an important part of being a poet for Susinukke Kosola. The meaning of performance has changed over the years just like it has with writing and publishing. “I no longer believe in the world-changing power of poems. The need to be seen and understood isn’t my motive anymore, either.” Nowadays, performing also begs the question ‘why poetry?’ “Because poetry is fun and can even reach the things no other kind of expression can!”
Performing is a way of sharing the joy of language for Susinukke Kosola. “It doesn’t mean that the themes are necessarily light, they can be really heavy, too”, the poet says. PHOTO: Timur Yilmaz.
Performing naturally means sharing. Many audience members have been comforted by Kosola’s words – they have found themselves in them and realized they are not alone in this world. It wasn’t the kind of feedback the poet originally expected. “I hadn’t thought that someone would feel comfort in seeing themselves in the text, it wasn’t my motive for writing. But it has been a side effect, people have thanked me for it.”
Critical eye on the first book
The last thing Susinukke Kosola wrote was the final chapter of his third book. In it, he focuses on the reasons for writing the text and publishing the book. “I ponder what the motives are of each individual in a situation, where a writer has put something down on paper and then a reader reads it.”
As a writer he has wanted to place the situation in front of people. “Even though it is rare for people to admit that it is this complicated a process: what did I seek with my desire to show these particular things to the reader?”
One day in the future, Nimensäkokoiset (Name-sized) becomes a mere memory in the minds of its readers. The last chapter contains some suggestions for what to do with the memory. “For what kinds of purposes the memory of the text can be used. Just in case, if people don’t happen to realize they can use that memory for something”, Kosola grins.
The plan is to publish the book next spring. The ponderings of the last chapter echo Kosola’s first book, the book in which the writer wrote himself visible. “Now I problematize the politicizing of my identity. I wanted to write a book that politicizes my identity and is confessional in that way. At the same time I wanted to share the process of politicizing and question it.”
“But it is a book because it doesn’t really work when trying to open the matter in this way.”
Susinukke Kosola’s poetry in Kosmi: