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|Paavo Haavikko (1931-2008)|
Prominent Finnish poet, essayist, dramatist, and fiction writer, winner of the Neudstadt International Prize for Literature in 1984. Haavikko emerged from the modernist movement that started in Finland in the 1950s. His first collection of poetry, Tiet etäisyyksiin, came out in 1951. Haavikko published highly original and critically acclaimed works in almost every conceivable literary form from poetry and novels to radio and television plays and opera librettos.
When you go to the the tyrant. Keep your head on
Paavo Haavikko was born into a business family, the third son of Heikki Haavikko and Rauha Pyykönen. From an early age, Haavikko sufferd from a slight speech impediment – he was unable to pronounce the letter "r" correctly. Haavikko's father, a bookbinder, established his own business, beginning to import office supplies and paper goods. He died at the age of 64 in 1951. In the same year Haavikko graduated from the Kallio Coeducational School, and published his first collection of poems, Tiet etäisyyksiin (1951, The Roads That Lead Far Away). This collection, which showed none of the weaknesses of an apprentice effort, already included some of Haavikko's favorite images – the king, palaces, gardens, and the woods.
During his service in the army in 1951-52 in Hamina, Haavikko's appendix burst. While in the training school he also tutored the daughter of a sergeant-major in mathematics and read an economics book. Before devoting himself entirely to writing, Haavikko worked for a period at the family business. In the fifties Haavikko was at the forefront of the emerging modernist movement, and in the following decades he went on to have a profound influence on many other genres as well. As a result of his literary achievements, he became the leading writer of his generation and of the entire postwar period in Finland.
In Talvipalatsi (1959, The Winter Palace) Haavikko developed the modernist technique to its most crystallized form. This collection is considered the highest achievements of the new poetry. "Silver that I chase images into juxtaposed to make them speak," Haavikko said in its 'First Poem'. Haavikko's concerns were the problems and conditions of writing, his relationship with language, or the world, where possibilities are limited. Toinen taivas ja maa (1961) dissected events leading to a double suicide. Vuodet (1962) dispassionately described the life of a tramp. Haavikko's own skeptical philosophy about the world, based on opposition to totalitarian ideologies and to liberal compromises, was already developed in his early novels and plays.
Haavikko was first married the prominent writer Marja-Liisa
Vartio (1924-1966) and then to Ritva Rainio. The tragic death of his
first wife was a shattering blow to him. She had gone swimming
in colf water; this resulted in a very high fever which turned into
pneumonia. Moreover, at hospital a wrong diagnosis led to the wrong
treatment and a delay in starting the right treatment. According to Haavikko's friend Mauno Saari, he never fully recovered
from the loss and never stopped blaming himself for her death.
Haavikko and Ritva Rainio had separate living arrangements. In 1987
Haavikko moved to Kirkkonummi, where he wrote his major later works. He didn't leave anything to her in his will.
In the 1960s Haavikko published only one collection of poetry, Puut, kaikki heidän vihreytensä (1966), which sarcastically interprets Finland's recent history. His shift from poetry to prose occurred in the period when a new type of writer emerged on the literary scene – an active debater, who gives statements to the media. Pamphlets, documentary novels, and reports were considered a faster way to analyze social change than novels. As an early start to this period Haavikko wrote Yksityisiä asioita (1960), which is about a fact-and-object-obsessed salesman who refuses to become involved. The short story 'Lumeton aika' (publ. as 'Before History Begins', in the anthology The Short Story Today, New York, 1967) is a dispirited story about Finland where "progressive forces" have taken power and apparently built a typical socialist order.
After spending some time in the real estate game, Haavikko
joined one of the major Finnish publishing companies, Otava. He worked
as literary manager from 1967 to 1983, becoming a member of the board
in the late 1960s. After restoring Otava's financial health and
literary profile, he was forced to resign from his post, while his
leaving the company was widely reported to be voluntary. Haavikko's
experience as a businessman and investor provided him with a profound
understanding of economics. As an investor in stock, he had patience and knowledge far
beyond an amateur. However, Mauno Saari claims in the controversial biography Haavikko-niminen mies (200), that under
the influence of Catovit tablets Haavikko made some bad investments,
too. The tablets he got from a lady friend. Haavikko's son Heikki Haavikko refuted the claim in Paavo Haavikko, isä (2015): his father abhorred drugs.
During the 1980s Haavikko cultivated numerous genres side by
side: poetry, aphorisms, and works that are syntheses of these genres,
among them his book on civil liberties, Kansalaisvapaudesta
(1989). In 1989 Haavikko founded his own publishing firm, the Art
House, which gained fame for its focus on non-fiction literature,
science, physics, mathematics, and other "hard" sciences. Its turnover
in 2001 was 10 million FIM, but often his
business had more debt than profit. Moreover, the covers of the books
were not always designed to grab the readers' attention. For some
reason, especially this was the case with Haavikko's own works.
James Gleick's Kaaos was a
surprise success; its initial edition of five thousand copies was sold out in one month. Simone de Beauvoir's Vanhuus, which had created much discussion in France, didn't sell well in Finnish translation.
Haavikko was made an honorary Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Helsinki in 1969. Besides the Neudstadt International Prize, his other awards included the Finnish State Award for Literature (1959, 1961, 1963, 1967, 1971, 1975, 1982), the Eino Leino Prize (1963), the Aleksis Kivi Award (1969), Swedish Academy Nordic Prize (1993), the Poeta Finlandiae (1996), and the Union of Finnish Writers' Award (2008). In 1996 Haavikko won the Nordic Council Drama Competition, but declined to attend the celebration. Though his literary quality was of the highest, in the diary from August 1995 to December 1998, Kahden vuoden päiväkirja (2001), Haavikko revealed his – justified – bitter thoughts about the way in which critics have treated his work. Haavikko had published in 2001 five books, none of which were included among the best works of the year, recommended by the leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. However, the magazine Suomen Kuvalehti selected Haavikko's collection of aphorisms, Käytännön metafysiikka, in the list of 86 most interesting books of the year.
At the age of 70, Haavikko retired from his post as the managing director of the Art House, but continued as the chairman of the board. In 2007 he entered into contract with Otava Publishing Company. During his last years of life, Haavikko had problems with his eyes, to see clearly enough to read or do fine work. However, he never relinquished his old Adler typewriter for a computer keyboard. Paavo Haavikko died on October 6, 2008.
Life being short, poverty and wealth
Like such writers as Veijo Meri, Lauri Viita, and, later in the 1960s, the politically oriented poet Pentti Saarikoski, Haavikko created his own world of expression, searching his way out from the conservative pressures of literary tradition. At the age of 18 he had read T.S. Eliot's Four Quarters, which impressed him deeply. The central themes in Haavikko's poetry are language and poetry itself, love and death, history and power, money and business. From the start of his career, Haavikko examined the role of an artist in a closed and uncommunicative society: "oh let my voice go away from here, I deserve that / and I don't like it here / in this non-commercial world / that has been pieced together". (Talvipalatsi, 1959)
Haavikko used language economically and he favored paradoxes. With the precision of a scientist he often juxtaposed images so that phenomena are examined through their antitheses. The tone is unsentimental and neutral, but he did not hesitate to give advice or teach: "When they're buying, sell. Buy when they're selling. / First think slowly, then act quickly. / Get out of bad business fast." (In the World, 1974) One of Haavikko's collections of aphorisms was actually entitled Speak, Answer, Teach (1972). Pessimism marked his view on the way of the world: "Nothing goes as planned. / Everything goes. / You don't get a grip on your life, because it's a barney; life gets no grip on you, on me, and never will. / It summons the bouncer, whose grip is belief." ( 'May, Perpetual', 1988, tr. Herbert Lomas) Haavikko depicted power through kings, statesmen, wealthy merchants, people making history and imprisoned by the inevitable course of events. His aphoristic style created sayings that were adopted as national property as if they had long existed in folklore. Among them is the much quoted "real delicates are raw: oysters, salmon, and power."
When a number of intellectuals, writers, and artists were both lured and flattered by President Urho Kekkonen's attention, Haavikko kept his distance. Haavikko's attitude to President was ambivalent. His colleague Paavo Rintala was less critical in his writings. Haavikko saw Kekkonen's superiority compared to other politicians, but more than once he called him a "Renaissance prince", which referred not only to the President's active role as a patron of the arts but also hinted at his use of power. However, Haavikko agreed to write Kekkonen's book of memoirs, Vuosisatani, which appeared in 1981, and immediately sold 25 000 copies. In this work Haavikko used the first person, thus identifying himself as a biographer with the strong political leader. Noteworthy, in his own memoirs (1994-95) Haavikko used the third person.
"I believe that in the end all literature is first-person, even though the terms he and she are often used in place of the word I. I also believe that every story has its own omniscient storyteller-god, and that the more demanding and knowing that god is, the less he is present.." (Vuosien aurinkoiset varjot, tr. Jill Timbers, 1994)
Haavikko's interest in contemporary issues separated him from the majority of Finnish poets, who usually avoid clear statement, or whose opinions really doesn't interest the reading public. Perhaps this strait especially in Haavikko's later work can be understood as a reaction to the "thinness" of modernism. As a widely read columnist at the weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti, Haavikko scrutinized Finland's leading politicians and civil servants in an exceptionally harsh light. Presidents Mauno Koivisto and Martti Ahtisaari were Haavikko's most prominent targets, but they carefully avoided public confrontation with the uncompromising author. In the 1994 presidential elections Haavikko supported Elisabeth Rehn.
The polemic Kansakunnan linja (1977) discussed of "the unknown history of an unknown nation 1904-1975", and intentionally diverged from academic interpretations. When the English historian Anthony Upton criticized Haavikko's conclusions of the events of 1939-41, Haavikko answered: "I wrote my book not only from the viewpoint of the rope but also from the viewpoint of the man to be hanged."
Yritys omaksikuvaksi (1987), Vuosien aurinkoiset varjot (1994) and Prospero (1995), were autobiographical works. In Yritys omaksikuvaksi Haavikko returned to his childhood in Kallio, a working class area. "In the kitchen is a bed, which is for the housemaid. That's Martta. I opened the door for her down there when she arrived. Someone had left. Martta says don't touch your willy because when you're in the army you're made to st and in a row, and the one with a big willy is ashamed. When you go to the lavatory, you have to lift up the seat so that you don't make drips on the seat. The lavatory is small and high, and the upper part links through to the bathroom." (translated by Hildi Hawkins, in Helsinki: a literary companion, 2000)
Though Haavikko made his début as a modernist, some of his best-known works draw (without romanticism) from the world of Finnish folklore and the Kalevala, such as the epic poem Kaksikymmentä ja yksi (1974). The television drama Rauta-aika (1982) urged to forget the Kalevala but was based on Kalevalaic characters. Kullervon tarina (1982) was a portrayal of the tragic hero of the epic. Agricola ja kettu (1968) took his subject from Finland's history, when the country was caught between two strong rulers, King Gustavus Vasa and Ivan the Terrible, who resemble the Finnish President Juho Kusti Paasikivi and the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. A similar juxtaposition is found from Audun and the Polar Bear (1967), in which the bear's clever owner, Audun, uses his wits to survive between Norway's Harald and Denmark's King Sveinn, two superior powers. Harald Pitkäikäinen, Haavikko's Viking ruler from his radio plays, had much in common with President Urho Kekkonen.
A Musical Evening in Viipuri in the Year 1918 (1978) was based on an actual event: the murder of Toivo Kuula, a promising young composer, who died in a brawl during the Finnish Civil War. Haavikko presented the observations of various witnesses but avoided giving advice on how to regard the evidence just heard. Another successful play from the 1970s, Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan (1974, The King Goes Forth to France), was performed at Covent Garden in 1987.
The composer Aulis Sallinen set several of Haavikko's textual librettos to music, including the operas Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan (1974) and Ratsumies (1974, The Horseman), both based on the Finnish history between two conflicting powers. Haavikko's last libretto was about Paavo Nurmi. The premiere of the opera, directed by Kalle Holmberg, took place in August 2000. One performance was cancelled because of Tina Turner's rock concert.
A number of Haavikko´s works have been translated into English, among them The Winter Palace, The Horseman, and The King Goes Forth to France. Selections of poetry have appeared in Snow in May: An Anthology of Finnish writing 1945-1972 (1978), World Literature Today (1974), Salt of Pleasure (1993), Books from Finland 2 (1984), Poems for the Millenium – Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry (1998), edited by Jerome Rothenberg, Pierre Joris. Selected poems was published in 1991 (translated by Anselm Hollo). Peter Hein received in 2002 the Nossack-Preis for his translation of Haavikko's poems into German.
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